Media mogul Rupert Murdoch publicly apologized Monday for the publication of a cartoon in one of his British newspapers critical of Israel, which critics blasted as “anti-Semitic.”
The cartoon, printed in The Sunday Times of London, shows Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu building a wall out of the blood and body parts of Palestinians. Its tagline read, “Israel elections. Will cementing the peace continue?,” a reference to the controversial barrier wall Israel has built between itself and the West Bank.
The caricature of Netanyahu also evoked some of the more anti-Semitic portrayals of Jews in the past, which was noted by Stephen Pollard, the editor of Britain’s Jewish Chronicle, and Board of Deputies of British Jews.
Publishing of the cartoon in The Sunday Times of London was unusual for the paper, which has normally been very supportive of Israel’s security concerns. It took an even more offensive tone, as it was put out on International Holocaust Rememberance Day.
The the main representative body for British Jews filed a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission, the body by which British newspapers regulate themselves, saying the cartoon “is shockingly reminiscent of the blood libel imagery more usually found in parts of the virulently anti-Semitic Arab press.”
Israeli columnist Anshel Pfeffer defended the cartoon in a piece for Haaretz, writing, “Should The Sunday Times have not published the cartoon on International Holocaust Memorial Day? Only if one believes that is a day in which Israeli politicians have immunity from being caricatured.”
Simon Kelner of the UK Independent also defended the cartoon as legitimate political commentary, adding that as a Jew, he was not offended by it.
“I believe that the state of Israel has a right to exist, but I think the monstrous injustice that has been visited on the Palestinian people shames the civilised world,” Kelner wrote. “So I’m afraid I see any attack on Israeli actions through this particular prism.”
Murdoch took to his Twitter profile to issue his apology.
“Gerald Scarfe has never reflected the opinions of the Sunday Times,” he wrote. “Nevertheless, we owe major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon.
Gerald Scarfe, the illustrator of the cartoon, apologized and defended himself from accusations of anti-Semitism in a statement on his website.
“First of all I am not, and never have been, anti-Semitic,” Scarfe wrote. “The Sunday Times has given me the freedom of speech over the last 46 years to criticize world leaders for what I see as their wrongdoings.
“This drawing was a criticism of Netanyahu, and not of the Jewish people: there was no slight whatsoever intended against them. I was, however, stupidly completely unaware that it would be printed on Holocaust Day, and I apologize for the very unfortunate timing.”
Martin Ivens, the acting editor of The Sunday Times, plans to meet with British Jewish leaders on Tuesday to apologize in person for the cartoon.
This is the second time Murdoch has been forced to apologize for perceived anti-Semitism. Last November, he tweeted, “Why Is Jewish owned press so consistently anti- Israel in every crisis?,” which drew sharp criticism. He apologized on the social networking website the next day.