Unfortunately his talent has not saved him from being a "committed" anti-Zionist. He has allied himself with a band of like-minded ideologues, impervious alike to facts or arguments, for whom he serves a useful propaganda function. While the precise agendas for which Zapiro provides a useful service may vary, they share the common strategy of using the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a political lever. In these games of political intrigue it goes without saying that Israel and the Israelis are entirely dispensable. Less often appreciated or acknowledged, the Palestinian population also serve as disposable pawns but with the added advantage of providing ample opportunity for the shedding of crocodile tears.
A recent Zapiro cartoon, published in a number of newspapers owned by the Independent group, has stirred up the Jewish dovecot considerably. In a series of rather banal visual images, Zapiro used the Holocaust and other elements in the persecution of European Jewry to slate alleged Israeli "collective punishment" of the Gazan and West Bank Palestinians. My letter published in the Cape Times of 14 March (and reproduced below) used this as a point of reference to attack the reasoning behind the cartoon.
Despite my own misgivings over the last paragraph in my letter, it evoked considerable support from members of the Jewish community and an edited version will be published in the Cape Jewish Chronicle, a monthly newspaper of the Western Cape community (see also http://cjc.org.za). Besides my own response, a number of other letters also appeared which ranged from the angry to the sorrowful.
This sparked a minor debate within the community as to what constitutes a "fair" response to to such attacks. To some (and probably to many outside the community), Jews are over-sensitive and too aggressive in response to political differences which they disapprove of. Philip Roth in his book of essays entitled "Reading Myself and Others" recounts some hair-raising, highly personal attacks from communal Jewish leaders, and others, in reaction to his less virtuous Jewish characters.
On the other side of the coin are those Jews who chose to ignore all or most "anti-Jewish" comment, whether fair or malicious. Some of this inaction is cowardice, some disinterest, some is a form of internalised anti-semitism and some is just plain sensible. My own position is that Jews are over-emotional (so what's new?) and we too often play into the hands of our enemies and undermine our friends.
Furthermore, even opponents can have a point.
We need more cold-blooded calculation and detachment. Precisely where the perfect threshold lies is, of course, more a matter of intuition than science.
In the global (and South African) context, much anti-Israeli behaviour and comment is not "spontaneous" but is rather orchestrated by those with specific anti-Zionist agendas. Hence, our own response needs to become even more calculated and "professional", a lesson which needs to be fully absorbed by our official spokespersons.
What is left unresolved, is what happens to serious debate in the trench warfare conducted by the troops, official or otherwise, serving in the propaganda arena. Surely this possibility needs to be kept alive despite the whizzing missives and the profound cynicism of our opponents.
Letter in the Cape Times:
I fear there may be an outraged response from some members of the Jewish community to Zapiro's tasteless cartoon in today's Cape Times (and other newspapers of the Independent group) which will simply serve to validate him in his own eyes.
Zapiro is too old to be treated as an enfant terrible. Even cartoonists are assumed to have the capacity to mature, to read, to reconsider history and to acquaint themselves with the history of their people.
Let us take simply one reference in the cartoon to "collective punishment". Does Zapiro imagine the Holocaust was a form of "collective punishment"? If so, in response to exactly what? I don't remember the Jews shooting thousands of rockets into Berlin. I don't remember the Jews threatening to destroy Germany and exterminate the German people. I don't remember Jews going into German kindergartens, theological seminaries, cinemas or cafes loaded with explosives. In fact, so deficient were they in the requisite spirit of military fervour, Jews didn't even blow up fellow-Jews with whom they had serious doctrinal differences. I do recall that the greatest wish of most German Jews was to become good Germans and be part of German society. It was precisely for this crime - the crime of integration, the crime of contamination - for which the Holocaust was "collective punishment".
Similarly, what acts of aggression or threats of extermination accounted for the millennia-long story of pogroms, expulsions and blood libels the Jews suffered in Europe? What analogy is Zapiro attempting to draw our attention to when he refers to "collective punishment"?
Does he seriously wish us to believe that the thousands of rockets and mortars falling on Southern Israel is a reasonable response to Israel's complete withdrawal from Gaza? Does Zapiro believe that the training and rearming of Hezbollah and Hamas by Iran is in response to Israeli "occupation" and has nothing to do with Iranian internal politics, theological doctrines and regional and global strategic ambitions? Does Zapiro know anything of the Hamas charter or the daily instigation of Islamist doctrine and vicious anti-semitism across vast swathes of the Muslim global community? If he knows about these things (and much more), what does he do with such information when he creates his anti-Zionist cartoons?
If, at this stage of his life, Zapiro is still incapable of articulating his concerns with Israel's political and moral position except in this profoundly ignorant, offensive (and, it must be said, visually banal) manner, we must assume that he is simply incapable of the intellectual and moral growth which distinguishes talent from substance.
That is why, barring some epiphany, Zapiro will remain a mere cartoonist rather than a respected social commentator and will continue to be validated by only by those whose ignorance, narcissism and prejudices mirror his own.