Rupert Murdoch apologises over Gerald Scarfe cartoon

Rupert Murdoch Rupert Murdoch said Gerald Scarfe did not reflect "the opinions of the Sunday Times"

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Rupert Murdoch has apologised for a "grotesque, offensive" cartoon printed in the Sunday Times that has led to complaints of anti-Semitism.

The cartoon, by Gerald Scarfe, appears to depict Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu building a brick wall containing the blood and limbs of Palestinians.

Scarfe reportedly regrets its publication on Holocaust Memorial Day.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said it had complained to the Press Complaints Commission.

The cartoon was captioned: "Israeli elections. Will cementing peace continue?"

The Jewish Chronicle said that in a message denying it permission to reprint the cartoon, Scarfe said he "very much regrets" the timing of the cartoon.

He had apparently been unaware that Sunday was Holocaust Memorial Day.

Mr Murdoch wrote in a tweet: "Gerald Scarfe has never reflected the opinions of the Sunday Times. Nevertheless, we owe major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon."

What is "blood libel"?

  • The origins of the term blood libel lie in the Middle Ages when Jews were falsely accused of ritualised murder, particularly of children
  • The claims were used to justify violence against Jewish people
  • The earliest known example in the UK is from 1144, when an unfounded rumour about the death of a 12-year-old boy, William of Norwich, suggested he had been kidnapped and murdered by Jews
  • During the 1930s, Nazi propaganda in Germany periodically explored accusations of Jewish ritual murder
  • Some people use the term to refer to any false accusation deemed to be anti-Semitic and/or involving bloody violence. Former US politician Sarah Palin provoked controversy in 2011 by labelling as blood libel media suggestions that heated political rhetoric could have contributed to a mass shooting in Arizona in which then-congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was wounded and six people died

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said the cartoon was "shockingly reminiscent of the blood libel imagery more usually found in parts of the virulently anti-Semitic Arab press".

The term "blood libel" refers to myths dating back to the Middle Ages that Jews murdered children to use their blood during religious rituals.

'Immense pain'

The Sunday Times's acting editor, Martin Ivens, is set to meet representatives of the Jewish community this week to discuss the controversy.

He said that insulting the memory of Holocaust victims was "the last thing I or anyone connected with the Sunday Times would countenance".

"The paper has long written strongly in defence of Israel and its security concerns, as have I as a columnist," he said.

"We are, however, reminded of the sensitivities in this area by the reaction to the cartoon, and I will, of course, bear them very carefully in mind in future."

In a statement, the Sunday Times said the cartoon was aimed at Mr Netanyahu and his policies, not at Israel or Jewish people.

But Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said it had "caused immense pain to the Jewish community in the UK and around the world".

"Whatever the intention, the danger of such images is that they reinforce a great slander of our time: that Jews, victims of the Holocaust, are now perpetrators of a similar crime against the Palestinians," he said in a statement.

"Not only is this manifestly untrue, it is also inflammatory and deeply dangerous."

Gerald Scarfe with creations from the era of Tony Blair's government Scarfe with creations from the era of Tony Blair's government

Israel's UK ambassador Daniel Taub said: "The image of Israel's security barrier, which is saving the lives of both Jews and Arabs from suicide bombers, being built from Palestinian blood and bodies is baseless and outrageous."

But writing in liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz, journalist Anshel Pfeffer said the cartoon was "not anti-Semitic by any standard".

Mr Pfeffer said it neither identified its subject as Jewish nor used Holocaust imagery, writing: "Netanyahu's depiction is grossly offensive and unfair, but that is only par for the course for any politician when Scarfe is at his drawing-board."

He also dismissed suggestions of "blood libel" that had focused on the drawing's "blood-red cement".

"This is not what a blood libel looks like," he wrote. "Well of course it's blood but is anyone seriously demanding that no cartoon reference to Israeli or Jewish figures can contain a red fluid?"

Veteran satirist Scarfe has been the Sunday Times's political cartoonist since 1967.

Among his drawings during Margaret Thatcher's premiership, he memorably depicted the prime minister as a battleaxe and a bloody-fanged pterodactyl.

His distinctive work, featuring grotesque, often cruel caricatures, has also appeared in the artwork of Pink Floyd's 1979 album, The Wall, and the title sequences of TV satires Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister.

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