Cartoon Riles Readers and Officials

Arnold Soslow wasn't amused when he read an editorial cartoon in a recent edition of the Northeast Times. In fact, Soslow, 68, of Northeast Philadelphia, said he was appalled.

"To me, it was anti-Semitic," said Soslow, calling the cartoonist's spoof of the recent Seattle Christmas tree debacle "offensive and inaccurate." He added, "That just hit home a little bit."

The cartoon, which was printed Dec. 21 in subsidiaries of Broad Street Community Newspapers, shows a mom, dad and son seated before a Christmas tree. With a copy of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol in her lap, the mom reads that "Every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding." The son asks his parents if it was Dickens' protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge, who said that. His father, engrossed in a paper with a headline reading "Christmas Tree Controversy in Seattle," corrects him:

"Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky," he says, referring to the Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi blamed for the removal of Christmas trees from Seattle's airport.

Barry Morrison, Philadelphia regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he took issue with this punchline. He enumerated his objections in a letter to the Northeast Times.

Morrison said that cartoonist Tom Stiglich "obviously got his facts wrong," considering that the rabbi asked only that a menorah be included in the Seattle airport, not that the Christmas trees there be uprooted.

"He incorrectly puts blame at the feet of the rabbi," he added.

Factual inaccuracies aside, Morrison said the cartoon propagates negative images of Jews.

"The rabbi is a symbol of Jews," he noted. He's portrayed as "the grinch or the scrooge depriving Christians the opportunity to observe their religion."

"The result is that this does contribute to anti-Semitism, stereotyping and demonization."

While Morrison acknowledged the cartoonist's desire "to be edgy — to get the message across in a way that attracts attention," he said this "doesn't permit him to abandon responsibility and good judgment."

Northeast Times managing editor Fred Gusoff, however, defended the cartoon, dismissing claims that it was offensive.

"People need to take a chill pill," said Gusoff, who said he's received "a few anonymous calls" and angry letters, some of which he intends to print. "People need to relax, not overreact. It's just a cartoon."

Gusoff, who is Jewish, acknowledged that the message tested the limits, but said that "editorial cartoons are by definition controversial at times."

"That's what makes America the cradle of liberty," he said, though "if something falls below the bounds of human decency, we wouldn't do it."

Ryan Smith, managing editor of The Star, which also ran the cartoon, was more apologetic.

"I could see where one could believe the cartoon is a bit short-sighted as far as facts go," he said. "We're obviously not in the business of hate-mongering or anything like that."

He said that his staff did review the cartoon but conceded that "it's not always possible to tell a whole story with one cartoon" since cartoons are "snapshots" of more complex issues.

In an e-mail response, Stiglich, an Art Institute of Philadelphia graduate whose comics have appeared in The New York Times and USA Today, among others, wrote that "My intent with the cartoon was to draw attention to the actions of one individual, not a particular group of people or religion. Bogomilsky just happens to be a rabbi."

Gusoff called Stiglich "a decent guy, not an anti-Semite" who's contributed to his paper as a freelancer for five years.

But Morrison said that in today's world, where a Danish cartoon mocking the Prophet Mohammad caused a public outcry across the Muslim world, cartoons should be seen as "a high-stakes game, not a humorous exercise."



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