Media baron Rupert Murdoch has apologized for a Sunday Times cartoon depicting Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu building a wall using blood-red mortar, an image Jewish leaders said was reminiscent of anti-Semitic propaganda.
The political cartoon, which was published on Holocaust Memorial Day, shows Netanyahu wielding a long, sharp trowel and depicts agonized Palestinians bricked into the wall's structure. It was meant as a comment on recent elections in which Netanyahu's ticket narrowly won the most seats in the Israeli parliament.
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"Will cementing the peace continue?" the caption read, a reference both to the stalled peace process and Israel's separation barrier, a complex of fences and concrete walls which Israel portrays as a defense against suicide bombers but which Palestinians say is a land grab under the guise of security.
Netanyahu cartoon in Sunday Times
Murdoch wrote on Twitter that the cartoonist, Gerald Scarfe — a veteran artist who frequently depicts blood in his work — did not reflect the paper's editorial line. "Nevertheless, we owe (a) major apology for (the) grotesque, offensive cartoon," Murdoch tweeted.
Jewish community leaders were particularly disturbed by parallels they saw between the red-tinged drawing and historical anti-Semitic propaganda - in particular the theme of "blood libel," the twisted but persistent myth that Jews secretly use human blood in their religious rituals.
Gerald Scarfe's Assad cartoon
Their anger was heightened by the fact that the cartoon was published on a day meant to commemorate the communities destroyed by the Nazis and their allies in the mid-20th century.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews, which represents the country's roughly 265,000-strong Jewish community, said it had lodged a complaint with the UK press watchdog.
The deputies said in a statement that the depiction of a Jewish leader using blood for mortar "is shockingly reminiscent of the blood libel imagery more usually found in parts of the virulently anti-Semitic Arab press." Israel's ambassador to Britain echoed the statement, while the speaker of Israel's parliament, Reuven Rivlin, wrote to his UK counterpart to express "extreme outrage."
Murdoch's News International, which publishes the Times, said Scarfe was not available for comment.
In a statement, the paper's acting editor, Martin Ivens, said that insulting the memory of Holocaust victims or invoking blood libel "the last thing I or anyone connected with the Sunday Times would countenance."
"The paper has long written strongly in defense of Israel and its security concerns, as have I as a columnist," Ivens 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."
British political cartoons can be shocking to those used to tamer American drawings of donkeys and elephants slugging it out on Capitol Hill.
Distorted features, blood, and excrement are commonplace. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, a once-popular leader whose reputation was badly damaged by his decision to support the US invasion of Iraq, was often depicted with ghoulish features, sharpened fangs, or with his hands or mouth drenched in gore.
Scarfe, whose career with the Sunday Times stretches back to the 1960s, often makes use of blood in his cartoons.
The red fluid is splashed across his website and featured, for example, in a recent cartoon of Syrian leader Bashar Assad, who was pictured as a green, wraith-like creature drinking greedily from an oversized cup labeled "Children's Blood."