The Dry Bones Academy of Cartoon Advocacy and Activism: You Don’t Need to Know How to Draw to Combat Antisemitism and Save the World
By Susan L. Rosenbluth
Yaakov Kirschen, the creator and genius behind the Dry Bones political cartoons, knows all journalism is “advocacy,” and the realm of political cartooning is no different. Now, in an effort to pass on what he has learned about the field since Dry Bones first appeared in the Jerusalem Post in 1973, he is opening the Dry Bones Academy of Cartoon Advocacy and Activism, which he describes as an attempt to empower a new generation with the tools to speak out against “the enemies of civilization who incite violence against Jews and Christians throughout the world.”
The academy is a virtual campus, with all classes and materials online, making it available to students throughout the world with no traditional school-year calendar, age, or physical-restriction limitations. Mr. Kirschen is expecting Jews and non-Jews, including serious college and even high school students, to be interested in enrolling in the program.
“Students can be anonymous, which means isolated and beleaguered student activists on belligerent campuses can be empowered covertly,” he says.
To train the next generation of “cartoon activists,” he intends to offer his students hands-on experience and exercises, which will all be reviewed and critiqued.
This is important because Mr. Kirschen sees the students in his academy as warriors engaged in the current “cartoon war,” which pits “civilization and sanity against blood-thirsty chaos.”
“We need a generation of journalist cartoonists trained and willing to fight back, activist cartoonists who will advocate for freedom and sanity. In the ongoing debate over what is true and what is not, advocacy can be hidden or it can be honest and forthcoming. Our Academy will teach the principles, techniques, and tactics of honest Advocacy Cartooning Journalism and will dissect and analyze the viral antisemitic cartoons which threaten our society,” he says.
Artistic Talent Unnecessary
While Mr. Kirschen has much to teach aspiring political cartoonists, he says one element of the trade that does not have to be taught is how to draw. Stick figures, clouds, or even simple shapes can be used for good, cogent, and sharply satirical political cartoons that make a point the public will remember, he says.
“You do not have to know how to draw to be a political cartoonist. You need to know the history of political cartoons. You need to understand the elements of style and to develop a consistent one of your own. You need to know where to find material,” he says.
Students will learn how to create a political cartoon; how to function as editor, writer, and artist; how to use panels, strips, or a hybrid; and how to use humor as a serious tool. They will also learn how to be funny.
According to Mr. Kirschen, it is important for students to understand “the secret sentence” or “what happens in the reader’s mind” when viewing a political cartoon.
Students will gain familiarity with the technical tools of cartooning as well, including the principles of scanning, coloring, and cartoon lettering.
Finally, students will learn how to distribute their work, especially using social media, in order to maximize their cartoons’ impact.
A great deal of the academy’s instructional program is based on an original study by Mr. Kirschen, published by Yale University Press, which examines the manner in which political cartoons have historically been infected with several unique images and themes that demonstrate the presence of the “Jew-hatred virus.”
Ironically, he says, he could not find any such codes that are used against any other religious or national group.
“There is nothing analogous to this, which I find bizarre, There is, for example, no symbol that means Islamic religion or Muslims,” he says.
That does not mean antisemitism is the only form of discrimination and persecution, but, rather, that the antisemitic incitement codes used in political cartoons are unique, he says.
As an artist-in-residence at Yale’s now disbanded Interdisciplinary Initiative for the Study of Antisemitism, Mr. Kirschen was asked a few years ago to study the relationship between antisemitism and political cartoons. He suggested that antisemitism is a cultural virus whose contagion is spread through the use of a specific codified set of viral graphic image codes. He says the study of this process is “memetics,” a branch of behavioral science that examines how ideas are spread virally from one person to another.
He calls using memetics to discuss antisemitic political cartoons “Secret Codes, Hidden War.”
“I discovered the secret codes, and the hidden war is what I think they mean,” he says, explaining that all political cartoonists strive to use “metaphors, caricatures, and fabrication” to “put ideas into people’s heads.”
“I use my cartoon, and if you have an argument, it’s not with me, it’s with my cartoon,” he says.
Metaphor Sets the Topic
To explain, he recalls that, in the 1960s, Richard Nixon was portrayed by cartoonists as “a sewer-dwelling slime who, as he emerges from the sewer, is welcomed by dopey people.”
