Finn Graff’s cartoons came home to roost

Unapologetic Helle. it is not the first time Helle faces tough questioning for his lax editorial line on anti-Semitic cartoons. Are they really still at it, he complained when confronted with reactions.

In relation with the release of Gilad Shalit from unlawful kidnapping in Gaza, more than 1000 Palestinian terrorists, many with lots of blood on their hands, Norwegian cartoonist Finn Graff found no better way to celebrate the fact than to draw an anti-Semitic cartoon. At the time, Mr. Graff and (former) editor in chief Lars Helle, were totally unapologetic in the face of the strong reactions it provoked – are they really still at it, Helle complained when confronted with angry reactions.

Now, the chicken has come home to roost – leaders from 3 major US Jewish organizations have written an oped which was published in Dagbladet yesterday.


Dagbladet 2011 11 21 p 52

Andrew Srulevich (ADL), Eric Fusfield (B’nai B’rith International), Mark Weizman (Simon Wiesenthal center)

Not Online

(“Publishing Poison”, author’s original caption to this article)

“Freedom of speech means you may not criticize my newspaper!”

Such was the essence of former editor-in-chief Lars Helle’s argument in response to complaints about a Dagbladet cartoon that compared the situation in Gaza to the Holocaust.  Published on the day of Gilad Shalit’s release, the cartoon depicted Palestinian prisoners entering “Gaza,” with the subheading “Jedem das Seine,” (“Everyone gets what they deserve”), the inscription on the entrance to the Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald.

The cartoonist, Finn Graff, displayed disturbing ignorance both of the Holocaust and of Gaza.  The rest of us know that there are no crematoria in Gaza.  Israeli soldiers are not subjecting tens of thousands of Gazans to slave-labor as an exploitative method of murder.  Nor are Israelis injecting Gazans with deadly viruses to conduct medical experiments.  In fact, with Gilad Shalit’s release, there are no Israelis at all in Gaza.  Yet, when asked why he made the comparison, Graff responded, “Because I think it fits.”

The comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany was a major topic of a roundtable discussion in Oslo in June that we participated in with editors of the major Norwegian newspapers, the Middle East correspondent for the state television channel, and Norwegian media analysts.  When confronted with a previous cartoon by Finn Graff, published by Dagbladet, showing former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as a Nazi, Lars Helle reverted to the position that Graff was not an anti-Semite and the cartoon provoked a healthy public debate.

In response, we explained the inherent anti-Semitism of the Nazi comparison: to equate Israel with the Nazis is to brand Israel as evil and to call for its destruction.  Its inclusion in the European Union’s working definition of anti-Semitism is widely accepted and fully justified.  We appealed to the responsibility of the media not to spread anti-Semitism and explained the difference between responsible criticism of Israel and indiscriminate demonization.  We said that what is in Graff’s heart is not the issue; what appears on Dagbladet’s pages is.  We now know our words clearly fell on deaf ears in the case of Helle.

But not of everyone.  Ervin Kohn, the head of the Jewish Community of Oslo, was not alone in criticizing the latest cartoon and the decision to publish it.  Erling Rimehaug, an editor at Vart Land and one of the more encouraging participants at the roundtable discussion, wrote about how the cartoon insulted Holocaust victims and Dagbladet’s editorial failure in running it.

It would do no harm to Norway’s freedom of press if Dagbladet’s new editor made clear that anti-Semitism will not be tolerated, including the pernicious comparison of Israel with the Nazis.  Such editorial responsibility would better serve Norway’s press and readers than the outlandish demand that newspapers be above any criticism.  Publishing anti-Semitism is not an exercise in freedom of the press; it is merely the peddling of harmful lies.