A grotesque look at antisemitism … through comics

A caricature of Meghan McCain and her comments on The View ( Copyright by Eli Valley, used with permission. )

JVL Introduction

We earlier carried a review of Eli Valley’s collected cartoons strips Diaspora Boy, where his work is described as “always on the edge, often over the top, frequently disturbing and uncomfortable”.

If you didn’t turn away in dismay then, you will love this recent radio interview with WNYC Studios, in which he inveighs against the idea that that “the big threat is coming from Ilhan Omar when we’re living in this neo-Nazi apocalypse right now”.

A Grotesque Look At Antisemitism … Through Comics

3rd May 2019

Full transcript below

Order  Diaspora Boy: Comics on Crisis in America and Israel from the publishers, OR Books.


Last weekend’s horrific attack at a synagogue in Poway, California was just the latest expression of the heightened climate of antisemitism and far-right hatred in the United States. However, instead of prompting an honest discussion of how the president’s rhetoric and GOP policies have contributed to these hateful ideologies, the press quickly moved to a debate over an antisemitic cartoon posted in the international edition of The New York Times. That cartoon, depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog leading a blind Donald Trump wearing a yarmulke, generated outrage all across the cable news shows. According to Eli Valley, Jewish satirist and comic artist, this pivot of coverage is the latest example of the political right weaponizing antisemitism to deflect its own complicity in the worldwide resurgence of Nazism.

On his site and in his collection of comics, Diaspora Boy: Comics on Crisis in America and Israel, Valley uses grotesque caricatures to call out political figures like Meghan McCain and Ben Shapiro, who have blamed the left for the rising tide of antisemitism. In this interview, Valley talks with Bob [Garfield] about the erasure of left-wing Jews of the diaspora and the role of righteous anger in today’s political climate.

This is a segment from On the Media’s May 3rd, 2019 program, A High State of Agitation.

 Eli Valley comics discussed in the segment:

(Copyright by Eli Valley, used with permission.)


(Copyright by Eli Valley, used with permission.)


(Copyright by Eli Valley, used with permission.)


BOB GARFIELD Ferguson embodies all of the civility and equanimity you’d expect from a social justice organizer, but when it comes to dubious charges of anti-Semitism, not everyone is so gentle. Consider the tempest in a skullcap that erupted this week when The New York Times was compelled to apologize for a political cartoon that had been reprinted in its international edition.


MALE CORRESPONDENT The New York Times is promising significant changes after publishing an anti-Semitic cartoon in its international edition. The paper says it’s deeply sorry about a cartoon depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Star of David, as a dog on a leash held by a blind President Trump.


BOB GARFIELD The satirical point, or what passed for it, was that Trump’s policy on the Middle East is blindly following Bibi’s lead. It relied on some worrisome tropes for sure but a modern day der sturmer cartoon it was not.

ELI VALLEY First of all the dog was wearing a Jewish star and the problem is that Israel has adopted and appropriated all the iconography of Jewish tradition.

BOB GARFIELD That’s Eli Vallee, himself a satirist and comic artist, who knows anti-Semitism when he sees it and gets a little irritable when such charges are launched out of political expediency while the real horrible thing is playing out in synagogues and morgues.

ELI VALLEY The uproar was within moments of a body being freshly murdered. I mean, a human being. The body was still warm. And so this is unconscionable that the right is doing this and they keep doing it. You know, we have a man who is allied with neo-Nazi movements in the White House and we are told that it’s because of a Portuguese cartoon published in Italy and in Spain that we had a massacre. That’s, that’s horrifying you know.

BOB GARFIELD Before I get to another example of, changing the subject, I think it behooves me to talk about your work and, particularly, your drawing style. Which I would say, and I hope you’re with me on the references here, I would say splits the difference between Robert Crumb and another big 60s illustrator, not so famous, Ed Big Daddy Roth.

ELI VALLEY Oh Ed Roth. Okay.

