Toon Musings: The Latest Kerfuffle

I love a good political cartoon—always have. I used to read my dad’s Bill Mauldin collections in my youth, and have fairly extensive collections of my own of cartoons by Jeff MacNelly, Pat Oliphant, and Tom Toles. I like the analogies cartoonists draw to describe a given political situation or relationship between leaders, particularly when they’re not immediately obvious and they’re cleverly expressed. It’s a difficult trick—finding an analogy that accurately describes a situation without incurring a lot of collateral damage and insulting people who you do not intend to insult. And without having to label everything.

The New York Times is getting hammered, including by one of its own columnists, for running a less-than-complementary cartoon that critics are decrying as anti-semitic. Here it is:

It makes an assertion about the relationship between the leader of Israel and the current occupant of the Oval Office: blind Trump being led about by a seeing-eye Benjamin Netanyahu. So far, so good. As I mentioned before, the cartoon was excoriated as anti-semitic and has been taken down. Here is a statement from the cartoonist, Antonio Moreira of Portugal:

The reading I made is that Benjamin Netanyahu’s politics, whether by the approach of elections or by being protected by Donald Trump, who changed the embassy to Jerusalem by recognizing the city as capital, and which first allowed the annexation of the Golan Heights and after the West Bank and more annexations in the Gaza Strip, which means a burial of the Oslo Accord, it represents an increase in verbal, physical and political violence. It is a blind policy that ignores the interests of the Palestinians.And Donald Trump is a blind man that goes behind The Star of David [Jewish symbol] is an auxiliary of identification of a figure [Netanyahu] that is not very well-known in Portugal. (Google Translate)

Trump’s ugly mug and ridiculous hair are immediately recognizable; he’s a walking logo, one he’s spent his whole life cultivating and nurturing. But why is he dressed as an orthodox Jew? The Star of David is a swell logo, too. It’s universally familiar and serves as a quick, neat, and sure way to tip off a clue-starved reader that we’re talking about some Jewish guy, probably Israeli, likely the leader. Unfortunately, it runs the risk of conflating Netanyahu’s views with those of Israel, and with Jews in general. It also risks spreading the insult of dogitude from Netanyahu to Israel and to Jews in general. In these fractious, polarized times, many people are hypersensitized to insults of this sort, and, rest assured, there is no shortage of skeevy operators seeking to manufacture outrage to score political points. Not naming any names.

Personally, I love dogs, and would not be insulted by being portrayed as one. Maybe a Corgi. Portraying Netanyhu as a seeing-eye dog is perfectly within bounds. Portraying Jews in general as dogs, not so much. This cartoon needs a bit of focus; we might need to sacrifice some simplicity to increase clarity, so as not to offend innocent parties.

How’s this:

You’re welcome. Yeah, I know. Too many labels. I’ll see myself out.


Antonio’s statement. Bring your Portuguese.

An excellent summary of the issue.

And, an update.


Phil Maish is a freelance cartoonist of no repute. His modest efforts may be viewed at He has worked for the Government, the Press, the Opera, and a Soulless Corporation. Self-taught and beholden only to his formidable wife and amazing son, he spends his free time gadding about in his vintage autogyro and, with his faithful manservant Nicopol, exploring forgotten ruins, discovering hitherto unknown animal species, smashing spy rings, and regaling fellow members of the League of Intrepid Adventurers with tales of his intrepid adventures.

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