Samsung removes online cartoons mocking Jewish hedge fund founder


A Samsung subsidiary removed online cartoons that showed the Jewish founder of a hedge fund as a vulture with a large beak.

Samsung C&T removed the cartoons on Wednesday, The Associated Press reported, days after the company condemned anti-Semitism in the wake of anti-Semitic expressions in the South Korean media in reporting on the proposed merger between Samsung C&T, a construction company, and Cheil Industries.

The removal of the cartoons attacking Paul Singer, the Jewish founder of New York-based Elliott Associates, came a day before shareholders of Samsung C&T were to vote on the merger, which is opposed by Singer’s fund, the third-largest shareholder in Samsung C&T. Both companies are subsidiaries of the Samsung Group, South Korea’s largest family-controlled conglomerate. The merger is part of a consolidation effort.

Along with depicting Singer as a vulture, the cartoons show him hiding an axe behind his back while taking money from a man in ragged clothes.

The company reportedly asked AP not to publish a story before the shareholders meeting, according to the news service. The cartoons had been displayed on the company’s website for several weeks.

In reporting on the proposed merger, at least two South Korean media outlets blamed Jews for attempting to block the deal. One publication wrote that Jewish power on Wall Street “has long been known to be ruthless and merciless.” A columnist wrote that “Jews are known to wield enormous power on Wall Street and in global financial circles” and “It is a well-known fact that the U.S. government is swayed by Jewish capital.”

In a letter to the Anti-Defamation League earlier this week, both companies condemned anti-Semitism.

“We are a company that is committed to respect for individuals and enforces strict non-discrimination policies,” they wrote. “We condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms.”

Israel on the horn of a dilema


Comic book strip draws on old New York


Ben Katchor speaks slowly, hal-ting-ly, pausing frequently, as if he’s thinking of images to go with his words as he speaks.

He probably is, as the comic book artist (not graphic novelist) has been pairing images with words for most of his life. While the characters of his fanciful weekly strips — now collected into books — have often been strange, introspective, nostalgic and maudlin figures, his central character has often been the city of New York.

That’s why on June 29 at this year’s Nextbook Festival taking place at UCLA, Katchor will be featured on the panel, “Larger Than Life: Romancing the Lower East Side,” along with filmmaker Joan Micklin Silver in conversation with pop culture scholar Eddy Portnoy. Nextbook’s Festival of Ideas focuses this year on “Jewish Geography: Place, Design Memory, Imagination” and includes readings and panel discussions put on by the Jewish cultural organization that produces an online magazine and literary events and publishes a book series.

“As Jews abandoned New York’s Lower East Side for sunnier climes or better school districts, the old neighborhood only loomed larger, if not in their daily lives then in their imaginations. Where does the history of the Lower East Side end and the mythology begin? How have filmmakers and writers shaped the legacy of the neighborhood, and how have these works of art influenced Jewish identity?” the program reads.

The Lower East Side first captured Katchor’s imagination at a young age. Although he grew up in Brooklyn, he often went to the Jewish immigrant neighborhood with his parents. “My mother had her bank account that she opened as a young woman at Bowery Savings Bank, and for some reason kept it there — and we’d go shopping on the Lower East Side, and that would be the first stop. I remember going to this great temple of banking at the Bowery and then being dragged off shopping,” said Katchor, 57, on the phone from Paris, where he is visiting for the summer. (He lives in New York.)

He also went there with his father to visit hardware supply stores. “I think it was intact as a Jewish business area longer than it was a residential area.” The city and its characters fascinated him — and so did his research. “People wrote about it. This place was established by a succession of immigrant groups — now it’s mainly Asian, but before that it was Jewish and Italian, and before that it was German,” he said. “There are a lot of remnants of these groups. It’s a rich place, but I think most of my feeling about it is as a historian, not first hand.”

But it’s not really history, either; the New York in his strips never really existed. “

The classic Szyk haggadah becomes a modern masterpiece of the digital age


There’s a 1,000-year-old haggadah, there’s an Internet haggadah, and now there is a new $15,000 Arthur Szyk Haggadah.

Szyk (pronounced Shick) was a Jew, a Pole, an American, and always an artist, whose brilliant paintings and cartoons could give new life to ancient traditions or eviscerate a Hitler and Mussolini.

Now, almost 57 years after Szyk’s death, antiquarian bookseller Irvin Ungar has come up with a new edition of the artist’s 1940 Haggadah, which, Ungar believes, gives new meaning to the term state-of-the-art, particularly in digital technology.

To create the new haggadah, Ungar said he assembled an international team of top-flight craftsmen, including a digital photographer, writers, designer, bookbinder, printer, boxmaker and film director. To provide the perfect paper for the haggadah, Ungar tracked down a mill in Germany, which had been in business since 1584.

Szyk was born in Lodz in 1894 and started drawing portraits of guests in his parents’ home at age 4. After studying painting in Paris and visiting Palestine in 1914, he was drafted into the czar’s army in World War I but deserted. Later, he fought against the Soviets under the legendary Polish Marshall Josef Pilsudski.

With the rise of Nazism in neighboring Germany, Szyk became one of the first anti-Hitler cartoonists, explaining that “the painter of books wants to reply to the wall painter.” The Fuehrer allegedly put a price on the head of his nemesis.

At the same time, Szyk worked for two years on his haggadah, and, in 1937, took his 48 paintings to London, hoping to find a publisher who would do the work justice.

However, Szyk had injected his anti-fascism into his art, such as putting a swastika armband on the Egyptian overseer beating a Hebrew slave and a Hitlerian moustache on the Wicked Son. In the pre-war British appeasement days, every publisher turned him down until Szyk reluctantly deleted the Nazi symbols.



When the haggadah came out in 1940 in an original edition of 250 copies printed on calfskin vellum, it was one of the costliest publishing projects of the 20th century. Subsequent photo reproductions could not match the brilliance of the original.

The same year, Szyk immigrated to the United States, and, as a self-described “soldier in art,” his ferocious depictions of the Axis leaders soon graced the covers of Time, Colliers and newspapers across the country. Amazingly, his use of medieval techniques of manuscript illumination proved to be the right style for biting, contemporary satire.

After the war, he applied his talents to supporting Israel’s struggle for independence, in the process creating a new image of the muscular Jewish worker and soldier.

Szyk, whose cartoons had attacked McCarthyism and racist prejudice against blacks, ran afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee in early 1951, and within a few months he died at the age of 57.

In the subsequent decades, Szyk and his art were largely forgotten, until a renaissance during the past decade — including a spate of documentaries, biographies and one-man exhibits — brought him to the attention of a new generation.

One of the early rediscoverers was Ungar, a Reform congregational rabbi in Forest Hills, N.Y. and then Burlingame, who had left the pulpit in 1987 to found Historicana, an antiquarian bookseller firm in the northern California city.

