There is a difference between the ordinary distortions of news stories that fail to take into account the history of the Middle East conflict and published material that spreads out-and-out lies. And there is no other way to describe the editorial cartoon drawn by Tom Toles in Monday’s Washington Post than as a lie. Toles portrays a three-way meeting between President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas taking place without a table in front of the trio. Obama listens as Abbas says “Okay. … Everything is on the table.” Netanyahu — labeled “Bibi” — replies, “But we refuse to sit at that table.” This leaves the reader with the idea that Israeli intransigence that is foiling the peace process.
Cartoons are not the same thing as a news article and Toles is entitled to his opinion about the Middle East. But he is not, as they say, entitled to his own facts. You needn’t be a supporter of Israel to understand that the reason direct talks between the parties aren’t being held is because the Palestinians have, quite vocally, refused to sit at the same table as the Israelis. One just has to follow the news about the Middle East to know this. Indeed, just the day before Toles’s cartoon was published, the Post ran a story that directly discussed President Obama’s displeasure with Abbas and his flat refusal to sit at the same table with the Israelis.
So the problem with the cartoon is not that it is biased against Israel or that it puts forward a premise about Netanyahu’s policies that is out of context. It is that it is ignorant. Toles may think whatever he likes about Israel, and he may draw anti-Israeli cartoons as long as the Post is willing to publish them. But surely there is some obligation on the part of a person who works for a newspaper to stay abreast of the news that is published within its own pages. You also have to wonder what the editorial page editor was thinking while signing off on a page that includes Toles’s cartoon, which flatly contradicts well-known facts about the peace process.
Is the problem here that Toles and his editor just don’t read the Middle East news published in the Post or elsewhere? Or is it just that Toles’s bias against Israel is so profound that he is unwilling to adjust the tone of his scribbling to accommodate the actual facts about the conflict? Either way, this cartoon raises some serious questions about the judgment of Toles and the editors, which the newspaper needs to answer.
(Hat tip to Eric Rozenman, Washington director of CAMERA.)