Cartoon of Olmert as Nazi Guard Sets Off Free Speech Debate

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

A Norwegian cartoon depicting Prime Minister Olmert as a Nazi commander indiscriminately shooting Palestinian Arabs in a concentration camp has elicited an angry response from Israel’s ambassador to Norway, Miryam Shomrat, and a defense of the newspaper’s editorial stance by its editor.

The cartoon, which caused little uproar in Norway when it was first printed, has become a hot topic of discussion after Ms. Shomrat filed a complaint with the Norwegian Press Trade Committee arguing that the cartoon exceeded the limits of free speech.

“I do respect the principle of freedom of speech very much,” Ms. Shomrat told The New York Sun yesterday. “I know it has very broad borders, yet I believe that in this case, the border between freedom of speech and the abuse of that freedom has been transgressed.”

The cartoon was first printed in the July 10 edition of the Oslo daily Dagbladet and came in response to Israeli action in the Gaza Strip, not Lebanon. The paper’s acting editor in chief, Lars Helle, has vigorously defended the cartoonist and refused to apologize.

“I don’t regret that we printed it and we allowed it,” said Mr. Helle, who added that he was confident the paper would not be convicted of wrongdoing. This issue goes to the “core of the free speech that we have in the democratic part of the world,” he said.

Ms. Shomrat, however, said she thought the cartoon was anti-Semitic. “I have zero tolerance for reference to the Shoah in political cartoons. I think it is an insult to the memory of 6 million victims,” she said.

Ms. Shomrat said that while Dagbladet, a “reputable” paper, has allowed pro-Israel opinion pieces, it has been quite critical of Israel, a view Mr. Helle said he agreed with. She also said that if the cartoon were printed 50 years ago, it would have been fit for Der Stürmer, the weekly Nazi newspaper.

Mr. Helle said he found the suggestion offensive. “They should maybe apologize to us for comparing us to a Nazi newspaper and for trying to stop discussion and free speech,” he said. “We haven’t broken the law or something like that. We have broken some people’s taste. It’s a question of taste, not the law, or press ethics, or Nazism.”

The cartoon alluded to a famous scene in the 1993 film “Schindler’s List,” in which a Nazi concentration camp commander shoots Jews at random while standing on a balcony. In this cartoon, Mr. Olmert shoots at a mass of people with a sniper’s rifle outside barracks marked by a lone Palestinian Arab flag.

Despite the obvious similarities, Ms. Shomrat said that because Israel is now fighting a war, her objections were nothing like the complaints many Muslims made after inflammatory cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist were printed in a Danish paper and later syndicated in numerous other papers, including Dagbladet. Days after the cartoon appeared, the paper asked Ms. Shomrat to be the subject of a weekly interview in its magazine. After finding out that the same cartoonist would be drawing her, Ms. Shomrat declined the interview.

The New York Sun

© 2024 The New York Sun Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. The material on this site is protected by copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used.

The New York Sun

Sign in or  create a free account

By continuing you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use