Once introduced to Szyk’s work, Ungar was smitten and, as president of the Arthur Szyk Society, is now devoting his life to the master’s legacy, he said.

“No Jewish artist has been more devoted to liberty and social justice than Szyk,” Ungar declared. “No artist has done more to translate Jewish values into art. His haggadah is the great book of freedom.”

The new Szyk Haggadah is being printed in a one-time edition of 300 copies, divided into 215 copies of the deluxe edition at $8,500 per copy, and 85 copies of the premier edition at $15,000 each.

Each copy, resting in a clamshell box, is accompanied by 248-page companion volume on Szyk’s art and life, with essays by such scholars as former museum director Tom Freudenheim (a frequent contributor to The Jewish Journal) and Israeli historian Shalom Sabar. Also included is a DVD of the documentary “The Remaking of the Szyk Haggadah.”

For more information, call (650) 343-9578.


The Four Questions


Images reproduced with the cooperation of Historicana, publisher of the new edition of The Szyk Haggadah

Briefs: L.A. Koreans and Jews protest anti-Semitic cartoons published in South Korea;


L.A. Koreans and Jews protest anti-Semitic cartoons published in South Korea

Leaders of the Korean and Jewish communities in Los Angeles have joined forces to vigorously protest anti-Semitic cartoons in a book published in South Korea and translated into English.

A typical cartoon depicts a newspaper, magazine, radio and TV set with the caption: “In a word, American public debate belongs to the Jews, and it is no exaggeration to say that [U.S. media] are the voice of the Jews.”

The publication in question, which is in comic book format, is one in a series titled, “Distant Countries and Neighboring Countries,” and is designed to teach young Korean students about other nations.

It was written by Lee Won-bok, a popular South Korean university professor and author, and the book’s English translation has reportedly sold more than 10 million copies.

“I don’t have words to describe the outrage I feel,” Yohngsohk Choe, co-chairman of the Korean Patriotic Action Movement in the U.S.A., told the Los Angeles Times.

Choe was among leaders of the large local Korean American community who met last Friday with Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Choe added, “The depictions are explosive. They have the potential to harm good relationships with our Jewish American neighbors in Los Angeles.”

Cooper said he had written the publisher of the book, asking her “to carefully review the slanders in this book that historically have led to anti-Semitic violence and genocide,” and “consider providing facts about the Jewish people, our religion and values to young South Koreans.”

The publisher, Eun-Ju Park, answered by e-mail that she would check into the matter “more closely and correct what needs to be corrected,” a response Cooper considered unsatisfactory.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish liaisons for Bush and Clinton outline work in ‘the real West Wing’

Noam Neusner, who served as Jewish liaison and special assistant to President George W. Bush, said last Thursday that while the president welcomes comments from major Jewish organizations on matters of national policy, “it was kind of crazy” for the Union of Reform Judaism to pass a resolution condemning the Iraq War.

Neusner and Jay K. Footlik, who was President Bill Clinton’s Jewish liaison, spoke at Sinai Temple at the 2007 Rabbi Samuel N. Sherman Memorial Lecture. Titled, “The Real West Wing,” the event was co-sponsored by StandWithUs and moderated by Rabbi David Wolpe.

It is the job of the Jewish liaison to advise the president on a wide range of issues, including such things as lives of Jews in the military, allegations of proselytizing or arranging the annual White House Chanukah party. Footlik said some people believe that the Jewish liaison works for Jewish community, rather than for the president. He pointed out that American Jews are “not shy” about telling the White House their feelings.

In response to a question about anti-Semitism in America, both men said that in spite of the impact of President Jimmy Carter’s recent book, support for Israel remains solid, but they stressed “you can’t take it for granted.”

Each cited examples of their administration’s commitment to Israel and the Jewish people and expressed confidence that regardless who wins the 2008 elections, American support for Israel will remain strong.

— Peter L. Rothholz, Contributing Writer

Milken schools chief announces retirement

Stephen S. Wise Schools went into high gear to find a successor for Dr. Rennie Wrubel, who last week announced her intention to retire from the position of head of school of Milken Community High School and Stephen S. Wise Middle School on June 30, 2008.

Wrubel, 62, has headed the schools for 10 years, during which time she has increased enrollment, made both the academics and Judaic studies more rigorous and built up the Jewish culture of the school, according to Metuka Benjamin, director of education for Stephen S. Wise Schools.

“She has been a great asset to Milken and really helped develop and build Milken,” Benjamin said. “She brought it to the next level.”

On Feb. 22, Wrubel sent a letter to Benjamin, explaining that she and her husband, who is 10 years her senior, longed to spend more time with each other and with family. Her daughter and son-in-law live in Israel with three children — a 4-year-old and twin 10-month-olds.

“Leading Milken for these past 10 years has been the highlight of my 41 years in education. It has been far more than a job to me; it has been an act of love,” Wrubel wrote, saying the decision to retire was one filled with emotion.

Milken is planning an international search for the position in the 16 months before Wrubel retires. With its $30 million campus, challenging academics and robust programming, the school aims to compete with L.A.’s best prep schools.

A search committee is already in formation, and administrators have hired Littleford & Associates, a consulting and executive search firm that has worked with the synagogue and its schools in the past and understands the culture and needs of the school, Benjamin told parents in a letter. John C. Littleford has already visited the school to conduct focus groups to develop a leadership profile for the position.

Once candidates have been identified and narrowed down, small groups of parents, teachers, alumni, students and administrators will have a chance to interview semifinalists and give input to the search committee. The committee aims to make a final recommendation by February 2008.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Police Chief Bratton warns terrorism will be threat for the rest of our lives

“Terrorism, like crime, is going to be with us the rest of our lives” LAPD Chief William Bratton told Rabbi David Woznica at an open forum at Stephen S. Wise Temple Monday night.

“Since we are a likely target, we share intelligence with the FBI and the governments of Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Israel. We know we must trust one another and learn from each other.”He went on to reassure his audience, however, stating that “we are highly regarded for our capability and creativity, and there’s no place as well prepared as this place.”

Crooners celebrate Canuckia’s Cohen and a first for our very own Greenberg


Saturday the 24th

A Leonard Cohen love fest takes place at Royce Hall this evening. The enigmatic genius poet/songwriter is paid tribute in an event titled “The Gospel According to Leonard Cohen,” which is presented by Perla Batalla, a vocalist with whom he has frequently worked. While surprise guests are promised, confirmed performers include Jackson Browne, Michael McDonald, Howard Tate, Bill Gable, Bill Frisell and Don Was.

8 p.m. $17-$52. UCLA Royce Hall, Westwood. (310) 825-2101. ‘ target=’_blank’>www.sundancechannel.com.

Tuesday the 27th

Despite what we feel is a terrible title, “Melanoma My Love” may be worth your attention. The interesting premise of this Israeli film is a tragic tale about a young dancer who is diagnosed with melanoma at age 30, and given only three months to live. Not wanting to shatter her spirit with such precious time left, her husband chooses to hide the prognosis from her. The film screens — with a conversation with star Sharon Zukerman to follow — at UC Irvine tonight, and Pomona College tomorrow.