BOB GARFIELD Kind of Gothic, kind of grotesque, kind of hairy. Not just warts and all but warts above all. Is that a fair description of your style?

ELI VALLEY Yeah I think so. I mean, the literal antecedent is Mad comics of the 50s and R. Crumb, of course, was hugely influenced by them. It’s like when Mad became a magazine the underground emerged afterwards in the 60s. Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder are like the Urtexts of this kind of art. But also like Basil Wolverton. Are you familiar with him? He really these like extreme grotesqueries–warts specifically. And so many others are. You know Jack Kamen Al Feldstein. There’s like, it basically was like this Yiddish theater cacophony in the pages of comic books in the early 50s.

BOB GARFIELD And the other thing about you is that you’re really, really an angry dude.

ELI VALLEY I’m increasingly angry because, well, I mean just look outside. You know, there are reasons to be angry. You know, if you’re not angry, you’re not, you’re not awake right now.

BOB GARFIELD So as this anti-Semitism flame war has unfolded since the Pittsburgh shooting last year, you’ve been drawing cartoons caricaturing various political commentators–maybe chief among them Meghan McCain of “The View”. And haha, can you describe your first depiction of Meghan McCain because it’s equally horrifying and hilarious.

ELI VALLEY Thank you. It’s just Meghan McCain. It’s a satire of her appropriation of Jewish kitsch and Jewish trauma when she said on “The View” and then repeated elsewhere.


MEGHAN MCCAIN On both sides it should be called out.


MEGHAN MCCAIN And just because I don’t technically have Jewish family that are blood related to me, doesn’t mean I don’t take this as seriously. And it is very dangerous.


ELI VALLEY You know that her authority to speak on Jewish issues comes from her friendship with Joe and Hadassah Lieberman.

BOB GARFIELD Some of my best friends are Jewish.

ELI VALLEY Exactly. Exactly. And that the big threat is coming from Ilhan Omar when we’re living in this neo-Nazi apocalypse right now.


MEGHAN MCCAIN What, what Ilhan Omar is saying it’s very scary to me. And it’s very scary to a lot of people. And I don’t think you have to be Jewish to recognize. [END CLIP]

ELI VALLEY So I drew her pouring matzo ball soup mix without any water added, just pouring overflowing into a bowl. And all this like ephemera of Jewish kitsch including Yentl DVD, a Christian’s guide to Seder. The Jewish race explained and Matisyahu CD which is a deep cut from a, you know, people who are involved in Jewish world like ten years ago. Yeah. And had her putting on, literally like stapling to her chest almost, a jude Star of David from the Holocaust.

BOB GARFIELD Yellow star.

ELI VALLEY Yeah. Yeah.

BOB GARFIELD And what she’s saying about Omar is that refugee girl wants to exterminate us Jews.

ELI VALLEY You clearly were offended that she had appointed herself spokesman for World Jew-ry.

MEGHAN MCCAIN In the service of pivoting from the nightmare that we’re experiencing to blame it on the left, to blame it on a Muslim congresswoman who is receiving death threats as a result of this charade. In the wake of the last massacre incited by GOP philosophy and ideology. Instead of saying, ‘wow we need to be on the White House lawn.’ The GOP needs to have an enlightenment and stop these horrible anti-Semitic dog whistles. She went on ABC program and didn’t blame it on Omar for the massacre but both sides the issue.


MEGHAN MCCAIN I do think when we’re having conversations about anti-Semitism we should be looking at the most extreme, on both sides, and I wouldn’t bring up Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and some of her comments that got so much attention.


BOB GARFIELD As if to say, ‘well, OK. Yes synagogue shootings.’ But what–.

ELI VALLEY All about the Benjamins.


ELI VALLEY It’s essentially what she said. You know.

BOB GARFIELD There’s one little footnote to this whole story with Meghan McCain and that is, when she saw your cartoon ridiculing her, she said–.