“If a columnist said this, it would not be accepted. But the political cartoonist isn’t actually saying that Nixon lives in a sewer. The power and danger of a metaphor is that it sets the topic. It won’t lead to an argument about Nixon’s policies, but, rather, whether or not he is sewer-dwelling slime. That is the power of a cartoon,” he says.
Similarly, he says, if a cartoon suggests that Jews and Israel, as the Jewish state, eat Arab babies, that is the only discussion that arises from the image.
He recognizes that the Nazis raised the use of antisemitic political cartoons to new heights, and, he says, this process has continued.
“The effective use of political cartoons by the Nazis to pass their ideas into people’s heads is really scary. Nazis were not fun-loving people who told jokes and loved cartoons, but they discovered the incredible power of this tool,” he says.
For example, he says, the symbol of the six-pointed Star of David was not applied to Jews until the end of the 18th century. Before that, the images and codes that represented Jews and Judaism were symbols such as Torah scrolls, the hands of the Kohanim, and the menorah. The Nazis, however, used the Star of David, with the word “Jude” inscribed within it, to represent Jews, Judaism, Jewish culture, Jewish “race,” and Jewish ideas.
Today, Israel’s enemies use it, too.
“It is agglutinative, which means it glues itself to all kinds of things, so when you use the six-pointed star in combination with something else, it means Jews and Judaism,” he says.
For many years after World War II, finding antisemitic cartoons was no simple feat. Today, he says, it is easy. “I went on Google Images and wrote in ‘Jews.’ In no time, I had more than 500 antisemitic cartoons,” he says.
One of them, drawn in 1890, featured a spider with a Star of David conquering the world. He found the same symbols used to make the identical antisemitic point in cartoons published by the Nazis, the Soviets, and even our “partners for peace,” he says.
“It wasn’t necessary to read the German, Russian, or Arabic titles; they don’t need to be translated. What goes into the brain of the viewers is the concept of Jews as spiders,” he says. “When you see something, it bypasses all the filters. When they tell you something or you read it, it must be filtered. It’s why we cover our eyes in a horror movie. Once you see it, it gets stored in your mind. Communication through these images is really effective.”
According to Mr. Kirschen, virtually all antisemitic cartoons use symbols from “three code families”: the dehumanizing codes, the stereotyping codes, and the moral-inversion codes.
The Jew as a spider is just one of the dehumanizing codes. Others include the Jews as drinkers of blood and other demonizing images, such as baby-eaters, attackers of babies in their mothers’ arms, and creatures with claws, horns, or reapers (symbolizing death). The Nazis depicted Jews as simply a devouring mouth, and, just recently, Arab cartoonists used the same symbol to represent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Zoomorphic depictions of Jews as dogs, mushrooms, octopi, pigs, reptiles (especially snakes), spiders, vermin, vultures, and worms are also common.
“The amazing thing is that some political cartoonists today insist they have looked at a situation involving Israel, analyzed it, and come up with one of these metaphors. In fact, their work has been informed by these image codes,” says Mr. Kirschen.
Political cartoons using the stereotyping codes show Jews as rich, ugly, money-grubbing, powerful, and able to manipulate banks, the media, and the world. A typical metaphor is a sack of money with the Star of David on it.
“Taken together, the dehumanizing and stereotyping codes present the idea that Jews are powerful, demonic, evil, ugly controllers of your world. Jews are depicted as a powerful enemy to be feared or destroyed. The viewer can’t have empathy for them because, after all, they are rats, vermin, blood-drinking demons,” he says.
The reason such cartoons with these antisemitic image codes virtually disappeared for several decades after World War II is that the Holocaust, with its counter image of piles of Jewish bones and living skeletons behind barbed wire, served as an “antibiotic” that attacked the virus.
“It became clear that Jews are not evil, powerful perpetrators, but, in fact, powerless victims who don’t prompt fear,” he says.
This meant that the virus, which Mr. Kirschen describes as “the belief system that still seeks to portray Jews as dangerous to the rest of Mankind,” needed to evolve into a “Holocaust-resistant strain.” He calls this new transformation “moral-inversion codes.” Specifically, these are post-Holocaust cartoons that depict “Jews as Nazis.”