Feb. 27, UC Irvine.

Feb. 28, Pomona College International Theater, Pomona.
‘ target=’_blank’>www.graymattersmovie.com.

Thursday the 1st

Local author T Cooper signs her new acclaimed novel, “Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes” at Malibu’s Diesel bookstore on Wednesday, and Skylight Books today. To quote Publisher’s Weekly’s assessment of her latest, “[Cooper] takes apart the usual Jewish heritage tale and the themes of assimilation, touching them with postmodern parody and Chagallesque folk magic.”

Feb. 28, 7 p.m., Diesel, A Bookstore, 3890 Cross Creek Road, Malibu. (310) 456-9961.

March 1, 7:30 p.m. Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 660-1175.

Friday the 2nd

A Shabbat service with vocal resonance awaits at the Wilshire Theatre, this evening. The 50-voice Tabernacle Gospel Choir led by Justin White joins the Tova Marcos Singers of Temple of the Arts in an interfaith, intercultural “Shared Heritage of Freedom” service. They will be led by Rabbi David Baron and Bishop Charles Blake of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ.

8 p.m. Wilshire Theatre Beverly Hills, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 658-9100. IFF: Engaging in disengagement — five horrible days in Gaza

Revised emblem of Israel


Letters


Muslim Majority

Salam Al-Marayati’s apologetics miss the mark entirely (“Don’t Ignore the Quiet Majority of Muslims,” Feb. 17). In the wake of the mass violence throughout Africa, the Middle East and Asia, it is impossible to argue that a small, extremist element, “a handful of reckless Muslims” in Al-Marayati’s words, is responsible for weeks of mayhem. Tens of thousands of rioters have rampaged, killed, and looted with governments either abetting or unable to control the violence. They are not a tiny fringe. And they are not reacting to alleged anti-Muslim bias in Europe, as Al-Marayati tries to argue.

Whether the rioters and their silent supporters represent the majority of Muslims or a sizable minority is debatable, but one conclusion is certain: They and the intolerant strain of Islam they adhere to threaten all who disagree with them.

Linda Abraham
Los Angeles

The op-ed of Salam Al-Marayati is a well-articulated presentation that falls short of explaining the “civilized response” of U.S. Muslims to the caricatures of Mohammad. It is difficult to accept the representation that “free thinking is a cornerstone of Islamic law” when the essence of Islam is submission to Allah and violations of fundamental Sharia law are dealt with by dismemberment, stoning and decapitation.

Most troubling is the accusation that racism and bigotry in Europe are disguised as freedom of expression or democracy. Yet, many instances of quite the opposite is being reported — Muslims who choose to live in their own communities, following Sharia law in their dealings with each other, even if it contravenes the law of their adopted countries.

Quiet Muslims will be ignored until they speak up loudly against the violent actions of their fellow Muslims.

Aggie R. Hoffman
Los Angeles

School Pesticides

Thank you for your wonderful and important article about Robina Suwol and AB 405 (“Parent Wins School Pesticide Battle,” Feb. 10). Suwol is a tireless worker for our children’s health. Unfortunately, you did not mention that she and others helped to establish the Integrated Pest Management Team in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). This team, which has been operating for about five years, is one of the leaders in the country in minimizing the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides in our schools. LAUSD should be recognized for their pioneering spirit.

Dr. Cathie Lippman
The Lippman Center for Optimal Health
Beverly Hills

Cartoon Controversy

Hurray for The Journal! Although lacking the courage to print the riot-provoking cartoons, the honesty of the stated reasons for not doing so was refreshing (“Drawn to Controversy,” Feb. 10). That’s more than can be said for most of the country’s major news outlets.

Kenny Laitin
Via e-mail

Jack Abramoff

Over three decades ago, Equity Funding Corp., a Century City-based financial conglomerate, was forced into bankruptcy due to massive fraud and embezzlement. The trustee surmised that approximately 60 employees (about 10 percent of the workforce) were involved in some level, in the illegal activities (“Sympathy for the Devil,” Jan. 27).

Twenty-two of them, mostly Jewish, pleaded guilty to participation in the conspiracy.

Although both my wife and I were employees, we were neither involved nor knowledgeable, primarily because we joined the corporation long after the fraudulent activities began. Nonetheless, I’ve often wondered what I would have done, had I been asked to assist in the illegal activities.

The point is that given the opportunity, many otherwise honest people are easily seduced into immoral activities that they sincerely regret after the fact. Most of Equity Funding’s conspirators are truly repentant.

Because of that experience, I truly believe that men like Jack Abramoff are sincerely remorseful. So while it is important that they pay for their crimes, it is also important we accept their apologies at face value and practice forgiveness.

Leonard M. Solomon
Los Angeles

Kosher Gourmet

I was impressed with the excellent article in The Journal titled, “Oxnard Kosher Dining is a Sur Thing”(Feb. 3).

I did however take issue with one of the authors’ comments: “Kosher gourmet sounds like an oxymoron.”

Apparently the authors of this article have never sampled the food at Pat’s Restaurant on Pico Boulevard, or sampled the cuisine of Pat’s catering or Brenda’s catering, among others. Far from being an oxymoron, kosher gourmet has been alive and well in Los Angeles for many, many years!

Martin Shandling
Los Angeles

Military Hitch

I was stimulated by the recent article on Rabbi David Lapp (“Rabbi Ending Long Hitch in Military,” Feb. 17), which focused on his ability to bring all major branches of Judaism to work together to support the needs of Jewish soldiers.

I am wondering whether there might be other important areas in which such cooperation can occur, and whether Rabbi Lapp’s experience might suggest how that cooperation can be brought about to the benefit of the entire Jewish community.

Barry H. Steiner
Department of Political Science,
Cal State Long Beach

THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail: letters@jewishjournal.com; or fax: (213) 368-1684

 

Cartoon Riots Spark Sweet Backlash


In the wake of a Danish newspaper’s decision to publish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, Danish flags and embassies are beset by violent protesters in heavily Muslim countries. But a chocolate store in the windmill-filled, Danish American tourist village of Solvang has enjoyed a small spike in its mail-order business.

And it’s not just because of Valentine’s Day, though that always helps, said chocolatemaker Bent Pedersen.

“One comment was that they were buying in support of Denmark,” said Pedersen, who owns Ingeborg’s World Famous Danish Chocolates, which does a brisk business online from its Copenhagen Drive store.

Pedersen said that since anti-Danish rioting began, several people have called in long-distance orders and mentioned their desire to “buy Danish.” Consumers in heavily Muslim countries, in contrast, are boycotting Danish products, reportedly costing Danish business up to $1 million a day. In response, European and American free-speech supporters have been advocating a less well-known “Buy Danish” campaign.

