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Michael Leunig Hangs Himself

December 11, 2012 – 8:16 pm49 Comments

Michael Leunig speaks at a 2009 anti-Israel rally in Melbourne.

By Anthony Frosh
“Give someone enough rope, and …” so the idiom goes.

In fact, back in 2006, Leunig actually appeared on the Andrew Denton program, Enough Rope. And although on that program he came across as rather inarticulate, he never actually hung himself quite in the way he did in his op-ed published today in The Age and other Fairfax publications.

Let’s review the highlights. The op-ed is a defence of his cartoon (The Age, 21st November 2012) based on of the famous poem by Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller, “When they came for the…I did not speak out”. In his cartoon adaptation, Leunig included a line that read “…and I did not speak out [against Israel, for Palestinians] because if I did, doors would close to me…” In his op-ed, Leunig implies that this “doors would close” reference merely referred to an invitation he once had from the Jewish Museum that was subsequently revoked. It is either dishonest or naïve to think that people viewing his cartoon would assume that this specific incident was what he was referring to, rather than stoking theories of powerful Jews closing doors to their critics on more general opportunities.

Leunig writes:

“I am not sure whether it is legal to publicly call someone an anti-Semite without evidence but it certainly feels like hate talk to me”

Let’s unpack this sentence. First, there is evidence, and the evidence is his own cartoons. But worse than this, Leunig seems to imply that it ought not to be legal to label him an anti-Semite. He wants to have his freedom of speech to produce anti-Semtic cartoons (a right I would, on principle, defend) but he’s less convinced that others deserve the right to criticise his cartoons.

The most damning line in Leunig’s op-ed is this one:

 “I now learn to my amazement that to make comparisons between Israeli policy and any Nazi behaviour is in itself an anti-Semitic act. So much for free speech.”

Yes Michael, equating Israeli policy, imperfect as it may be, forged in a highly complex and extremely hostile environment (and thus impossible to be perfect) with the genocidal intentions and actions of the Third Reich is about as anti-Semitic as it gets. It simultaneously trivialises the Shoah, and distorts the Arab-Israeli conflict in the most perverse and dishonest way.  All with supreme cruelty.

And despite Leunig’s protests, his serious critics are not trying to take away his free speech. They merely reserve the right to criticise him.

Several years ago, I interviewed Leunig for some academic research I was doing concerning media perceptions. I asked him about his infamous Auschwitz cartoon, which was submitted without his knowledge by the Chaser boys to the Iranian Holocaust cartoon competition, and won. I found that he was too obtuse to really understand that the fact the vile anti-Semites who were judging his cartoon had found his to be the ‘best’ said something was gravely wrong about that cartoon. Instead, he was preoccupied with the hurt and embarrassment that the incident had caused him. Sadly, being naïve, ill-informed, and obtuse are about the nicest things one can honestly say about Michael Leunig.

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