Not All Cartoons Are Funny // A conversation with Kobby Barda, the man who alerted the world to the highly offensive cartoon in The New York Times

On Pesach, The New York Times published an anti-Semitic cartoon in its international edition. The distasteful image depicted a blind US President Donald Trump wearing a yarmulke, being pulled along by a dog with the face of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a Star of David on its collar. Kobby Barda, who heads the Gal Program at the Academic Center of Law and Science in Hod Hasharon, Israel, was the first person to bring attention to the cartoon on social media. Thanks to his efforts to call the Times to task, together with a number of Israeli diplomats, American congressmen and Jewish organizations that joined the chorus of condemnation, the paper published an apology in its “Opinion” section last Sunday, and an “Editors’ Note” in its international edition on Monday. On Tuesday, an editorial called the cartoon “appalling” and its appearance evidence of the danger of anti-Semitism and “numbness to its creep.” The following day, the Times announced that the editor who had chosen to publish the cartoon would be disciplined, and that it had canceled the contract with the syndicate that provided the cartoon.

The Times will also update its bias training to include a focus on anti-Semitism, according to a note sent to employees by A.G. Sulzberger, the newspaper’s publisher, and it will no longer run syndicated cartoons drawn by artists who have no direct ties to the newspaper.
Describing the cartoon as “offensive,” Mr. Sulzberger said it had been “downloaded and published by a single production editor working without adequate oversight.” The newspaper is also changing its procedures to ensure that the situation will not repeated. “Though I’ve been assured there was no malice involved in this mistake, we fell far short of our standards and values in this case,” he wrote.

Mr. Barda’s area of expertise is American politics and the ties between Israel and the US. He wrote a thesis on the establishment of AIPAC, and published the first book written in Hebrew about Donald Trump, The Key to Trump’s Mind.
I spoke to Kobby Barda last Thursday.

Q: You deserve a lot of credit for alerting the world about that cartoon.
A: I got a lot of coverage in Israel, but I don’t have a foothold in the American media, and I haven’t gotten any credit for bringing about the original apology. I happened to see the cartoon on the Twitter feed of one of my friends, who attacked the Times and wrote, “Isn’t that anti-Semitic?” but no one picked up on it. When I saw that, I resolved that something had to be done. The fact that the cartoon had been up for 24 hours without anyone protesting was what really bothered me, and that’s why I wanted to send a clear message that it was unacceptable.

Q: What was your first step?
A: The first thing I did was to share it on social media and ask people to do likewise. The cartoon was shared thousands of times. I also tagged anyone I could think of in American politics. Then I sent Consul General Dayan a text message asking him for his help. He was the one who approached the Times and demanded an apology. I also used my position as spokesman for the Israeli Professional Football League to ask the journalists with whom I have a relationship to contact the Times. I also sent the cartoon to one of Congressman Lee Zeldin’s aides and to just about every conservative media outlet. The idea was to draw attention to the cartoon so it could be turned into a story so people would realize that the Times had done something wrong. Not everyone agreed with me at first. Several people told me that there wasn’t any story to tell, including some highly respected Israeli journalists who felt it was a legitimate cartoon. But eventually a lot people understood that it was evil.

Q: What did you find so offensive about it?
A: It had all of the signs of Der Stürmer in 1939. Putting a yarmulke on the head of a non-Jew is an old tactic that was employed by the Nazis in their propaganda. Whenever they wanted to portray a non-Jew as being under the influence of the Jews, they’d put a Jewish symbol on him. President Trump, wearing sunglasses to indicate that he’s blind to reality and needs a seeing eye dog to lead him around, was also dressed in a black suit to convey that he’s ultra-Orthodox, which is also something the Nazis would do, lumping all Jews together in the same category. Then you have Netanyahu’s portrayal as a dog, which is meant to characterize him as subhuman. The Muslims do that a lot these days, although they usually use pigs and monkeys instead. And let’s not forget that the artist gave Netanyahu a big nose, which has always been used in anti-Semitic caricatures. And he was portrayed as a dachshund, which is a breed that is used for hunting. Then you have the orange, yellow and red background, jarring colors that evoke Armageddon. The Portuguese artist included just about every anti-Semitic cliché he could think of.
The next day someone sent me the other cartoon of Netanyahu that was making the rounds where he’s taking a selfie on Mount Sinai, and I didn’t see anything objectionable, although I really didn’t understand what the cartoonist was trying to say. “That one’s okay,” I said. “There’s nothing anti-Semitic about it, it’s just political criticism.” But the first one was right out of Der Stürmer.

Q: You described its venomous character very well. But was it an isolated case?
A: The New York Times uses lots of syndicated cartoons, and some of them are just as bad. You would think that in today’s world these types of cartoons would only appear in Muslim newspapers, but that’s not the case.

