What I feared has come to pass: a massive Israel lobby barrage of confected outrage has scored a direct hit on the Sydney Morning Herald, completely destroying its slogan, 'Independent. Always.' The sound of popping champagne corks and excited South African accents can be heard from lobby redoubts in Sydney's east even as we speak.
Warning: the following editorial contains instances of extreme grovelling that may cause nausea in some readers:
"There has been widespread reader and community reaction during the past 10 days over a cartoon that was used to illustrate an opinion piece by columnist Mike Carlton on the conflict in Gaza. Much of that concern was borne out publicly on our letters pages - and there has continued to be commentary and correspondence that has sought to make sense of the conflict. The Herald has drawn opinions from a wide variety of sources to help readers to understand the causes of, and the possible ways to end, the war between Hamas and Israel. Deeply critical exchanges have taken place over the opinions expressed in Mr Carlton's column, and properly so, as we invite debate over any column we publish. But the Herald has also fielded a number of accusations of racism over the cartoon.
"Today, the Herald wishes to apologise for this distress, draw a line under the debate about the cartoon, and return focus back to the events in Israel and Gaza.
"The cartoon showed an elderly man, with a large nose, sitting alone, with a remote control device in his hand, overseeing explosions in Gaza. The armchair in which he was sitting was emblazoned with the Star of David, and the man was wearing a kippah, a religious skullcap. A strong view was expressed that the cartoon, by Glen Le Lievre, closely resembled illustrations that had circulated in Nazi Germany. These are menacing cartoons that continue to haunt and traumatise generations of Jewish people.
"In addressing individual and community concern after the publication of the cartoon on July 26, the Herald looked to the fact that Mr Le Lievre's distinctive drawing style routinely sees old people depicted with large noses and pronounced facial features. It is the way he draws and his visual archive, dating back many years, confirms this. It was also significant that the cartoon had its genesis in news photographs of men seated in chairs and lounges, observing the shelling of Gaza from the hills of Sderot. One of those photos depicted an old man, wearing a kippah, reclining casually as part of a group - with Mr Le Lievre seeing comparisons between this and someone watching their television; hence the remote control. Another photo portrayed a lone man on a large couch - and thus the cartoon blended these two images.
"The Herald deeply regretted the upset the image had caused, but felt - not least because the cartoonist lacked any intent and that actual photographs influenced the setting and physical depiction of the character in the cartoon - that no racial vilification had occurred.
"However, this newspaper accepts that this position was too simplistic and ignored the use of religious symbols. The Herald now appreciates that, in using the Star of David and the kippah in the cartoon, the newspaper invoked an inappropriate element of religion, rather than nationhood, and made a serious error of judgment. It was wrong to publish the cartoon in its original form. We apologise unreservedly for this lapse, and the anguish and distress that has been caused.
"Our commitment remains to reporting in a fair and balanced way on the appalling events in Israel and Gaza, where our correspondent, Ruth Pollard, is currently based, witnessing daily the horrors of war. The devastation being inflicted on innocent men, women and children, on livestock and property, has shocked a world that has become all too comfortable with its own indifference - with all sides in the conflict being condemned by the United Nations for unconscionable practices. All the while, the world earnestly hopes and waits, so far in vain, for a lasting ceasefire and a sustainable peace - a resolution that will stay the blood and the tears." (We apologise: publishing cartoon in original form was wrong, 4/8/14)
You can read my posts on this issue, beginning with Carlton & Le Lievre Get Gaza (27/7/14), by simply clicking on the 'Mike Carlton' label below. Note that the Herald has been subjected to threats of legal action and a boycott by the usual suspects.
Israel lobby 1, Free Speech 0.