The rogue satirist who sent a Leunig cartoon to an Iranian paper
seeking to lampoon the Holocaust has given a series of contrite
interviews (in this morning’s Age,
SMH and OZ) to stave off legal action from Fairfax.
In a strange twist 26-year-old Chaser website writer, Richard Cooke,
even told Crikey he thought Michael Gawenda had been right to spike
the cartoon (here) when Leunig drew it in 2002.

“I think the outcome was quite good – Michael Gawenda
made an editorial decision that it was outside the bounds of what The Age
wanted to do but it did come out so people could talk about it. There was no obligation
on Gawenda to publish it,” he said.

The cartoon consists of two panels. The first, “Auschwitz 1945,”
shows a man with the Star of David on his back walking toward an arched
entrance bearing the words “Work Brings Freedom.” In the second “Israel
2002” a man walks to toward a similar arch bearing the words “War
Brings Peace.”

“I think it wasn’t an equivalence that was
constructive to
make,” said Cooke – who earlier this week posed as Leunig and sent the toon to the Iranian paper, Hamshahari.

Nevertheless, when Cooke rang to apologise on Tuesday Leunig
was quick to forgive him, even though the hoax has left the cartoonist with plenty of egg
on his face after he blamed “dirty tactics” from “the pro-war lobbyists.”.

Former Age editor Michael Gawenda hasn’t been in such a forgiving mood. In a blistering opinion piece today he writes “Whoever did this did a very bad thing indeed, and if what was
done is against the law that person should be prosecuted. I can
understand Michael Leunig’s dismay.”

But Gawenda’s most excoriating attack was directed at Leunig’s
self-pitying approach to the scandal, and his inability to recognise
and repudiate the anti-Semitism with which he’s been associated.

In the article published in The Age, Leunig says
nothing at all about this competition, how vile it is, how racist,
how it shocked him that anyone would ever think that he would have
anything to do with such an outrageous campaign.

The journalist who interviewed Leunig characterises the
competition as one designed to “find a cartoon on the Holocaust
insulting to Jews”. This is a downright depressing way to
characterise this competition, for it isn’t a “Jewish” issue, a
matter that concerns only Jews, just as any form of racism is not
just an offence against the people against whom it is directed.

But there is nothing from Leunig on all this, not even a
moment’s reflection on the fact that the competition’s organisers
thought his cartoon – which is not a hoax – was a perfectly fine
entry for this racist exercise.

Even Piers Akerman is on safe ground in his Tele column today when he makes the point:

That his cartoons could slot so easily into an anti-holocaust competition run by a newspaper under the control of a regime
headed by a lunatic who has pledged to wipe Israel off the map and who
dismisses the deaths of some six million people as a “myth” is
something he should be really concerned about, not whether his drawing
was sent off without his permission.

In the crowing irony of the whole topsy-turvy saga it looks as
though Leunig, who began the week as the innocent victim of a malicious
hoax, is about to end it with quite a bit of explaining to do.

Peter Fray

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