Australian cartoonist on Israel - Politics | PoFo

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By vage
Michael Leunig of The Age (Melbourne) responds to critics of his controversial cartoon about Ariel Sharon’s stroke:

I can almost imagine that if Sharon could have sat up from his coma and seen the cartoon, he might have approved: "Yeah, that's me, with the last movement in my body I'll attack my enemies, whoever they are."


In Melbourne, cartoonist Michael Leunig of The Age makes an association between Ariel Sharon and Hamas’ late founder, Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

The Age

The cartoonists' lot: holding the mirror to a fractured world

By Michael Leunig
January 13, 2006

Two years ago I was invited to speak at the Melbourne Jewish Museum on the subject of cartooning. The forum was titled "Cartoonists: cruel, clever or a nation's conscience?" and I eagerly agreed to speak. A month later, however, came another email from the museum cancelling my invitation because of "my strong views about Israel". I was dismayed and perplexed. What strong views about Israel were they referring to?

Certainly my cartoons had expressed deep disturbance about Ariel Sharon's strategies but in no forum had I ever expressed my views about Israel - the nation. I had, like many commentators and cartoonists, been strongly critical of particular policies and deeds done, which is well within the democratic, intellectual, artistic and media tradition and which is what I am paid to do.

My views about Israel are that I want Israel to survive and prosper as a secure, healthy and peaceful nation. Like many Israelis, I have had grave doubts about Sharon's approach, which I fear may have been ultimately damaging to the progress of Israel's healthy nationhood. I have a Jewish friend, a Holocaust survivor, who says she never could have lived in Israel because in her view it is a totalitarian state. Yet others I have known who live there are more hopeful and uniquely matured and humanised by having grown up with the troubles.

Regardless, I believe that something fundamental and vital, not just to Israel, but to the entire world, has been gravely mishandled by the present Israeli administration and it bothers me deeply. It is my right to express this.

"Why do you criticise Israel and not the Palestinians?" Well, my work is usually humanistic, so in a universal sense it can be safely assumed that I'm deeply reluctant about anybody's violent policies or deeds. Political cartooning is particularly interested in the phenomena of our hypocrisy and is not so much concerned with decrying the obvious, conventional devil, but with revealing that there is a bit of the devil in all of us. Yes, it is not afraid to be negative. It's a spiritual inclination expressed in the wise Hasidic question: "What is my part in this?"

As far as I remember, I have not done a cartoon about Israel for about a year, unless you count the ones about Iraq. Cartoonists are very reluctant to go near this prickly subject because there can be a large personal cost. One New Zealand cartoonist recently lost his job over such a cartoon, which I think is a terrible shame.

There comes much vicious mail, much vitriol and great swathes of annihilating insults on those futile and frustrated hate blogs. When you're alone on the receiving end of such malice and loathing you get a privileged insight into what lies beneath the surface of our "civilised society". The Cronulla riots are only a small part of the sick mosaic.

With Sharon gravely ill and dwindling, commentators naturally began their appraisals of his life. Many depict him as not only a tough guy but also probably a serious war criminal and a leader who quite possibly was corrupt enough to take the odd hefty bribe.

In this robust atmosphere I, perhaps foolishly, made a cartoon (Letters, 11/1) about that strange situation that is a person's dying days - not to have a swipe at Sharon or Israel but to open up some more existential and, dare I say it, "Shakespearean" thoughts about the pathos and wry darkness of this powerful man's demise as well as the tragedies and dilemmas in which he has been implicated. I thought it worthwhile. And as a humorist, as distinct from an essayist, I found a dark approach befitting the subject.

Cartooning is nothing if not primal and emotional - the shadowy, natural truths and organic indecencies that make many readers and some intellectuals squirm and others laugh, inwardly at least. The best cartoons are also philosophical and poetic by nature, rather than slick and expert; they are sublimely ambiguous, disorderly and vague, and their purpose is not to nail things down but to open things up. They must express what is repressed - both personally and culturally - and that can be messy and daggy.

Why has political humour become so award-winning, so refined and chic and prudish? How come the more bloody and brutal the world gets, the more a newspaper cartoonist is asked to be nice, witty, loveable and tasteful? Whatever happened to the tradition of black, grim, cabaret humour? Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, Woody Allen.

I can almost imagine that if Sharon could have sat up from his coma and seen the cartoon, he might have approved: "Yeah, that's me, with the last movement in my body I'll attack my enemies, whoever they are."

And isn't that the point: this whole bitter, cruel tragedy of Palestine and Israel increasingly appears to be a stubborn, crazed fight to the death with the world getting dragged in.

And there is the haunting relationship between Sheikh Ahmed Yassin's wheelchair and Sharon's impending one - there but for the grace of God . . . My offending cartoon also raises the very serious question of political assassinations and the technical and moral ease with which they are conducted. A small impulsive movement of a finger could well be the signal; thumbs up or down.

If society no longer wants troublesome, disturbing cartoonists who take improbable positions, so be it. But let's not hear any more of Pastor Martin Neimoller's lament: "First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew." What sort of a person will dare to speak out? Probably not a perfect one. Maybe even an idiot.

By Thomas Merton
Personally I think the cartoon below displays more wit and knowledge about the conflict:


Michael Ramirez, California -- The Los Angeles Times.
User avatar
By Zagadka
Obviously, Mr. Ramirez has much greater concern for artistic integrity than his Australian counterpart. This means that Americans are better than Australians. Period.
User avatar
By Maxim Litvinov
Leunig is generally pretty good. He has a fairly melancholy philosophical 'meaning of life' type tone generally, but when he picks on an issue he'll often be savage about it. I can't remember him mentioning Israel before in a cartoon.


Unfortunately, I can't find any good cartoons of his on the internet.

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