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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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  • Daniel Levy says:

    I would like to see this published as a rebuttal to Leunig in tomorrow’s edition.

    And, yes, I’m as flabbergasted as everyone else that I just wrote that.

  • Otto Waldmann says:

    Considering that Leunig is famous for his obsession with depicting certain parts of his subject matter, he is a well hung ONE !!!

  • Azrael says:

    Leunig is a frustrating individual in more ways than one.

    A talented cartoonist, but a rank simpleton when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

  • ittayf says:

    I wish Michael Leunig would be able to understand that most Jews have no problem with him critiquing the policy of the Israeli government. Most of us do this ourselves quite often, from both the right and the left. The issue many do have is when this critique verges in to anti-Semitism, as was the case with the cartoon which, through the motif of Niemoller’s poem “they came for”, did equate the IDF with the Nazi army.

    With that in mind, this (somewhat imperfect) guide on how to criticize Israel without being anti-Semitic may be helpful for him to tread.


  • Alex Fein says:

    Great piece, Frosh!

    I would add that Leunig needs to make a decision: either Israel is a monstrous superpower against which Palestinians are completely defenceless *or* Israel is a Nazi-like, genocidal state.

    It’s a logical impossibility for Israel to be both at the same time.

    A monstrous superpower bent on genocide would by definition have eradicated its “enemy,” after 64 years.

    And what if Israel is neither of those things? It’s a lot harder to cartoon the subtleties of such a complex situation than it is to grandstand on an imagined moral high ground.

    And finally, the most sickening aspect is Lenunig’s positioning of himself as a brave, lone voice of the oppressed. He writes as though his stance requires actual courage – as though we nefarious Jews might retaliate in some awful way.

  • Otto Waldmann says:

    Jokes aside, this idiot is more pernicious than most hyperactive anti Israeli activists. He is incredibly popular precisely because of his simplicity and vulgarity. Cartoons, well executed in particular, such as Leunig’s, have a much greater potency in trasmitting messages than almost any “simple” written words. His calendars are widely distributed and he is a household name in Australia.
    There is a “school of ..thought” that believes in leaving the danger expire by itslef, not address the issue exactly for fear of not amplifying the effects of the popularity of the “instigator”.

    If only our Australian Jewish community would have the individuals at the top communal level and the tactics of responding efficiently to these provocations and instigations of anti Semitism.
    Blogs such this very active and mostly articulate have the limited effect of voicing objetcions in a very localised manner.
    One wonders if the so called communal leaders take notice of what is going on this site, at lest, and feel inspired to “adjust” their inexcusable apathy. It would be nice to see some of them groisse machers venture their stance right here, discussing with their constituency matters that matter.

  • Alex – you make a very good point highlighting how illogical the accusation of genocide against Israel is. If Israel actually indented to commit genocide against the Palestinians, there would not be any of them left!

  • Wolf says:

    I wonder why he publishes this dross? Does he really believe the rubbish he writes? Is he mis-informed? Is there something we’re all missing?

    My suspicion however is that the media is popular precisely because these fanatic left (and right) views get attention, thus advertising $$$. Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story (Cartoon)!

  • TheSadducee says:

    I have to take him at his word that he isn’t an anti-semite despite what his cartoons portray.

    Simply, I think that he references material like WW2 because it has a cultural resonance with the majority ie. most people know something about WW2 and can recognise the parallels he is attempting to draw.

    He is deliberately playing to the lowest common denominator to gain the largest audience. This is the most effective way to present his work and is done all the time in arguments – people prefer simple and clear-cut definitions rather than complex/nuanced ones.

    Even his characterisation of Niemoller is simplistic and questionable – he is a figure of significant dispute/controversy in terms of his actions/views during the war, yet he is referenced with 2 lines. People might recognise the poem, but wont know much more about Niemoller’s actions during the war.

    If he was to reference something more nuanced eg. Turkish occupation of Cyprus which is only 7 years younger than the Israeli occupation of the WB/Gaza, the majority may not understand or feel the same about the illustration which would limit its appeal and marketability.

    What is tragic is that he probably means well, but his outcomes are flawed by the failure to articulate the “greyness” of the matter. What is dangerous about his work is that it can affect popular opinion and because of the simplicity and populism can create prejudice/hatred.

