Steve Greenberg knows what political cartoonists are saying about the fighting in Israel and Gaza, and he ought to. He’s a political cartoonist himself.
Greenberg, who draws for The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, and is syndicated in other papers, including The Chronicle, has been following the treatment his colleagues in America and around the globe have given the war since its outbreak 10 days ago. His impressions may surprise you.
“I think it’s been relatively sympathetic to Israel for the most part,” Greenberg said of the coverage.
Greenberg is one of three Jewish political cartoonists The Chronicle interviewed to gauge the trend in cartoon coverage since the outbreak of the war. He and Stu Goldman work primarily for the Jewish media. Jimmy Margulies of The Record, in Bergen County, N.J.; King Features syndicates his work.
Historically, the political cartoon has enormous power to sway a mass audience. Nazi Germany used the medium as a propaganda tool in order to convey Jews as dark cynical characters with hooked noses. The Arab media has used the political cartoon the same way.
But mainstream political cartoonists take an array of positions with their drawings, including on the Israel-Hamas war.
On the fighting, “the cartoons I notice tend to fall into three categories,” Greenberg said. “One is sympathetic to Israel where Hamas was committing terrorism and Israel has justifiably defended itself. The second camp is sort of neutral, where the cartoons were generally bemoaning the end of the peace efforts or the end of the cease-fire — sadness that this violence has happened, that the peace has been shattered.
“The third category — [cartoons] that were critical of Israel — were generally from Islamic countries — big mean Israel creating havoc against civilians,” Greenberg continued. “I would say that latter category is to be expected anyhow because that’s the daily stock and trade for the Islamic press.”
He said he’s surprised by the way his colleagues have treated the war so far.
“Maybe a little bit. Of course, the media coverage shows the carnage against civilians. I would expect if this continues for a while the cartoons would become less sympathetic. I would expect to see more cartoons that are critical of more carnage.”
Margulies has also noted support for Israel among American cartoonists.
“Some have definitely been sympathetic to Israel, pointing out that Israel put up with all these rocket attacks was justifiable in defending itself,” said Margulies, who went to college at Carnegie Mellon University. “Some have defended Israel, pointing out that Hamas has used its citizens as human shields.
“I’ve seen a very small minority that says Israel is overreacting, but only a very few of those,” he added.
Goldman, a native of New Kensington, said he has paid little attention to what his colleagues are drawing, but offered insight into how he is drawing this conflict.
“What I’m trying to do is digest the news and regurgitate it in a different way,” Goldman said. “I’m probably going to pull out a football theme soon because that’s what is going on around every one. Now, if I can just put those adversarial situations on a football field — one gross foul one team puts on another.”
He frequently employs humor to make his points, which can prove controversial if the cartoonist goes too far.
“What kind of statement can I make? That it’s a bad thing? Do I make a joke out of it?” asked Goldman, a Vietnam veteran. “If I make too much of it, am I becoming too immured to it myself? Is it because I’ve been shot at? I have been, and I used to treat it as humor, and it got me in trouble with people around me. But that’s how I handle things.”
Margulies encountered that situation firsthand when he recently drew a cartoon showing an Israeli Air Force jet dropping Bernard Madoff over Gaza, the pilot saying that this will finish off Hamas.
Greenberg said the cartoon coverage of Gaza compares more favorably for Israel than did the coverage of the Lebanon War.
“I think maybe there’s a little more sympathy this time because the daily rocket attacks [against Israel] are clear,” he said. “It’s pretty evident it’s happening, and the rocket range is getting longer, and it’s understood that weapons are being smuggled into Gaza with help from Iran.”
He couldn’t predict how cartoonists will treat the ground invasion of Gaza, which began Sunday.
“If Israel invades on the ground that’s going to be tricky. I would expect if Israel invades on the ground there would be a lot more Israeli casualties. If both sides have a lot more killed I would expect the cartoons to be on the side of bemoaning the lack of peace or calling for a truce or some neutral halt to this.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)