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Netanyahu cartoon sparks anger, Murdoch says sorry

By Susannah Cullinane, CNN
January 29, 2013 -- Updated 1651 GMT (0051 HKT)
News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch said cartoonist Gerald Scarfe had
News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch said cartoonist Gerald Scarfe had "never reflected the opinions of the Sunday Times."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch has apologized for "grotesque" cartoon
  • Sunday Times cartoon portrayed Netanyahu building Palestinians into bloody wall
  • Cartoon prompted accusations of anti-Semitism and references to 'blood libel'
  • Cartoonist said he was not aware it was Holocaust Memorial Day

London (CNN) -- Rupert Murdoch has apologized for a "grotesque, offensive" cartoon of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu published in Britain's Sunday Times.

The cartoon by Gerald Scarfe depicts Netanyahu atop an incomplete brick wall with screaming Palestinians and body parts in the mortar. Netanyahu is holding what appears to be a bloody builder's trowel and the wall's mortar is colored red. The wording beneath reads: "Israeli Elections, Will Cementing Peace Continue?"

The cartoon was published on Holocaust Memorial Day on Sunday and prompted complaints that it was anti-Semitic and insensitive.

Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation, which owns The Sunday Times, used his Twitter feed to apologize, tweeting: "Gerald Scarfe has never reflected the opinions of the Sunday Times. Nevertheless, we owe major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon."

Scarfe, who has worked for the Sunday Times since 1967, is perhaps best-known for designing and directing the animation for the film of Pink Floyd's The Wall.

Martin Ivens, the acting editor of the Sunday Times, also apologized, saying in a statement: "The last thing I or anyone connected with the Sunday Times would countenance would be insulting the memory of the Shoah [Holocaust] or invoking the blood libel.

I don't think Scarfe is an idiot -- far from it. So I find it impossible to believe he was unaware of the resonances of his cartoon
Stephen Pollard, Jewish Chronicle editor

"The paper has long written strongly in defense of Israel and its security concerns, as have I as a columnist. We are however reminded of the sensitivities in this area by the reaction to the cartoon and I will of course bear them very carefully in mind in future." The weekday edition of The Times reported Tuesday that Ivens would meet representatives of the Jewish community to apologize.

In a statement posted on his website, Scarfe said: "First of all I am not, and never have been, anti-Semitic. The Sunday Times has given me the freedom of speech over the last 46 years to criticize world leaders for what I see as their wrong-doings.

"This drawing was a criticism of Netanyahu, and not of the Jewish people: there was no slight whatsoever intended against them. I was, however, stupidly completely unaware that it would be printed on Holocaust Day, and I apologize for the very unfortunate timing."

In the Jewish Chronicle, editor Stephen Pollard wrote that the cartoon did "slip over the edge into anti-Semitism, because it invokes the blood libel." Blood libel refers to a long-standing anti-Semitic myth that Jews murder children to use their blood in religious rituals.

"The blood libel is central to the history of anti-Semitism. I don't think Scarfe is an idiot -- far from it. So I find it impossible to believe he was unaware of the resonances of his cartoon," Pollard said.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said it had lodged a complaint with Britain's press watchdog -- the Press Complaints Commission.

The cartoon, it said, was "shockingly reminiscent of the blood libel imagery more usually found in parts of the virulently anti-Semitic Arab press. Its use is all the more disgusting on Holocaust Memorial Day, given the similar tropes leveled against Jews by the Nazis."

Meanwhile, an article by Anshe Pfeffer in Israeli newspaper Haaretz branded the cartoon "grossly offensive and unfair" but said it was not anti-Semitic. Pfeffner wrote that the cartoon was not directed at Jews, did not use Holocaust imagery and did not contain blood libel components.

He said there was no discrimination in the sense that Scarfe's depiction of Netanyahu was "par for the course for any politician when Scarfe is at his drawing board."

However, the Times of Israel quoted the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Israel Office -- Efraim Zuroff -- as saying the "anti-Semitic caricature of Netanyahu" was "absolutely disgusting."

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