    I would suggest that if he was concerned about the poor people of Gaza that he might have an illustration of Meshaal standing at a podium ranting about using everyone else’s life but his own to destroy Israel surrounded by children as human shields while his goons stand on the side with guns to the heads of their frightened parents. I’m not holding my breath though…

  • Adam says:

    Thanks for writing this. I was actually offended by Leunig’s piece in the Age yesterday. Offended by the logical flaws and nonsense throughout the article.

    A simple point which Alan Dershowitz makes is what would happen if just Israel put down its weapons – the palestinians and arabs would attack and destroy every Israeli they could find.

    What would happen if the palestinians just laid down their weapons – nothing, there would be peace.

    I know it is obviously more complicated than that, but it is a good starting point.

    A few additional points:

    1) Does he also believe it is right to stand up for the Al Quada and the Taliban given that they are clearly the minority and the underdogs?

    2) Where was the cartoon showing the palestinians recent speeches about the desire to annihalite Israel?

    3) If Leunig is so brave and courageous to stand up for free speech, let him publicly produce a few cartoons mocking muslim extremists or Muhamud (he could even do a movie) and see if the reaction is different than the reaction of the Jewish people when they disagree with his views.

  • Meyer Mussry says:

    I hope that most of you will forward your comments here to the SMH and Age editors. Your views are very well expressed, and should find resonance.

  • Yaron says:

    Glad Leunig is focusing his efforts on helping the oppressed regardless of the facts to give balance. The truth is a for journalists to do the writey thingy on those computers. The cartoonists should be free from such burdens.

    And could someone please explain to me how an intellectual lightweight like Leunig became a significant social commentator?

  • Otto Waldmann says:

    The main function of cartoons is to irritate the “subject matter” of the cartoons’ attacks.
    Leunig as a graphically competent simpleton has managed to irritate the intended target of this particular cartoon. To this extent he has succeded in spades. I wonder if responding to him in the same place, newspapers, where he carries out most of his trade so successfully, will have our desired result.
    I belive, however, that someone close to the medium he applies his trade should attempt to have a little chat with him, obvioulsy someone of some relevance to the same game as his………..

  • quepasamang says:

    Eds: Comment removed due to trivialisation of genocide and attempt at delegitimisation.

  • Adam says:

    And therefore do you believe it appropriate for Aboriginals to vow to destroy the whites in Australia and kill innocent civilians until their whole land is returned?

  • GG says:

    Why on earth should we assume that he is naive or ill-informed or anything ewlse except a brutal egoist who wants to reserve the right to express the cruellest possible epithets against (Israeli) defending themsevles from (Muslim) psychopaths.

    The entire “culture” of The Age, the ABC, the BBC and many other media outlets is like this and express themselves in similar ways to Leunig.

    Just becuae he fancies himself a cuddly cloud of love for the world simply indicates that his hateful nature is a mystery to himself. Many people cannot see themselves truly, and no leftist troll is going to freely admit that he has the desire of a serial killer to see the Jews dead, as so many of them do, lest he fall off his high Moral Perch that he sits on precariously.

    There are many cartoonists in the world, and many of them worked in the past for Der Sturmer. Many of them now draw and publsih the most disgusting, nauseating anti Jewish caricatures and propaganda, in Arab papers, websites and of course the hilariously death-dealing Iranian cartoon contest.

    Leunig’s readiness to be published in Der Sturmer was established years ago by his Israel=Auschwitz cartoon. All he’s doing now is pushing the point. And The Age is doing its patheic part by refusing a right of reply by the ADC. So much for “free speech” indeed!

    I am seldom so glad as I have been this week that I do not pay for The Age and seldom even read it.

  • Watcher465 says:

    Eds: Racist comment from known anti-Semitic extremist removed .

  • Otto Waldmann says:


    the reason Leunig, a product of moronic marvel, is a so called social commentator is that vermin such as “quepassa…” – nada in cervello !! – and “watcher465″ may be entertained.
    Their postings are a necessary reminder that reason and decency is not necessarily everywhere, but ignorance, prejudice, human failures supported by irrational envy, is among us and some of them have acquired the basic tools of communication and cannot wait to infest a Jewish site in particular with their cerebral excrement.

  • Leunig knows very well that he’s not going to receive death threats or fatwas, and there will not be riots in the streets as a result of cartoons like that one.