One antisemitic moral-inversion cartoon that Mr. Kirschen finds particularly offensive takes the famous image of the Jewish little boy with his hands up as he walks past a Nazi soldier, and substitutes a Palestinian child and an Israeli soldier (identified with the Star of David). Adding insult to injury for Mr. Kirschen, the cartoon was drawn by an Austrian working in Austria, the birthplace of Adolf Hitler and Nazism.
Another similar cartoon takes the familiar image of Jews herded by Nazis into pits where they were shot and killed or buried alive. A new cartoon depicts the pit in the shape of Gaza and the Stormtrooper with the helmet has a Jewish star on his sleeve and is murdering Arabs.
“The words or captions aren’t important. It’s the intermingling of the star and the swastika,” says Mr. Kirschen.
These antisemitic codes have not only survived, they have grown, he says. For example, he says, there is the image of Jews as birds of prey. Nazi and Soviet cartoonists drew vultures with “the ubiquitous Star of David.” During the Bush Administration, an Arab cartoonist drew then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as riding on a bird bearing the face of then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert “along with the glutinous symbol of the star dripping blood.”
“We in the West don’t think of meat-eating birds as associated with the defamation of Jews, but a contemporary cartoon from Turkey shows a meat-eating bird with a yarmulke and peyos eating the babies of a dove whose nest has been raided by the meat-eating bird,” he says, adding that the viewer does not need to be able to read the Turkish caption to understand the cartoon.
Similar cartoons have shown up in South Africa and China, where a bird is shown on top of a bottle of blood in the shape of Gaza. The bird wants to drink the blood and, to accomplish this, he will drop missiles so that the blood will rise to the top of the bottle, where it will be accessible to him.
A popular picture book authored by a South Korean professor for children features a cartoon which shows American books, magazines, televisions, and radios adorned with Jewish stars. When he had the caption translated, Mr. Kirschen was not surprised: “It cannot be doubted that, in America, all media is controlled by the Jews.”
“It is a very popular book. Ten million copies in English were distributed, too,” says Mr. Kirschen.
In the US and Britain
In 2003, the Chicago Tribune ran a cartoon depicting Mr. Sharon’s wispy hair, puffy eyes, droopy lids, pursed lips, and bumpy chin. His nose, however, morphed into a big, crooked bird’s beak. In the cartoon, Mr. Sharon says, “The path to peace has become brighter,” and it is obviously because he is going to follow the money being offered to Israel.
“This cartoon raises the question as to whether the cartoonist is antisemitic or is it his infection by this meme—this code which has gone viral—that has made this cartoon response automatic. Maybe he didn’t realize he was being antisemitic,” says Mr. Kirschen.
That same year, in an act Mr. Kirschen calls “astounding,” a cartoon depicting then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon eating babies was named the best cartoon of the year by the British Political Cartoon Society. When various groups complained, the society’s response was that the objectors were “just right-wing supporters of Israel” and that the cartoon was “valid.”
“They actually thought the cartoonist had, by himself, come up with this wonderful metaphor that has nothing to do with antisemitism,” says Mr. Kirschen.
Denial of Antisemitism
In 2009, Pat Oliphant, perhaps the most widely circulated cartoonist in the world, drew a cartoon showing a Nazi Stormtrooper (who had morphed into a Jew with a Jewish star) attacking a woman and a baby. The star is on top of a wheel, which, Mr. Kirschen says, gives it more weight because it can be seen as marching along. The star is framed by top and bottom bars, making the star part of the Israeli flag.
When Mr. Oliphant was challenged with the charge of antisemitism, the cartoonist insisted it was simply an “expression” of his belief on the situation in the Middle East.
But, Mr. Kirschen points out, in light of his study, it is clear that the cartoon, depicting Jews as Nazis with devouring mouths targeting babies in their mothers’ arms, fits the moral-inversion code.
In Cologne, Germany, a cartoon of a man with a Star of David devouring a dead Palestinian child and washing it down with a red liquid, presumably blood, prompted a rebuke from the Israeli Embassy in Germany: “If one shows a figure with an Israeli flag devouring a Palestinian child, this reminds us of the most scurrilous accusations of ritual murder in European antisemitism,” said the embassy.
Once again, the authorities in Cologne did not understand why the cartoon was antisemitic.
A recent Brazilian cartoon showed a Pieta, a subject in Christian art depicting the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus, but the child in the cartoon is a Palestinian-Arab.
“There are many examples of Christian iconography being used against Jews,” says Mr. Kirschen.