Q: Many people consider the Times to be a Jewish-run publication, yet they still publish anti-Semitic cartoons.
A: I’ll divide my response into two parts. The first has to do with operations. The publisher of the paper doesn’t sit and look at every single cartoon or decide what happens to every page of every edition of the newspaper. Still, I would expect the powers that be to look into their souls and make a cheshbon nefesh and ask themselves how something like this could have happened. The other question pertains to the newspaper’s readership. How could they have not noticed that this was offensive? What led them to become blind to such an anti-Semitic cartoon?

Q: What is your theory as to how people become desensitized?
A: It has to do with the fact that the core belief of the liberal and progressive movements is that Trump and Netanyahu are one beast with two heads. I was recently in the United States and had a debate with the editors of The Forward. Liberals, and especially liberal Jews, have a big problem right now because Israel is identified with President Trump more than any other president in history and they can’t stand it. I told them, “I’m not American. You’re the ones who voted him in, just as I didn’t vote for Netanyahu but he’s still my prime minister. But seriously, what do you expect the Israeli government to do when they’re dealing with an American administration that’s so sympathetic to Israeli interests? Trump keeps doing nice things for Israel, and people like that.”
If you look at the bigger picture, there are a lot of people who would do just about anything to get rid of Trump. They are so obsessed with him that they’ve become completely blind to everything else. And I’m not talking about one person or group. Hundreds of thousands of people saw the cartoon and didn’t bat an eyelash. It’s really shocking that it was up for so many hours without anyone caring or doing anything about it.

Q: Then you spoke up, and lots of other people around the world eventually joined you.
A: But think about it: The person who started the uproar wasn’t even an American; he was an Israeli! America is starting to become a scary place. Things that were unheard of only a short time ago have now become mainstream. I’m not talking about political points of view and whether socialism or communism are good solutions. I’m talking about the idea that it’s okay to say something like “it’s all about the Benjamins” or “the Jews control the world.” If the Jews control the world, then it’s okay to hunt them down. With one cartoon, The New York Times legitimized The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Jews are the ones who force America to go to war, and we are the ones who control them. That leads to the notion that it’s okay to get rid of “those people.” This is the alarm that people need to pay attention to. As an outsider I can be more objective, and I see things that are very disturbing.

Q: If most people didn’t realize that the cartoon was anti-Semitic, an argument could be made that no damage was done. So why make a big deal?
A: Because it’s a big deal that people didn’t realize it. It’s funny that Trump was the one who was portrayed as blind, when the real blind people are those who work at the Times along with its readers. The fact that no one noticed it should be a wakeup call.

Q: Do you think that it instills a subliminal message of anti-Semitism?
A: No. The problem is that it builds up a tolerance. It’s like the famous experiment with the frogs, where they put them into a big pot of water and slowly raise the temperature to boiling. A frog can adjust to different temperatures, but eventually it dies because it’s just too hot. The problem here is that everyone simply adjusts to the increasing anti-Semitism and doesn’t call it out for what it is, and the few people who do protest aren’t given the appropriate platform for their voices. Yet ironically society is now on a path to a place where someone can be murdered because he wrote the wrong thing on social media! It took the Nazis a while before they put us into the gas chambers. They came into power in 1933 and started off with cartoons and propaganda, but they only started killing us systematically a number of years later.
As a researcher into American politics, I see this as a symptom of the current situation in which the Democratic Party and its extensions—the liberal academia and media—have allowed themselves to descend to places where I never believed America would allow them to go. If you look at what has happened since the 116th Congress convened on January 3, the three evil women who are now leading the Democratic Party [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib] have started to attack Israel to such an extent that Nancy Pelosi couldn’t recruit enough members of her party to condemn Ilhan Omar for her statements. I’m not even talking about removing her from her committee position; I’m talking about a simple condemnation. And the reason Pelosi couldn’t do it is that the mainstream of the Democratic Party, which used to be occupied by centrists, has been hijacked by its ultra-progressive wing.
It is that kind of environment that allowed this caricature to be published by the liberal New York Times without any editorial oversight and with hundreds of thousands of people failing to raise a red flag.

Q: Why do you think the liberals have become so antagonistic towards Israel?
A: When it comes to identity politics, the liberal left has adopted the Muslims as their own, not realizing the repercussions. As we have seen since the 1960s, political correctness allows any individual or group within the minority to identify themselves any way they want to, and it also gives them the space to say anything they want. That is the only way that you can unite people who have nothing at all in common, in contrast to the Republican Party, which has traditionally consisted of white male Protestants. The problem, however, is that the Democrats are now a jigsaw puzzle of many identities and groups that don’t have common interests and are even mutually exclusive. This has led to a situation in which the Muslims, who are now the rising stars of the liberal left, are attacking other factions within the progressive movement. This is something that people fail to understand. Nazi Germany also started by targeting Jews and other small minorities before it went on to subjugate most of Europe. It’s a terrifying precedent.