  • letters in the age says:

    The failure here is Jewish community leaders that lack creativity and wit in response to his cartoons.

    The same old spin is boring and predictable

  • Alison says:

    It is Leunig’s job to raise thorny issues. No country or people, race or political group can be given automatic protection from an artist’s gaze – and at his core – that is what Leunig is!

  • Yaron says:

    The job of a good cartoonist is to raise thorny issues with wit and humour.

    Leunig is not one of those.

    He is one dimensional and removes all complexity from the debate.

  • Steven says:

    Google – Images “leunig controversial cartoons israel” and have a look at some of the cartoons.

    Aussies love Leunig because his cartoons of Mr Curly and his duck in the 70s were sensitive insights into life, and it’s hard to bash him now for his disgusting anti-semitic cartoons.

    Look up the cartoons, there’s plenty there to complain about.

  • Hamid says:

    Eds: Anti-Muslim comment removed due to racism.

  • Ian Grinblat says:


    You are quite correct that no gropup is or should be, protected from an artist’s gaze.
    H L Mencken once commented that “to every complex question there is always a perfectly simple answer – and it is always wrong.” There are few situations as complex as the Israel/Palestine issue but Leunig offers no insights by insisting that because the Palestinians are suffering and Israel is powerful and in conflict with them, therefore the suffering must be due to Israel. His equation of Israel and Nazi Germany is way way beyond hyperbole, a useful tool for cartoonists and satirists, but gross defamation and total refusal to examine the facts.
    Israel is in an impossible situation – the conflict began before the creation of the State of Israel (a legal entity, by the way, Watcher465) and has endured while the surrounding Arab nations have moved from pan-Arabism to local nationalisms and in the process, abandoned the Palestinians, previously under Jordanian and Egyptian rule, to fend for themselves. Israel cannot “install” a Palestinian government; the Palestinians in Gaza and West Bank cannot agree on a government; and neither elected party will countenance the existence of Israel.
    It is simple and even comforting to say, as Leunig does, “I am brave. I disconfit the evil. I say that Israel is a Nazi state.” But it isn’t worth much.

  • Doran Goldblatt says:

    How can the author and readers of this piece sleep at night?
    You are all so blinded to the truth about what Israel has been doing to the people of Gaza, it’s starting to get really scary.
    Please wake up.
    It was most definitely not anti-Semitic.
    Overuse of that label has lost it’s impetus. You’re all crying wolf!

  • Otto Waldmann says:

    Yes Doran, you are so right, bright and your perception of reality is amazing.
    Look, I just woke up, read your brilliant stuff and now I shall push the “flush” button.

    That “crying wolf” is really cool. I wonder where you got it from or is it your own creation, because you are, ideed, creative.

  • Doran again says:

    Thankyou for your kind words. Not derogatory, much.
    And thankyou, especially, for not using your usual labeling.
    Our message is getting through!
    Keep believin’…
    Warmest regards,

  • quepasamang says:

    Eds: Comment removed due to Holocaust trivialisation and attempt at delegitimisation.

  • Doran again says:

    Thankyou quepasamang.

    Very elegantly put.

    Otto, they’re right. It’s finishing.

  • quepasamang says:

    No Editor, there was no Holocaust trivialisation or attempt at delegitimisation.

    What there was in fact, as Doran Goldblatt clearly understands, was an eloquent de-construction of the Palestine/Israel situation, it’s past and it’s inevitable future conclusion.

    As with the state of Israel, you can not abide any skerrick of criticism. Thanks for being part of the solution.

  • Otto Waldmann says:


    save your thanks for the labels I keep at the ready, should you feel unable stick a cork up the tap of your creative juices.

  • Doran says:

    Oh Otto. There you go again with anal insinuations. You’re better than that, my friend. You’re starting to sound angry, and thats the last thing anyone wants. Please, please don’t be offended.
    No need for corkage here.
    Please continue.

  • Doran – “what Israel has been doing to the people of Gaza”?? And what say you about what Hamas has been doing to the people of Gaza? And what Hamas has been doing to the people of Israel?

    This business of laying all the blame on Israel is a fallacy. It takes two to make a war, and it takes two to make peace.