Local law enforcement has, in recent days, become more focused on Solvang, which lies about 4 miles west of Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, in case it should become a target. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department issued an advisory about the rioting overseas to deputies on patrol.

“We’re on a heightened state of awareness, but we’re not on tactical alert,” said sheriff’s Lt. Phil Willis, Solvang station commander.

The only possible local targeting of Danish interests appears to be online. Before the anti-cartoon protests began, Denmark’s L.A. consulate, along with Danish embassies and consulates worldwide, received thousands of e-mails about the cartoons, overloading the Danish Foreign Ministry’s Internet systems.

“They were of just a magnitude that did create some problems in our e-mails,” said a diplomat at Denmark’s embassy in Washington, D.C. “We got several thousand of them. They were not hostile necessarily. Some of them, the ones that we could identify as being from the U.S., were sort of 50/50.”

A Northridge-based Danish American newspaper has no plans to reprint the cartoons that originally were published last fall. “We don’t need all that controversy,” said Gert Madsen, editor-in-chief of the national weekly Bien.

Pedersen in Solvang appreciated the handful of pro-Danish chocolate orders, which ran about $50 each, but thought it odd to get phone requests all the way from Maryland.

“It still was strange,” Pedersen said of one of the Danish chocolate lovers. “I don’t know how he found us.”

 

Letters


Cartoons

Thank you for your thoughtful comments on the cartoon episode (“Drawn to Controversy,” Feb. 10). My one area of disagreement is with the quote from Rabbi [Abraham] Cooper: “We live in a world based on freedom of expression.”

No we don’t. We live in a culture with those values. And therein lies the crux of the problem. Most Western cultures do value freedom of expression. But a theocratically structured culture that only values the “correct” interpretation of the Quran has no room for dissent or disagreement. After many centuries of being in the shadow of Western development it is time, as you stated, for the moderate branch of Islam to be heard from.

Saul Goldfarb
Oak Park

When you murder in the name of your religion, when your countries sponsor the blasphemy of other religions and make illegal the display of Christian or Jewish symbols, and when you use your religion to repress your women, you open yourself up to genuine criticism. In a free and open society, cartoons play a unique role in that criticism. Through wit, caricature and visual impact, cartoons do what 1,000 words can never do.

The provocative Danish cartoons did not dance around the subject. By depicting the Islamic prophet in ways that reflected an uncomfortable reality, they raised vexing questions on the subject of intolerance and terrorism in the name of Islam. The violent reaction in the Muslim world only confirms how relevant this subject is.

David Suissa
Los Angeles

Thank you for your excellent piece on the cartoon controversy.

You close your thoughtful piece with a challenge to the leaders of American Muslim groups to demonstrate peacefully against the rioters, and you offer the views of Salaam Al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) in particular.

Unless he has changed over the past four years since I last had any contact with him, he always skirted the issue of the State of Israel’s legitimate right to exist and insisted on distinguishing between Judaism and Jews on the one hand and Zionism and the State of Israel on the other. You might challenge him as well to clarify what he and MPAC mean by anti-Semitism, which he condemns. When I was part of the Muslim-Jewish Dialogue of Los Angeles with him, he would only acknowledge to me privately and to our group publicly that Israel exists, but he never argued for its moral legitimacy as a sovereign Jewish state. This was in contrast to those of us Jews in the now defunct dialogue who always argued for the national rights of the Palestinians to a state of their own.

To me, “moderate” American Muslim leaders implies that they accept the moral legitimacy of the Jewish people to the State of Israel. Until they do, they are not “moderate” in my book.

Rabbi John L. Rosove
Temple Israel of Hollywood

Editor’s note: Salam Al-Marayati explains in his article on our website.

Marlborough

I am a senior at Marlborough and took Laura Rochette’s AP introduction to Arabic literature course last semester (“Marlborough Defuses Anti-Israel Claim,” Feb. 3). She spoke passionately about the subject and would often relate the literature in class to what she learned on her travels to Jordan, Egypt and Israel. She took this trip with a group of educators because she was interested in Arabic literature and knew she would gain greater insight by learning more about Arabic culture. She had an Arab tour guide, who naturally expressed the Palestinian point of view concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

However, she is not anti-Israel. I have found that she is always open and receptive to the pro-Israeli views I expressed in essays and projects throughout the semester, which I based on my own two recent trips to Israel (with family and United Synagogue Youth).

Marlborough prides itself on diversity of thought, and every voice has an opportunity to be heard.

Leah Loeterman
Marlborough School
Class of 2006

Jack Abramoff

David Klinghoffer’s article, “In Defense of Jack Abramoff,” subtitled, “The strange case of sinner-mensch Jack Abramoff and the Jewish community that abandoned Him” is utterly appalling (“Sympathy for the Devil?” Jan. 27). Abramoff is a mensch? Does a mensch, by his own admission, create a charity, accept donations and then use those donations for his own enrichment, to bribe politicians or for other political graft?

Klinghoffer’s article offers nothing but ridiculous and insulting excuses and justifications for Abramoff’s crimes. Abramoff and Klinghoffer should both know better. Abramoff enjoyed every privilege our society has to offer. Instead of using his opportunities to give back to our country a small percentage of what he gladly took, he gave only to himself and others in power. He was not caught stealing a loaf of bread or food for his family to survive. His crimes were motivated by power and greed.

As for forgiveness, it is not enough to say that Abramoff will serve a jail sentence and that alone should entitle him to forgiveness. Klinghoffer has no business guilting the Jewish community for “deserting” a man who thumbed his nose at every principle we stand for and hold dear. It remains to be seen what Abramoff will choose to do with the rest of his life once he is released from prison. Until then, it is up to him to prove to the Jewish community as well as the rest of the country, whom he has wronged, what path he will choose.

Leslie M.B. Cole
Encino

Correction

The Blue and White Fund detailed in “Taking — and Giving — Stock” (Jan. 13) has since closed to investors and is no longer providing free $18 investments.

Controversial Cartoons

Rob, yasher koach on your “cartoons” column (“Drawn to Controversy,” Feb. 10). Thorough, thoughtful, valuable. Some good quotes from Rabbi Cooper, too. I was surprised at first to see you quote Al-Marayati, who sat in interfaith meetings with rabbis for months and then blamed the Jews for Sept. 11. But you deftly exposed his hypocrisy in the very next sentence. Yasher koach again.

You are right, of course, that moderate Islam is the major casualty, and that our war is not against a religion. What needs to be recognized — by our government as well as by the media — is that the moderates had no power before all this happened, before the Hamas election, and long before the made-for-TV cartoon frenzy. Those who are in power among our enemies recognize what this war is, and some of them say so, even in English. This is World War III, the Muslim world against the West. It’s time for us to wake up.