Similarly, he says, at Christmas, a cartoonist trying to come up with an idea about how to indicate the Palestinians want their own state, might decide to draw a cartoon about Jesus being born in a stable because there was no room in the inn. In the cartoon, he’ll say the Palestinians can’t get their own state for the same reason.
“This doesn’t mean the cartoonist is a conscious spreader of the antisemitic virus. It simply means he’s infected,” says Mr. Kirschen.
Also infected, he says, are many Christian and church groups as well as homosexuals, women’s rights groups, media professionals, journalists, professors, and those interested in academic freedom. With the help of the new academy and its students, he is hoping to “vaccinate” these groups so they can respond to the same threat that is targeting them as well as the Jews.
“I want to sit down with these other groups and ask them: ‘Do you ever wonder why you’re not responding? You’ve got to recognize when you are infected. You have to recognize antisemitism as a symptom,’” he says.
He doesn’t want his students to be limited to discussing and fighting antisemitism, because he is convinced the antisemitic codes are dangerous not only to Jews and Israel, but to all supporters and defenders of Western Civilization.
“We should be letting all the groups that are being attacked by Islamofascists understand that they have been paralyzed by watching the Jews and the anti-Jews. But the Islamofascists’ target is not the Jews; we’re just the worm tied to the hook. Western society is the fish that is the real target. We need to tell the fish that although eating worms is what he naturally does, it’s bad for him, that if he eats us, there’s someone holding the line ready to eat him and he will die. Jews and antisemitism is a strategy for infecting society so it cannot protect itself. We have to alert society to this threat to which somehow they have been frozen into a lack of response. The answer is not the Jews. The answer is Western society that is about to be destroyed and which has to protect itself. Use of these antisemitic codes is a symptom of the presence of a viral attack against Western Civilization as a whole,” he says.
Pragmatically, it does not matter to Mr. Kirschen whether a cartoonist is an actual antisemite or if he is simply infected. Mr. Kirschen’s concern is to educate the public so that, when they see a depiction of Jews eating Arab babies, they can say to themselves, “Whoa, they’re trying to get me. If they’re yelling about Jews killing babies in Gaza, it’s because they want female genital mutilation, an end to academic freedom, and a ban on homosexuals.”
He sees his new academy as providing “disease control” so that society can protect itself by collecting samples of the virus’s various strains, examining its methods of contagion, and warning the public.
He believes it will also help the Muslims whose fanatics use these incitement codes.
“They themselves have become perverted and twisted,” he says, pointing out that, because of the Islamofascists, many Muslims no longer want to implement elements of Islamic law such as doing away with bank loans or simply following Allah, but, rather, “they want to kill the Jews, Americans, and other Westerners.”
The reason, he says, is that the disease they are handling has infected them.
He is hoping that by educating interested students around the world, the new Dry Bones Academy will serve as a means to end the memetic viral spread of antisemitism in political cartoons.
Those who register for the program will also be entitled to a number of perks, including Mr. Kirschen’s Dry Bones Haggadah (he calls the Haggadah the “secret book” of Jewish survival and continuity) and his Trees, the Green Testament, a graphic novel in which he tells the story of planet Earth and the Jewish people from the viewpoint of the trees of Israel.
“It’s a reassertion of the traditional Judeo-Christian idea in cartoon form,” he says.
They will also receive Mr. Kirschen’s Yale paper on antisemitism in cartoons.
To register, go to http://Thedrybonesacademy.com.
To visit the academy itself, go to: http://www.drybonesacademy.com
For further information: write to Mr. Kirschen at Kirschen@drybonesacademy.com.
A Way to Define It
The need for education against antisemitism is as old as the Haggadah, he says, pointing out that Jewish sages recognized that “in every generation, they rise up against us” and that now it is clear that those who rise up against the Jews always go after Western Civilization as a whole afterwards.
“‘They’ often have different ‘reasons,’ a different event that ‘has caused this,’ but it keeps coming. So, just as it’s important to get a flu vaccine before the start of the flu season, or to add a virus-protection program to prevent destructive self-replicating software programs, we need something now. If the reason for the current rash of antisemitic cartoons is being tied to the way we treat Gaza, the reason 20 years from now will be tied to something else,” he says.
“We think antisemitism is like pornography: you can’t describe it, but you know it when you see it. What we’ve discovered is that there is a way to define it,” he says.