  • Doran says:

    Do you have all day?
    I don’t.
    Hamas was democratically elected.
    Hamas hasn’t blockaded, imprisoned, impoverished, starved, gun shipped, raided or illegally settled the Israeli people or land.
    Israel has become an apartheid theocracy.
    The world is waking up.
    Have a great day.

  • Doran says:

    Signing off now. Enjoy your weekend.

  • Pseudonym says:

    The name ‘Doran Goldblatt’ doesn’t appear anywhere on the internet except for this post on Galus Australis. I would hazard a guess that someone who is not Jewish has appropriated the name of a ‘stereotypical Jew’ for the sole purpose of trying to give their bigoted and factually questionable views a greater degree of legitimacy.

    ‘Doran’ must not be very confident in the views expressed if he feels the need to impersonate a Jew for them to have any persuasive force on Galus Australis.

    And of course this goes without saying: anyone can comment on this site, people can express whatever views they like (the eds will moderate accordingly) and people can use pseudonyms.

  • Otto Waldmann says:


    you are so right and I was going to say the same.
    DorAn got it slightly wrong, the usual Jewish very Israeli name is DorOn. Doran is a prostitution of the Serb/Croat “Goran”.
    But, looking at his infantile rationale and the failed insinuation within a dedicated Jewish site, this clown has just shown his hand with the most primitive “argument” hailing from the buttocks of palestinian wisdom. A redundant troll worth neglecting, not even bother with ridiculing him, a waste of breath/ink/attention.

  • Levi (a refugee from the USSR) says:

    The other week I rang the opinion editor of the Age, Paul Ausin, and asked him what the Age’s editorial policy was on publishing caricatures of Mohammed and whether he had any intention to publish such caricatures in the near future. I pointed out that only a few weeks ago, they published a Leunig cartoon of what appeared to be Moses and G-D being killed by a Jewish fanatic. In regards to Mohammed caricatures, he said that they have no intentions thus far but may in the future and encouraged me to stay tune and keep reading. I asked him what has prevented the Age thus far from publishing such caricatures and he responsded that they did not want to offend certain segments of their readership by publishing crude and offensive cartoons. I responded by stating that the Age had no such reservations about offending it’s Jewish readership by publishing the Moses cartoon and another caricature comparing the Israelis to Nazis. He replied by echoing what a similar sentiment that was expressed by Harold Zwier in an opinion piece published in the Age a few weeks ago – the power of a cartoon is the many ways in which it can be interpreted – and that his interpretation was different to my own. I then challenged him to publish a caricature of Mohammed so that we could then have the opportunity to sit there and discuss what our interpretation of that caricature was. I then pointed to the hypocrisy of Fairfax – on the one hand they publish crude and offensive cartoons aimed at insulting the Jewish community in the name of freedom of expression and on the other hand they refuse to publish caricatures of Mohammed. In 2006, one Age editorial called the Danish cartoons, crude and offensive…so much for the power of the cartoon and how it can be interpreted. I blasted him for taking the opportunity to vilify the Jewish community because he knows that this vilification won’t be followed with a violent response. Contrast this to caricatures and depictions of Mohammed and Islam and the response is quite different…hence the Age’s refusal to publish. Conclusion – Fairfax Media can’t have it both ways. They have must chose. if it’s about free speech and the power of the cartoon and how it can be interpreted, then they must publish caricatures of Mohammed immediately and do it in the name of free speech and in solidarity with the Danish cartoonists and editors who have gone into hiding (as well as the innocent people who have lost their lives.) If it’s about not seeking to cause offense by refraining to publish crude and offensive cartoons targeting one religion or ethnic group, then they must apologize to the Jewish community. The Jewish community must demand an apology or at the very least point to Fairfax’s sheer hypocrisy. When will Jews start to stand up for their rights?

  • Otto Waldmann says:

    Levi,remember Makarenko and Vitya Maleev, one tried to educate the other and now your former strana radnaya is rulled by the most shocking descendants of Vitya who, by the looks of it, married Ostap Bender’s daughter.

    The Age has become the flagship of political obscenities, particularly when Jewish subject matters seem to matter to them. Journalistic anti Semitism predates anti Semitism itself….
    I would rather let the vile and vulgar wallow in their own poisonous juices and not encourage the same from the vatange point of our civilised Jewish way of treating those so anxious to reveal how primitive, unsophisticated and vicious they are. The Age desreves its contributors and whtever redership it attracts.