Rabbi Baruch Cohon
Via e-mail

Rob Eshman’s column on the Muhammad cartoons repeated a fantasy I’ve seen many times before: that there is a great contest in Islam between the “moderates” and the “extremists. I see no real evidence that there are moderates in the Islamic world, but I see much wishful thinking on the part of many in America and Europe. If there are such “moderates,” their ideas and goals may be moderate only in comparison to their more radical brethren. As the wishful thinkers should know, those in the Islamic world who do not subscribe to the aims of Al Qaeda and its ilk are generally dead, in hiding, flee into exile, or are terrorized into silence. Even in the Western world, those who the “extremists” consider apostates are in hiding to stay alive. A final note to Eshman: slandering a religion is not “racism,” since a religion is not a race, but I suppose calling someone a racist, even inaccurately, is the ultimate insult in the liberal vocabulary.

Chaim Sisman
Los Angeles

Munich

Now that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has recognized “Munich” among its consideration of awards, perhaps it is time, once again, to comment upon this film. Notwithstanding the criticism of its moral relativism, strict adherence to truth, anti-Semitism and whatever, “Munich” stands as another tribute to Steven Spielberg’s stature as a Jew, canny publicist and cinematic artist.

As a clever publicist mindful of today’s hostile climate toward Israel, could it be that Spielberg was aware that a film blatantly placing total blame upon the Palestinian terrorists, would be dismissed and forgotten as “Jewish propaganda”? In other words, criticism from his own community, strange as it seems, amazingly lent the film credibility outside the Jewish community, hence, its nominations.

Some criticized that the film was hastily made in a short period of three months. Was it a matter of coincidence that the film was released just before the beginning of the 2006 Olympic season? I think not.

Had it not been for his films, “Munich” and “Schindler’s List,” the world would more easily forget the blatant atrocities that occurred during those times of horror. It is Spielberg, using the bully pulpit of his fame and brilliance as a filmmaker who has taken it upon himself to regularly remind our children, us, and the world of the monumental acts of hate carried out against our people in the last century. Without Spielberg, the phrase, “Never Again,” would be rendered meaningless.

Stu Bernstein
Santa Monica

Klinghoffer writes as if he was a one-man parole board ready to release Abramoff from prison after serving no more than one year. He does not appreciate the enormity of misbehavior of his subject.

It is hard to believe that with all his exposure to all forms and aspects of Judaism, Abramoff did not hear or read about Dennis Prager’s well-known and well-worn one-liner: Ethical monotheism. Religion based on money and rituals is not ethical monotheism. An ethical person need not and cannot be “squeezed” to plead guilty to conspiracy, tax evasion and fraud.

Kenneth Lautman
Los Angeles

Abramoff has yet to ask for our forgiveness. Abramoff has yet to redress his transgressions. Abramoff has yet to repay those he stole from.

Our tradition holds that it is neither justice nor charity to forgive transgressions before an individual repents. Before any conversation whether Abramoff deserves forgiveness can ensue, he needs to repent.

Richard L. Adlof
North Hollywood

Aging

I want to thank Rabbi Lisa Edwards for a beautifully written article about aging, along with the commentary on the Parshat Vaera (“Wisdom of the Ages,” Jan. 27). Being in that age group myself and having many friends and family at this stage of life, I found her comments thoughtful, respectful and deeply felt.

Zita Gluskin
Sherman Oaks

Correction

The Blue and White Fund detailed in “Taking — and Giving — Stock” (Jan. 13) has since closed to investors and is no longer providing free $18 investments.

 

Don’t Ignore the Quiet Majority of Muslims


Most Muslims — and especially American Muslims — cannot fairly be accused of hypersensitivity when it comes to the Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. That’s because most Muslims have not overreacted, despite the stereotypic images served up by the media. In fact, most Muslims have hardly reacted at all — even those who are profoundly offended by the images.

To put this in perspective, consider for a moment the frieze of Muhammad installed inside the picturesque building that houses the U.S. Supreme Court. Muhammad is pictured there to pay homage to his role as a significant lawmaker in world history. His statue stands next to that of Moses.

In a 1997 court case, some Muslims raised concerns about the religious insensitivities demonstrated, but Chief Justice William Rehnquist upheld a lower-court decision to preserve this artistic rendition of Muhammad as a major contributor to jurisprudence.

Muslim Americans did not go out on the streets to protest. In the cost-benefit analysis, American Muslims felt that the acknowledgment of Islam’s contributions to Western Civilization outweighed the concern over insensitivity.

Maybe it’s because of such experiences that American Muslims are not getting as riled up as some in other parts of the world. It’s also true that U.S. media outlets have acted with responsibility and restraint, while the American Muslim community has had the opportunity to voice its position through mainstream media channels and a few peaceful demonstrations.

But this civilized Muslim response also should not be misinterpreted. Many peaceful Muslims reject the idea that this controversy is about defending freedom of expression. The same editors who decided to run caricatures of Muhammad demonizing him as a sex-driven and a bloodthirsty terrorist rejected caricatures of Jesus.

While they dared cartoonists to draw the most vile images of Muslims and Islam, they were not ready to deal with a Christian outcry over their own beloved symbols. And while there is anti-Jewish and anti-Christian sentiment in the Muslim world, it has never reached the point of defiling the images of Jesus and Moses.

Instead, Islam accepts Jesus as the word of God and Moses as one of the most honorable messengers of God, equal to Muhammad. In fact, hundreds of millions of Muslims will fast the next few days in honor of Moses and the exodus of the Children of Israel from the oppression of the pharaoh.

The Quran documents the verbal assaults against Muhammad, as well as those against Jesus and Moses, and embraces their decision to turn away from the insults, the same action that the vast majority of Muslims have done today. The Quran further demands that its adherents follow the free exercise of religion clause in Islam: “Let there be no compulsion in matters of faith” (2:256).

Free thinking is a cornerstone of Islamic law, and securing freedom of faith and expression are paramount goals in classical Islamic law. What some Muslims do, however, can and does contradict Islamic principles.

A handful of reckless Muslims who riot over the caricatures have ruined the case for Danish Muslims and European Muslims in general by distorting what is rightfully an issue of injustice and double standards. But this handful, which represents a fraction of the Muslim world, are countered by the overwhelming majority of Muslim institutions worldwide that have called for calm and restraint.

The world’s leading Islamic body, the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Conference, also condemned the violence, saying, “Over-reactions surpassing the limits of peaceful democratic acts … are dangerous and detrimental to the efforts to defend the legitimate case of the Muslim world.”

In reality, it is Europe that has not accepted Islam and Muslims as an integral part of pluralism. Instead, European governments apply double standards not only in journalism, but in the workplace and everyday life, where the Muslims of Europe live in de facto ghettos and are part of the downtrodden and disenfranchised.

I attended a conference in Brussels with the U.S. ambassador to Belgium in November, and in that setting, the overwhelming response from Belgian and European Muslims was that they want to be integrated into their society, what they call home. Indeed, the issue is one of integrating Muslims into Western culture by moving beyond tolerance and dialogue to co-existence and partnership. We view the lampooning of Muhammad as a dehumanization of Muslims in Europe similar to the dehumanization of Jews in Europe that acted as a precursor to their persecution.