Q: It’s unfortunate that people are always accusing Jews and Israelis of overreacting when they start making comparisons to Nazi Germany.
A: Absolutely, but in this case I think the greatest punishment for the Democratic Party would be the collapse of its own values, meaning the use of political correctness as a glue to bring minorities together. I see how Nancy Pelosi is constantly stumbling over the radicalization of her own party, and she doesn’t really know how to deal with it. I think she’s done a lot over the years to improve the relationship between Israel and the US; she’s a key speaker at every AIPAC conference. The same goes for Chuck Schumer. I don’t have anything against the Democratic Party in and of itself, and I’m not a Republican. There are a lot of very good people in the current Democratic Party, but I don’t like the direction in which it’s going. Congresswoman Elaine Luria of Virginia, who is Jewish, was a commander in the Navy, but most people haven’t heard of her. But if you ask people who AOC, Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib are everyone has heard of them, and they’re only freshmen.

Q: I respectfully disagree. I think those women are doing a huge favor for the Republican Party. They’re already being used to promote Republicans in the upcoming election campaigns, because their radicalism and anti-Americanism are so offensive to a large segment of the population.
A: Yes, but many of the 21 or so people who are running for the Democratic nomination for president agree with them, or at least remain silent about their positions. Who would believe that two key candidates for the Democratic Party nomination would call the government of Israel racist?
I wrote the first book in Hebrew about President Trump, which is now in the process of being translated into English under the title The Key to Trump’s Mind, so I closely monitor everything related to him. His poll numbers right now aren’t particularly good, even though he was just cleared of Russian collusion and the economic numbers are brilliant. He doesn’t get the approval numbers you’d expect to see, especially in comparison to the Democrats and what they have to offer. So there’s no way to know if he’ll be reelected or if someone from the other side will win, in which case Israel will suffer the consequences very quickly, G-d forbid.

Q: We already had eight years of Obama.
A: Unfortunately, Obama will go down in history as a great Zionist in comparison to whoever the next Democratic president will be. I’m not including Joe Biden, but I don’t know how even he would act given the current atmosphere in his party. Look at the way they speak about Israel! This is also the same faction that has hijacked the media and controls them completely these days. We’re going to have to wait until 2020 to find out if they can manage to build an agenda that appeals to people outside the big coastal cities. By the way, look at what happened to the Labor Party in Israel. The progressive element took control of the party, and they now have the fewest seats in the Knesset in their history. This is the party that founded the State of Israel! Having said that, the Laborites don’t see it as the disaster it is, and they continue with the same narrative as if their agenda wasn’t soundly rejected. They don’t realize that most people are much closer to the center. We’ll find out in 2020 if the same applies to the Democratic voters of the United States.

Q: You’re talking about politics, but there’s an anti-Semitic problem that isn’t political. Anti-Semitism is growing on both the right and the left.
A: Of course, and the reason for that is what’s happening in politics. In the past, if someone wanted to be an anti-Semite he didn’t hide it. You’d see a militia in Michigan sending out anti-Semitic propaganda or even carrying out attacks, G-d forbid. That was the anti-Semitism we traditionally knew and feared, but over the last three or four decades it has been significantly reduced. However, over the last couple of years, and especially the last four or five months, the “progressive” movement has allowed the extreme left and extreme right to unite on one thing: anti-Semitism. David Duke retweeted The New York Times’ cartoon and commented, “Russian collusion?” meaning that the real collusion is Jewish collusion.
Hatred of Jews is now the glue between the two extremes, the common ground on which everyone can find agreement. There were very few deadly anti-Semitic attacks in this country in the last century, but we have now had two in only the past six months. That’s very frightening, and I don’t believe it happened in a vacuum.

Q: To summarize, you view this as a much larger problem than The New York Times.
A: The Times isn’t the only mouthpiece of the progressive movement; it’s also very strong on the college campuses and in other media formats. But as one of the most important newspapers in the world, the Times needs to take a fresh look at what happened and analyze the process that brought them there. They need to look into their souls and try to understand how they’ve been able to be so blind.

Q: The New York Times did teshuvah and said they were sorry. Do you accept their apology?
A: I do. To their credit, they apologized twice for what happened, which isn’t easy. I accepted the first apology, and the second one was even better. For me, the fact that they took down the cartoon and apologized twice is enough, and I don’t believe that continuing to put pressure on them is the right thing to do. Some people demonstrated outside their offices and/or canceled their subscriptions, and they’re welcome to do whatever they feel is right. I’m not here to dictate to anyone. But I forgive them completely for what happened. l

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