Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch has issued a surprise apology on Twitter over an anti-Israel cartoon whose publication by the British newspaper 'Sunday Times' coincided with Holocaust Memorial Day and which was widely condemned as offensive to Jews. The 81 year-old Murdoch, whose News Corp. is the owner of the leading British paper, said the cartoon had been “offensive". His apology came despite the newspaper launching a staunch defense of the work by political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, 76.
The cartoon depicted Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu building a wall using what appeared to be the blood of Palestinians as cement. The caption said: “Israel Elections: Will cementing peace continue?"
The Board of Deputies of British Jews complained to the Press Complaints Commission, arguing the cartoon, was “shockingly reminiscent" of pictures used in “the virulently anti-Semitic Arab press". Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board, said: “The cartoon is shockingly reminiscent of the blood libel imagery more usually found in parts of the virulently anti-Semitic Arab press. Its use is all the more disgusting on Holocaust Memorial Day, given the similar tropes leveled against Jews by the Nazis. This far exceeds any fair or reasonable criticism of Israeli policies."
The Community Security Trust, a charity that monitors and works with the police to curb anti-Semitism as well as to protect the Jewish community, said its offices had received numerous calls and emails from members of the public upset and angry about the cartoon. The charity said the cartoon was perceived by many as part of the cannon of contemporary anti-Semitic imagery.
Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, who now serves as Middle East peace envoy, expressed "sharp reservations" about the drawing, his spokesman said. The European Jewish Congress also condemned the publication of the cartoon.
In a post to his more than 400,000 followers, Murdoch said: “Gerald Scarfe has never reflected the opinions of the Sunday Times. Nevertheless, we owe major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon."
The new editor of the 'Sunday Times' is to meet leading figures in Britain’s Jewish community tomorrow to apologize "face to face", it was announced on Monday night. The paper had earlier defended the cartoon, claiming it was “typically robust" and denying that it was anti-Semitic. "The Sunday Times firmly believes that it is not anti-Semitic," a statement had said. "It is aimed squarely at Mr. Netanyahu and his policies, not at Israel, let alone at Jewish people. It appeared on Sunday because Mr. Netanyahu won the Israeli election last week."