We, Muslim Americans in particular and Muslims of the West in general are in the midst of two struggles, one for the soul of Islam and one for the soul of the West.

For the soul of Islam, we battle Muslim extremists on our cultural front lines — the mosque and Muslim community gatherings, through books and other publications. For the soul of the West, we battle racism and bigotry, whether it’s blatant or disguised as freedom of expression or even democracy. We work for mutual acceptance and building mutual trust as a means of countering mutual fear and prejudice.

Salam Al-Marayati is executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (salam@mpac.org.

 

A Bitter Pill for Europe to Swallow


A Danish employee of the European Union in Brussels confides that she is so fearful of Muslim anger over the now-infamous cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper that she is afraid to go home.

Unnerved Danish members of the European Parliament refuse to comment on the violent protests in the Arab world and even normally chatty European analysts said in interviews that they are withholding speculation for fear of fanning the flames.

“This is the first time there is a profound argument between modern Europe and the Islamic world,” said Emanuele Ottolenghi, a fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies and at the Middle East Centre of St. Antony’s College at Oxford University. “Now Europe is getting a taste of what Israel and the U.S. have long had to contend with.”

The furor has prompted all sorts of speculation. Many Europeans are wondering what Europe’s grappling with Islamic anger might mean to the delicate balance of E.U.-Middle East relations. Meanwhile, some analysts hypothesized that the protests were part of a wider Islamic effort to pressure the European Union into a softer approach on Islam, and in particular Iran.

Whatever the case, shock and sometimes even fear gripped the 25-member European bloc following days of anti-Danish and anti-European demonstrations during which Muslims vented their rage — in several cases setting fire to embassies — over 12 cartoons that appeared in Jyllands-Posten last fall.

The cartoons satirized the relationship between Islam and terrorism, in one case showing the prophet telling terrorists that there were no more virgins left to reward them for their acts. Numerous other newspapers across Europe have reprinted the cartoons in recent days to show solidarity with the Danes and to support freedom of speech.

As the protests grew more severe, with angry mobs in London and the Middle East calling for the beheading of the Danish newspaper’s editor and the cartoonist, Danish leaders and the newspaper apologized.

But their words have not quelled the anger in some quarters. In Iran, the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini claimed that a Zionist conspiracy was behind the cartoons while stones and petrol bombs were tossed at the Danish and Austrian embassies. Austria holds the E.U. presidency.

Elsewhere, Norwegian peacekeeping troops were fired on in Afghanistan, gunmen threatened to attack a French learning center in Nablus and, for the Danes, the most shocking incident was the police failure to halt the burning of their embassy in Damascus.

These developments come at a precarious time for European-Middle East relations, with Europeans grappling how to deal with Iran’s nuclear threat and future funding of the Palestinians, now that Hamas has come to power.

Ottolenghi noted that the Muslim demonstrations were occurring nearly five months after the cartoons appeared.

“So why now? There is nothing spontaneous about what is happening,” he said. “Denmark is going to be the chair of the U.N. Security Council when the decision about Iran’s nuclear activities is made and these protests are intended to make the Danes feel the heat.”

Ottolenghi said he suspects the riots are also intended as a message to those E.U. leaders hoping to maintain a hard line with Hamas.

“This violence is clearly intended to intimidate Denmark in particular and Europe in general and to push them to have a more accommodating attitude toward Hamas,” he said.

Such forecasts do not sit well with Jans Peter Bonde, a Danish member of the European Parliament.

“The Danish apology should be accepted and we can all have normal relations again. I think these violent elements are not the view of the majority in the Arab world. There is only one way forward: dialogue and peace. It will all be settled and then things will be back to normal,” he said.

Ottolenghi scorned the Dane’s “wishful thinking” that he said typified the European “whitewashing” of political Islam.

“They want to see it as kosher because they have no idea how to respond to the threat of Islamic violence,” he said.

If the European elite appeases the masses of angry protesters with continued apologies and promises of greater press respect for Islam, Ottolenghi said, some Muslims will feel that violence pays off.

The question of how to handle political Islam looms large within E.U. borders following the Al Qaeda attack on a Madrid train in 2004, the London train and bus bombings last summer attributed to Islamists and the 2004 murder of a Dutch filmmaker who criticized Islam’s treatment of women.

“It is clear now the European governments do not have a common position on what to do when they are haunted by political Islam,” said Richard Whitman, head of the European program for Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

The French Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy decried the firing of a French newspaper editor who ran the Mohammed cartoon. Britain’s foreign secretary, Jack Straw, took a different tack, calling the reprinting of the cartoons in various newspapers “disrespectful.”

There are approximately 14 million Muslims in Europe and the number is growing rapidly as they have a much higher birthrate than non-Muslim Europeans.

France has the largest Muslim and Jewish population in the European Union, with 5 million Muslims and 600,000 Jews. Germany, Britain, Austria and the Netherlands also have sizeable Muslim populations.

Most analysts agreed that leaders in E.U. countries were more concerned about the impact of the cartoon row on relations with Muslims within their borders than with relations with the Palestinians. But some said that an awareness of Islamic violence might create greater sympathies for Jewish issues.

“When Europeans see E.U. flags being burned in Palestine, people are asking themselves if this is the reward for spending all that money there,” said Marc Hecker of the French Institute of International Relations.

Ottolenghi was harsher on what he perceived as European hypocrisy.

“The Europeans have for years been deriding Israel for the way it behaves, saying how much more sensitive they are to the Muslims, but now that it’s Norwegian soldiers being stoned in Afghanistan, not Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, they might view things a bit differently.”

 

Europe’s Jews Caught in Cartoon Furor


European Jews have expressed a mixture of anger and frustration as the furor over a Muslim cartoon erupted into violence in Europe and the Middle East.

As frequent targets of anti-Semitic cartoons — many of them in the Arab press — Jews on one hand sympathized with the Muslim outrage over depictions of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, which is considered by Muslims to be blasphemous.

But Jews joined many others in expressing shock at the level of violence the controversy sparked.

“Of course, we condemn all forms of propaganda that carry prejudice toward any faith. But people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” said Serge Cwajgenbaum, the secretary-general of the European Jewish Congress.

In Denmark, Jews felt solidarity with their country as it came under attack after a Danish newspaper printed the controversial cartoons, including one that depicted the Islamic prophet Mohammed as wearing a turban shaped as a bomb.

“Usually the Jews are always in the center of things, but here we feel we are part of the Danish population,” said Rabbi Bent Lexner, Denmark’s chief rabbi.

Other newspapers across the world — in France, in Australia and in the United States — printed one or more of the cartoons. In France, the editorial director of France Soir, was fired after running at least one of the cartoons. At least one Israeli paper, the Jerusalem Post, also reprinted the cartoons. A German Jewish Web site, haGalil, was hacked after it posted some of the Danish cartoons.

