Earlier this week, Avi Katz, who’s been one of Israel leading political cartoonists for the past three decades, was fired by the Jerusalem Post. He’s contributed illustrations and magazine covers for its sister publication, the Jerusalem Report for years. A few days ago, in response to passage of the “Jewish Nation State” (aka Death of Democracy) law, Avi drew a cartoon based on Orwell’s Animal Farm.
The graphic idea for the cartoon originated in a memorable photograph featuring Bibi Netanyahu and all his Likud mafia henchmen celebrating the Law’s passage with a selfie. MK Oren Hazan, a former casino manager in Bulgaria who procured sex and drugs for high-rolling clients, holds his cell phone high for the dramatic selfie. His untucked shirt exposes his considerable girth. Standing next to him is the similarly girthful, David Bitan, the Likud whip in the Knesset. In the middle, offering a bemused expression, is a suited Netanyahu. He looks like Don Corleone surrounded by a few of rowdy made men.
Katz has changed the faces in the image into pigs’ heads to invoke the Animal Farm reference to Napoleon, the dictator-villain of the novel. The cartoon caption is also from the same book: All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.” This refers to the Nation State law itself, which privileges Israel’s Jewish citizens over all non-Jews. All in all, the graphic illustration is a tour de force. A memorable denunciation of Israeli chauvinism and racism.
Curiously, it was published by the Post and approved by Katz’s regular editor. But a strange thing happened on the way to his firing: readers began to complain loudly and vociferously that the cartoon was anti-Semitic, that it was a grotesque insult to the nation and its leaders. Pressure grew, readers cancelled subscriptions, and finally the very same editor who approved the cartoon, fired Katz. Unfortunately, she didn’t follow suit herself, in a clear indication of the strength of the values of a free press at the Post.
In response to his sacking, some long-time contributors to the Jerusalem Report like Haim Watzman, have resigned and announced they will no longer write for either publication. However, as a far-right publication there aren’t many journalists there who object to Katz’s demise. The paper is an ardent supporter of Likud’s ultra-nationalist policies.
I half-jokingly suggested to Katz that he follow Valley’s path and create a book of his best political art. The notoriety offered him by the Post should spur major book sales. I also offered to induct him into the Spinoza Society (my “creation”), whose members are composed of fellow Jewish dissidents ostracized or excommunicated from the community for their contrarian views. Unfortunately, there are all too many members.
Post and Forward Both Fired Journalist, Cartoonist for Unpopular Views
Several years earlier, the Post fired another tough “non-compliant” columnist, Larry Derfner, when he penned a post on his personal blog (one that I co-founded with him, but left by the time he published the piece there) explaining that the violence of Israeli violence begat the violence of Palestinian resistance. He rather boldly called on his readers to understand and accept that Palestinians had every right to resist in this fashion. For that he was sacked. Derfner now is an editor for Haaretz, which unfortunately publishes his work far too infrequently.
A similar fate befell another distinguished cartoonist, whose work focussed on Israel and its relationship to the Jewish Diaspora. Eli Valley was a regular contributor to the Jewish Forward, where he penned dark, mordant and coruscating profiles of the profligacies and foibles of powerful Jewish leaders and their sycophantic embrace of all things Israel. When he portrayed then-ADL boss, Abe Foxman as a demented lunatic seeing Jewish enemies everywhere, he went a step too far for the purportedly liberal Forward. Foxman labelled his portrayal as “offensive, obnoxious, bigoted and unfunny.” Which, given how unfunny, bloated, and egomaniacal Foxman was only served to reinforce the aptness of Valley’s characterization.
Foxman decreed that the Forward was henceforth persona non grata and would never get another interview with him. Valley’s employer then buckled and severed ties with him. Just like the Post did to Katz. Isn’t it ironic that a U.S. Jewish paper that prides itself on its liberal, humane approach to issues has acted in the same way the Post did. That both media outlets have bowed to the pressure of powerful economic and political forces to fire their own employees who practice journalism (or in this case, political cartooning).
Forward Fires Senior Editor
It should be no surprise that the Forward also demoted, then fired one of its senior editors a few months ago, He was a veteran Jewish journalist with decades of experience who’d won numerous awards for his exemplary investigative reporting. In fact, he broke the story of Sebastian Gorka’s membership in a Hungarian Nazi organization, which earned the Forward a journalism award. In her social media crowing about the award, managing editor Jane Eisner managed to disappear his role in the reporting.
He was a reporter who pounded the pavement and knocked on doors (and sometimes knocked down doors) to get a story. The Forward has largely given up on this form of journalism and transformed itself into Jewish clickbait pseudo-journalism. The amount of original reporting is now down to a trickle, and what there is is served up in nice, bite-sized 300-word articlelets.
By now, it’s a surprise to no one that the range of acceptable discourse both in Israel and the Diaspora around Israel politics is narrowing. Nor is it a surprise that the Post would adapt to the Netanyahu regime’s suppression of press freedom and its tightening of the noose around press outlets, by bowing and scraping before its powerful patrons.
But this goes beyond two publications failing in their obligations to their readers and journalistic values. It bespeaks the rise of Israeli ethno-nationalism (aka fascism) and the corresponding acquiescence of American Jews and their leaders to this disaster.
American Jewry is not doing well, unless you’re a Chabadnik or other type of Orthodox Jew. Membership in most denominations are falling. Reform membership is rising, but only because it cannibalizing a rapidly failing Conservative movement. And that’s only talking about affiliated Jews. The majority of Jews are unaffiliated. And they are so not because they’re on their way to dropping out of Judaism or their Jewish identities, as Israeli Zionist believe like a mantra. They are dropping out because the mainstream community offers no alternative to the Israel Lobby mumbo-jumbo they get at their synagogues, in their newspapers, at community centers, and even in some university Israel Studies programs.
Avi Katz and Eli Valley represent a breath of fresh air for independent, thinking Jews who don’t want to be spoonfed propaganda by media outlets like Israel HaYom, Algemeiner, the Free Beacon and similar rags. The fact that the Post has slammed its door and the Forward quitely closed its door to dissenting views indicates ever more clearly the impoverishment of Jewish life in Israel and America.