Cartoonist accused of maligning Judaism

Trudeau, creator of the satirical Doonesbury comic strip, said it was not his intention to reinforce negative stereotypes.

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WASHINGTON // A leading US Jewish group is seeking an apology from the creator of a popular comic strip for a recently published cartoon it says "maligns Judaism" and promotes a "Christian heresy". The Anti-Defamation League complained in a letter to Garry Trudeau, the creator of Doonesbury, that a cartoon that refers to a "mellow" Jesus becoming angry only over "the moneylenders" - a seeming reference to Jews - perpetuates the stereotype of their being unscrupulous in business dealings. "It reinforces age-old stereotypes about Judaism that have been the cause of much suffering and pain over the centuries, and which have been rejected by a variety of Christian denominations over the last decades," the ADL wrote. "Doonesbury's Reverend Sloan is guilty of promoting anti-Jewish stereotypes and biblical illiteracy," the letter went on, referring to a character in the strip. "He owes both Jews and Christians an apology." The Anti-Defamation League recently criticised editorial cartoonists in Arab and Muslim newspapers for using the swine flu epidemic to depict Israeli leaders as "racist pigs". The group cited cartoons published in newspapers in Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, the UAE and the UK; according to the group, the cartoon that ran in the UAE newspaper Al Khaleej showed Avigdor Lieberman's face with a snout for a nose and was titled "The Racism Flu". In its opening panel, the Doonesbury strip features Rev Sloan speaking from the pulpit. In a conversation with him outside church, a young girl notes that the God of the Old Testament "is always crabby and snarky to everyone" while the New Testament "isn't about anger at all - it's about love". She says Jesus "really only snaps once": over "the moneylenders". "They do seem to set people off," Reverend Sloan replies. David Saperstein, a rabbi who is head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, also raised concern last week in a comment posted on the Doonesbury website on behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis. "Whether intentional or not, public expression that smacks of anti-Semitism, even in cartoon form - and especially by someone as well-regarded as yourself - is cause for concern," wrote Mr Saperstein, who noted that he is a Doonesbury fan. "I hope my reading of the cartoon is correct that the focus appears to be on the current financial crisis; in this case, however, a line was crossed that allowed a pernicious stereotype to find its way into the discourse about the current economic challenges faced by our nation and world. If you agree with me that these challenges are not the fault of any one individual, group or religion, then I hope you share my concern that your cartoon might be read as blaming Jews." As a satirist with a decidely liberal bent, Mr Trudeau has often found his cartoons the target of criticism. During last year's presidential campaign, some bristled over a strip that mocked the Republican ticket's discussion of "family values" - or lack of it - after it was revealed that the vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's unwed teenage daughter was pregnant. The party's only remaining value, the cartoon said, was the "shotgun wedding". "All previous values are null and void because 'life happens'!" it said. Universal Press Syndicate said no offence was intended by the recent cartoon. "I appreciate your cautionary note about the use of 'moneylenders' in the context of the New Testament, and we will heed your advice," a statement on the Doonesbury website said, in response to Mr Saperstein. "Neither Garry Trudeau nor UPS intended to revert to stereotype, and if any readers suggest to us that they approve of that connection, we will do our best to correct them."