The fallout took on specific Jewish overtones as the Muslim reaction intensified. As Muslims rioted across the Middle East, the Web site of the Arab European League printed anti-Semitic cartoons and Iran’s largest newspaper requested cartoon submissions that question the Holocaust.

“The cartoon was made by a Danish newspaper, not a Jewish one. But once again, someone does something and we as Jews are guilty,” said Petr Kadlcek, the head of Poland’s Union of Religious Jewish Communities.

Most European Jews, led by France’s chief rabbi, Joseph Sitruk, saw the original cartoons as a needless provocation.

Following a meeting with French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, Sitruk said, “We win nothing by disparaging religions, humiliating them by making caricatures of them.”

Jews are no strangers to racism dressed up as humor, said David Ruzie, a French university professor and international law specialist.

“There is humor, and there is humor,” Ruzie said. “It was through derision that Germany, and in France as well, before World War II, began to attack Jews.”

There was widespread condemnation of the Muslim reaction, which in addition to the anti-Semitic cartoons, included Muslim violence, throwing rocks at Danish and other European institutions abroad and, in some cases, setting buildings ablaze.

“I don’t believe in absolute freedom of expression,” said journalist Jean-Claude Baboulin, writing in Guysen Israel News, a news service, “but I certainly don’t defend the Muslims who believe they have a right to forbid others what their religion forbids them,” he wrote, referring to the Muslim prohibition to depict Mohammed.

This is not the first example of religious slander in the European media, but the reactions are exaggerated, said Jean-Michel Rosenfeld, a Paris official.

“There is something to be angry over, just like when Catholics were furious over caricatures of the Holy Trinity in the French press,” he said, “but the Catholics did not go out and burn buildings.”

Others reacted with more equanimity.

People of all faiths must work to defuse the situation, said Paul Spiegel, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, complementing German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her call “for prudence and de-escalation.”

For some elderly Danish Jews, the violence brought back some historical nightmares, said Lexner, the Danish chief rabbi.

“I think that there are some kinds of fear, especially of those people who have seen this burning of flags and violence in the many countries, and they compare” that to the 1940s, fretting that “things are repeating themselves,” he said.

In England, both lawmakers and Muslim leaders condemned a demonstration last Friday in front of the country’s largest mosque, during which some Muslims threatened terrorism and another “7/7,” referring to the July subway and bus bombings that left 56 dead.

Most Muslim protests in Europe were peaceful, however.

Many European and American Jewish observers noted the irony of Muslims and Arabs objecting to an offensive characterization of Mohammed when anti-Jewish characterizations are rampant in the Arab world.

Some in the secular French Jewish community revealed bitterness at the anger expressed against France, particularly concerning demonstrations that took place in Gaza.

Ruzie wrote on the Web site desinfos.com: “The traditionally welcoming attitude of France toward the Palestinians” has not exactly “paid off.”

Underlying much of the reaction was an anger that efforts at tolerance and dialogue could now be jeopardized.

“Some people have worked for trying to integrate the Muslim community in the Danish society, and I think that, in that way, many years of work were destroyed,” Lexner said.

JTA staff writer Chanan Tigay in New York and correspondents Dinah A. Spritzer in Prague, Lauren Elkin and Brett Kline in Paris and Toby Axelrod in Berlin contributed to this report.

 

Drawn to Controversy


Early this week I started getting the letters. By midweek there were dozens of them, all strident, some using BIG CAPS to make their point.

“Do you have the GUTS to reprint those cartoons?” many of them started off.

Some substituted another part of the male anatomy for guts — heck, I don’t even have the guts to reprint that word.

“Rob, do you DARE publish this!” said another letter.

And another: “You have a RESPONSIBILITY to publish the controversial cartoons on Islamofascism. PUBLISH THE CARTOONS… we need to resist the Islamofascists on ALL fronts. In solidarity with the people of free Europe and in support of the concept of freedom.”

The letter writers wanted The Journal to reprint cartoons of the prophet Muhammed that first appeared in a Danish newspaper in September. The cartoons have sparked international outrage among Muslims, including riots, kidnapping, diplomatic reprisals and death threats.

I composed a standard reply for all these correspondents, some of whom seemed to belong to a concerted campaign or movement.

 


A cartoon in a Palestinian newspaper drew inspiration from blood libel claims.

A caricature of a Jew penning an anti-Muslim cartoon ran in the online Iranian newspaper al-Vefagh.

 

“Dear Writer,” I began, “I have the guts to publish the cartoons if YOU have the TIME to stand guard in front of our offices and my house.”

I didn’t sign on to be on the front lines of the war of civilizations, and I certainly don’t intend to be pushed there on account of some third-rate scribbles — which, by the way, I wouldn’t have published in the first place.

Just about everybody I’ve spoken with thinks the cartoons are appropriate, even funny. But the cartoon of the prophet Muhammed with a bomb for a turban was a crude, racist stereotype of an entire religion. We’ve published plenty of offensive cartoons and images. Our April 19, 2002 full-color cover caricature of Yasser Arafat sucking the bones of the dove of peace as blood dripped from his chin comes to mind. Numerous liberal groups protested that issue. Even last week’s cover on Hamas, showing a hand holding a victory sign, a grenade and the ink-stained finger of a Palestinian voter, drew criticism.

But those images were attacks on specific people or groups, not an entire religion. I understand suicide bombers and terrorists act in the name of their religion. But for a newspaper to publish a cartoon that then indicts that religion crosses a line of logic and sensitivity.

“The bottom line is we live in a world based on freedom of expression,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center told me.

“But it’s a double-edged sword. Especially in the times we live in, people should have enough derech eretz not to mock entire religions,” the rabbi said, using the Hebrew expression for “respect.”

There is the teensiest bit of hypocrisy in the reaction of some Jews and Jewish groups. These are the same people who regularly blow gaskets every time the Los Angeles Times runs an op-ed cartoon of, say, an Israeli soldier with a Star of David on his helmet. If the paper published an image defaming all Jews and Judaism, these groups would be livid — and they’d be right.

But of course, that’s where the comparison ends. The hypocrisy on the Muslim side is of staggering, laughable-were-it-not-so-tragic proportions. The state-sponsored Arab media gushes with anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, anti-Buddhist, anti-Hindu caricatures and writings. Groups like the Wiesenthal Center and MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute, have been tracking such outrages for years. The bitter irony is that the European press, which itself has trafficked in anti-Israel cartoons that easily cross the line to anti-Semitism, has rarely if ever denounced these transgressions. And now their publishers and governments are shocked, shocked by the reaction from countries whose own press has long escaped their condemnation.

I won’t reprint those Danish cartoons, but I will reprint the above cartoon taken from a recent Palestinian newspaper, showing a Muslim girl crucified by an American and Israeli spear as Jews look on and gloat.