ELI VALLEY This is the most anti-Semitic thing I’ve ever seen. Everyone else was like this hilarious a Christian woman is saying a Jewish cartoonist is anti-Semitic but given the narrative we’ve been forced to live in, it was, it was not out of the ordinary. In fact, there were so many people on the Jewish right who have been condemning me for years for saying maybe Netanyahu is not the messiah, who were embracing her who were inviting her over for Shabbat dinner. Basically saying, not even implicitly, you’re the Jew. That guy who draws cartoons critical of Israel, no Jew.

BOB GARFIELD The question of Jewishness is a recurring theme in your work. I mean, you have a comic called Israel Man and Diaspora Boy.


BOB GARFIELD Israel man looks like a superhero. And haha, diaspora boy is this kind of Gremlin. And tell me about him and what his role is in your world.

ELI VALLEY Well Diaspora Boy is also the title of my book of comics which sort of you know try to redefine Jewish authenticity after generations of being told that we in the diaspora are untermenschen essentially. So Diaspora Boy and Israel Man and Diaspora Boy is a satire of Zionist ideology going back to the early years of Zionism in which the new Jews of the Levant would replace the Jewish type of diaspora. And if you look at the texts of early 20th century Zionists, they’re saying literally he is hateful to all men of high standards. And I mean, you know, from their point of view they were trying to convince gentile authorities who were anti-Semitic to, you know, help create a homeland. But they imbibe so much, they started mirroring it and they started perpetuating it themselves.

BOB GARFIELD So your level of Jewishness hinged on your support of the Zionist cause. A friend of mine once described her mother in law who, if you asked her to pass the salt, first you’d have to decide whether it was good for Israel.

ELI VALLEY Yeah. And also, I mean, the belated punchline to Diaspora Boy is that Israel has, today, sided with anti-semitic authoritarian regimes and actual movements that have historically saw the extermination of Jews. And so it’s like the satire has become reality.

BOB GARFIELD And not to mention common cause with the Christian right.


BOB GARFIELD Who embrace Israel for reasons of biblical prophecy.

ELI VALLEY They embrace the Christian right in ways that go far beyond their conceivable embrace of Diaspora Jews.

BOB GARFIELD In the midst of all this political chaos, there is a lot of hand-wringing going on about the loss of civility and, you know, mostly it’s aimed at Trump and his, you know, childish trolling of political rivals and women or whoever he unleashes ad hominem attacks on. But it’s also used to describe the society itself in all of its polarization. You don’t seem to worry a whole lot about the civility problem.

ELI VALLEY No, I think the whole civility issue is another manifestation of both sides in order to silence the left. When we have children in these internment camps, if you want to call them that very politely, there cannot be civility now. There is no time for civility, there is no time for compromise. This is a time for rage and for acting out in the streets–based on what they are doing. You know, I mean just the idea that Stephen Miller can enter a restaurant, enter a movie theater and, you know, if only if only in the 1930s in Germany there had been zero civility towards Nazis.

BOB GARFIELD It’s not just your rage we’re discussing. It’s your rage about misplaced rage. Is there a piece that you did that you think most distills the notion of us being upset about all the wrong things?

ELI VALLEY One of them, somewhat recently, was involving Nazis about to shoot a Jew in the head. And what Nazi comes up and says, ‘did you hear a leftist made a remark that could possibly, in certain contexts, overlap with the vernacular of anti-Semitism.’ And then the Nazis who are who have their fingers on the trigger say, ‘ere you serious.’ And then the Jew himself says, ‘this is a moral outrage.’ While he’s about to be shot. And the third one says when will the world learn.


BOB GARFIELD Eli, Thank you very much.

ELI VALLEY Oh, thank you.

BOB GARFIELD Eli Valley is a comic artist and author of Diaspora Boy: Comics on Crisis in America and Israel.


BOB GARFIELD Coming up, the sound, the fury and “The View”. This is On The Media.