History of visual propaganda, stereotypes should not be neglected

CAMPUS ISSUES: A recent editorial cartoon stoked valid criticism.

Kelly Baird/Staff

The historical trail of anti-Semitism is long and patterned with violence. When The Daily Californian published an editorial cartoon Oct. 13 streaked with visual reminders of this history, it normalized what should be long-gone stereotypes.

The responsibility of any opinion section is to provide a space for dialogue, critique and reflection. But in order for productive conversations on a variety of topics to occur across differences, opinion pieces must fundamentally acknowledge the humanity of opposing parties. Otherwise, no productive conversation can take place. That means building from a foundation of informed, historical context, including an awareness of harmful and hateful tropes and stereotypes.

Civil liberties lawyer Alan Dershowitz wrote in a letter to the editor that the cartoon depicting him resembled “grotesque anti-Semitic blood libel propaganda” similar to material printed in pro-Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer in the 1930s. Blood libel refers to false allegations of Jews’ ritualistic murders of Christian children.

And readers have noted that the form of Dershowitz’s body in the cartoon recalls Nazi-era depictions of Jews as spiders and insectlike or as other types of creatures perceived as malevolent vermin.

The co-presidents of Bears for Israel wrote in a letter to the editor that “The two elements of the cartoon, with Dershowitz’s face in the front and the black body in the back, plays into the anti- Semitic trope of Jews as shape-shifting, sub-human entities using deception and trickery in order to advance their own agendas.”

Other time-worn, malicious stereotypes draw Jews as two-faced and deceitful, manipulative and operating in the shadows, often achieved through the depiction of Jews as puppet masters. Propaganda playing on these stereotypes was distributed to rationalize the systematic murder of Jewish people.

Readers voiced that the cartoon played into tropes that are still damaging and pervasive today, indeed seemingly on the rise, which robbed them of the right to feel welcome in the Berkeley community.

The past has a strong, ever-present hand in contemporary anti-Semitic sentiment. It is easier to view an image in a vacuum — to ignore the power of context. But without being cognizant and vigilant in understanding a storied history, one weakens the force of their argument and operates to erase certain forms and histories of oppression.

When a writer picks up a pen, or an artist their paintbrush, they must also pick up a history book.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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