This is but one example. A program on state sponsored Syrian television dramatized the blood libel, and there were TV programs in Iran alleging that Israelis have murdered Palestinian children to use their eyes to give sight to blind Israeli children. The media and mosques mock and defame Jews, Americans and Christians, and the harshest reaction they garner is condemnation from the few organizations smart enough to understand where such extremism inexorably leads.

It leads to the beheading of American journalists, the kidnapping of innocent Christians aid workers — all in the name of Islam. “Muslims of the world, be reasonable,” wrote Jihad Momani, editor-in-chief of the weekly independent newspaper Al-Shihan in an editorial alongside the cartoons. “What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony in Amman?” Following the publication, Momani was fired.

Hypocrisy of this scope and scale goes beyond the capacity of mere individuals — it must be the work of governments. Indeed, many analysts believe that Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and/or Egypt have a hand in these riots. “It’s hard to believe this is spontaneous combustion,” Rabbi Cooper said.

The cartoons initially appeared in September. Imans of state-funded mosques carried them around, whipping up Muslim youth who, as the riots earlier this year in France proved, are fairly well-alienated in any case.

Why the leaders of this effort pulled the trigger now is a matter of speculation. Rabbi Cooper believes Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wanted to defuse pressure on his country’s development of nuclear weapons and test the international community’s resolve in confronting the “Arab street.” The Iranian News Agency actually runs an Arab-language newspaper on the Internet, al-Vefagh, that has stoked the controversy. The latest cartoon from al-Vefagh (pictured above), shows a Jew at work penning anti-Islam cartoons.

“The Iranians are taking notes, seeing how far they can push the West,” Rabbi Cooper said. “God forbid when they have nuclear weapons and can really bully us.”

Writing in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Dastour, Egyptian American journalist Mona Eltahawy said, “Perhaps the Muslim governments who spearheaded the campaign — led by Egypt — felt this was an easy way to burnish their Islamic credentials at a time when domestic Islamists are stronger than they have been in many years.”

On Tuesday, the Iranians found an even more insidious way to fan the flames: its largest newspaper launched a competition to find the 12 “best” cartoons about the Holocaust.

“The Western papers printed these sacrilegious cartoons on the pretext of freedom of expression, so let’s see if they mean what they say and also print these Holocaust cartoons,” Farid Mortazavi, graphics editor for Tehran’s Hamshahri newspaper, told the London Times.

My guess is Art Spiegelman isn’t going to be a finalist in this competition.

My other guess is that, crude and stupid as those cartoons will be, no Jews will start burning buildings or kidnapping Iranians.

This cartoon crisis is a battlefront in the war of civilizations. But that war isn’t between Islam and the West. It is between the tolerant and the intolerant, fanatics and moderates.

Those cartoons provided fuel for the fanatics to stoke the flames of the war.

But anybody with a wisp of hope for humanity cannot have a shred of sympathy for the rioters, the religious leaders and governments behind them.

Salaam al-Marayati, the executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC), told me that the cartoons crossed the line from free speech to hate speech. Many European countries have laws against Holocaust denial and Nazi propaganda, he said, and publishers of cartoons like these should face similar punishments. “Everybody has the right to be a racist,” he said, “but society has a responsibility to speak to these issues.”

In a press release, MPAC has condemned the cartoons and the violence. But its condemnation of the violence strikes me as too tame, too couched in criticism of the cartoons themselves.

Here’s some free advice to the leaders of American Muslim groups: Organize a massive, peaceful counterdemonstration against the rioters and their backers within Arab and Islamic regimes. Demonstrate for a peaceful resolution to this issue. Show the passion of moderate Islam. There is no excuse for crossing the line from being provoked and offended, to being violent.

I could publish those cartoons if I wanted to, but I don’t want to. The biggest casualty of this campaign of thuggery and intimidation is not free speech, but moderate Islam.

 

Sophisticated Kid’s ‘Lit’


In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Art Spiegelman and Fran├žoise Mouly created, edited and contributed to several editions of RAW, an anthology of post-modern comics (or “co-mix,” as Spiegelman insisted) that did much to reshape alternative comics. By culling work from a clique of cutting-edge New York and European cartoonists and publishing them in quality, coffee table-friendly editions, RAW put a gloss on the world of nonsuperhero comics that was previously associated with the grungy, drug-addled free associations of R. Crumb and Gilbert Shelton. RAW presented comics as high art and introduced readers to cartoonists Charles Burns and Mark Breyer, European dessinateurs such as Kamagurka and Seele, and the first installments of Spiegelman’s own chef d’oeuvre, the Holocaust opus “Maus.” The RAW anthologies not only influenced alternative cartoonists, but publishers of alternative cartoonists such as Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly continue to present alternative comics with reverence in classy, lush formats. Twenty years later, Spiegelman is married to Mouly, and the two have children. So the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist has recently begun directing high-brow material toward the younger set. Two years ago, the Spiegelman authored the children’s book “Open Me… I’m a Dog!,” and now he and Mouly have released a “RAW Junior Book” titled “Little Lit: Folklore & Fairy Tale Funnies.”

As an anthology of short children’s stories, “Little Lit” benefits from its pedigree of top-flight talent, drawn from the world of alternative comics and children’s books. RAW alumni Burns and Kaz have returned as contributors, and also joining the mix are premiere children’s book illustrator William Joyce (“Dinosaur Bob”) and European children’s book author Claude Ponti. Also contributing pieces are an elite assortment of young sophisticated cartoonists who have benefited from the path paved by the original RAW collections, including Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware and David Mazzucchelli.

Like most comic book anthologies, half the fun is the juxtaposition of different styles butted side by side. And like the RAW books, “Little Lit” offers a few conceptual novelties within its pages: a “Fairy Tale Road Rage” board game; a “What’s Wrong With This Picture?” centered around the Rapunzel tale. The late Walt (“Pogo”) Kelly’s “The Gingerbread Man” really sings, and Kaz’s cartoony “The Hungry Horse” is fun to look at. Mazzucchelli’s “The Fisherman and the Sea Princess” is a standout, both in illustration and in story, which, like Clowes’ “The Sleeping Beauty,” does not hinge on a happy ending. Nor should they, as the fairy tales of Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen often conveyed a darker side. Spiegelman himself opens the book with his rendition of the Chassidic parable “Prince Rooster.”

Since the book treads on the high-minded side and the dramatic stylistic change-ups might prove too visually inconsistent for younger readers, one wonders reading “Little Lit” whether the volume is sincerely aimed at children, adults, or, ultimately, the artists themselves. Nevertheless, for parents and comic book aficionados, it’s a unique project worth owning.

Art Spiegelman will appear at Storyopolis on Fri., Nov. 3, from 6-8 p.m. For more information or to make a reservation, call the children’s book store at (310) 358-2512. Also, visit www.little-lit.com.