    Otherwise I would hv told them the same with the coda (unprintable !!)

  • letters in the age says:

    The Age demographic and its readership are the dregs of the middle class now

    Similarly with The Australian where even bored surgeons that used to read it during their breaks resort to credible blogs online

    People have moved on….

  • Geoff says:

    It’s at least a plus that Leunig responds to the accusation of being antisemitic, which the Israel=Nazi trope clearly signifies. The article referenced by an earlier correspondent about what criticism fits with antisemitic should be sent t him. Reading an interview with him on the internet, including his strained family relations suggest he’s an unusual guy.
    It is important that we in Australia respond more creatively to the haters; Latma is a great example of the power of ridicule. BTW, the Australian Jewish response to Ilan Pappe was pretty feeble.

  • Otto Waldmann says:

    sorry mate, but The Australian is one of the most reliable friends of Israel and, for mine, they are only worthy of support and praise.

  • Pinchas says:

    Will the Age publish this or the Hamas charter calling for genocide? Will Leunig draw some cartoons?
    He is “not antisemitic” but his free speech is self censored,he has no problems with any of Israel’s enemies who make no secret of what they want.

    Music video by Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades:

    “We are the [Al-Qassam] Brigades

    Brigades – we kidnap soldiers

    Brigades – we kill Jews

    Brigades – we watch the borders

    Brigades – we are not afraid of death

    Brigades – gear up your weapon

    Gear up, gear up

    Destroy the usurper’s dens and set fire to the oppressors

    Through training and preparations, you roar, oh lion of Qassam

    It’s in your hands to get [our] country back and then we will raise the banner of Islam.”

    Hebrew texts on screen addressing Israelis:

    “Your body parts are scattered everywhere.”

    “The cemeteries await you.”

    [Al-Aqsa TV (Hamas), Nov. 21, 2012]

  • Sam says:

    The people of Israel had better fear their God.

    I demand justice, no more than a life for a life, and I reject excessive retaliation; I care for Muslims, Israelis and many other peoples.

    You are killing at least 4 times more than you have lost, perhaps 10 times more. Your people are not each worth four Palestinians, by my reckoning. The Palestinians are giving you 4 times mercy while you ignore the law of justice. You seek to win a war by slaying your enemies, but there is a price for ignoring the law of justice. You must fear open war, and if you kill unjustly you must fear death.


    I am not anti-semetic, any more than Leunig is. I hate war. It is unreasonable to compare the Gaza conflict to the atrocities of the 2nd world war, but it is reasonable to ask Israel who received law from God to fight without abusing their enemy, and to seek peace.

  • Bob says:

    Ok, Sam, you showed us what happens when you neglect to take your daily medicine. Of course you are not “anti semEtic” and it is obvious what you are in favour of, but, -reminder – that stuff is still illegal !!!!
    Do us a favour and do NOT visit this site again !

  • jamie says:

    I am not Jewish but I strongly support Israel, believe it has no partner for peace and that repulsive middle eastern governments actively foment hatred of Israel and jews to hide their own corruption and ineptitude. I’ll shout down any pro Palestinian any day of the week. But please – ‘anti-semitism’ is an old and useless concept and doesn’t help you with your cause. I quietly and vigorously support you but racial arguments are logic killers and stalking horses for massive reductions in freedom of speech. Labelling people anti semitic seems to dumb down the debate when you have truckloads of good material for argument.

  • Pinchas says:

    @ Doron
    What goes on in Gaza is thousands missiles fired at Israeli civilians from Gaza
    Even on the very day the last Israeli left Gaza to make sure nobody misunderstood no peace ever and Islamic republic from
    the river to the sea ethnic cleansed of Jews
    What goes on in Gaza is racist incitement and lies that would make Hitler proud
    What goes on in Gaza is Hamas boasting about using child human shields and inciting children to martyrdom
    Do you know the meaning of genocide?
    How do YOU sleep at night

  • Pinchas says:

    @ qamasang
    Criticism of Israel in the leftist media and leftist intellectuals never stops
    Do YOU know the meaning of genocide?
    Do you know the meaning of the believers killing ALL Jews as found in the charter of Hamas the elected govt of Palestine?

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