The April 26 cartoon in the New York Times International Edition showing a blind kippah-wearing President Trump being led by Prime Minister Netanyahu in the body of a dachshund seeing-eye dog was plainly anti-Semitic. That was really bad. And then, just three days later, as the Times was struggling to explain its remarkably offensive gaff and stumbled toward acknowledgement of the significance of its offense, it published a second cartoon caricature of Netanyahu, this time depicting him as Moses-like figure, holding a tablet with an Israeli flag on it, rather than the Ten Commandments, and taking a smug selfie. That made matters even worse.
Long before the offensive cartoons, the Times had been regularly criticized for a decades-long perceived anti-Israel bias in both its reporting and editorial comment, which many viewed as bordering on anti-Semitic. But it took a cartoon to open the floodgates of condemnation.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, commented that the cartoon showed anti-Semitic “stereotypes that suggest Jewish control.” And Bret Stephens, a Times columnist, wrote that the cartoon “checked so many anti-Semitic boxes that the only thing missing was a dollar sign.”
Faced with the uproar, the Times offered an editor’s note that read like the impersonal script of a customer service representative. It took a second statement for the paper to actually apologize. In that second effort, the Times acknowledged that “such imagery is always dangerous, and at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise worldwide, it’s all the more unacceptable.”
“Apology not accepted,” the American Jewish Committee responded. “What does this say about your processes or your decision makers? How are you fixing it?”
The AJC comment was fitting, given that a second offending cartoon came next. Finally, Times Publisher A.G. Sulzberger announced: “We are changing our production processes to ensure adequate oversight and address issues with the international Opinion pages that enabled this mistake.” He also said the Times will stop publishing syndicated cartoons, and would be “updating our unconscious bias training to ensure it includes a direct focus on anti-Semitism.”
That training will be essential. What the choice of the cartoons demonstrates is how desensitized many have become to anti-Semitic notions and imagery. Even five years ago, it is impossible to imagine the Times having made such an error. But with campaign ads featuring photos of George Soros sitting in front of a pile of money, the American public discourse has coarsened and soured. Even international editors of the Times have lost touch with appropriate outrage.
We hope this is a wake-up call for the New York Times, and that these embarrassing missteps lead to serious introspection. Anti-Semitism is not acceptable anywhere or under any circumstances. It is hateful, it is corrosive and it is wrong. There is simply no place for it in the paper of record. JN