Aislin rejects accusations over Harper Israel cartoon

The editorial cartoonist who goes by the pen name Aislin came under fire this week for a drawing of Prime Minister Stephen Harper with a blue-and-white Israeli flag over his face that critics said is “incendiary” and comes close to employing age-old stereotypes of Jews who have the power to silence critics.

But Terry Mosher says these interpretations are far from what he intended, which was no more than a legitimate critique of Harper’s policies, ones he says diverge from Canada’s traditionally more “balanced” approach to the Middle East.

“The s…t hit the fan, just like in the old days,” Mosher told The CJN.

The Jan. 21 cartoon prompted outrage from community organizations as well as angry calls and letters to the Montreal Gazette, where it was published.

In the drawing, only Harper’s eyes and nostrils are exposed, leading the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) to comment, “We object to his incendiary visual suggesting that Israel is somehow muzzling Canada’s foreign policy… It is ludicrous for Aislin to suggest that Canada’s support would lead Prime Minister Harper to be mute on any divergence of opinion.”

B’nai Brith Canada went further, terming the cartoon “vile, grotesque and simply offensive,” and calling for an apology.

“It is all too similar to perverted images vilifying Harper which we have seen during his trip to the Middle East. It treads close to borrowing the age old canard that Jews wield undue influence to silence critics of Israel,” said Frank Dimant, CEO of B’nai Brith.

But Mosher said the cartoon wasn’t meant to suggest Harper was being muzzled. It was drawn to compare the prime minister to a sports fan, the kind who draw a blue maple leaf on their faces to show their support for the local hockey team.

“I painted the flag to indicate he’s a fan of Israel,” Mosher said.

“I was watching TV with him and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. It was just a simple thought that given Canada’s more balanced policy in the past, he’s gone overboard.”

“There’s noting ominous” in the drawing, just a suggestion that Canada’s policy should be more balanced, he added.

Mosher said the drawing was vetted by seasoned staff at the Gazette, who saw it as a legitimate political cartoon.

“There’s not bad intent aimed at the Jewish People or Israel,” he said. “It’s simply a comment of me being worried about Canadian policy with regard to the Middle East.”

It’s not the first time one of his cartoons on the Middle East has landed him in hot water. In 1997 – “the old days” he referred to – he was harshly criticized by Muslim groups for a cartoon that commented on the murder of foreign tourists in Luxor, Egypt.

In it, he depicted a dog labelled “Islamic extremism” with the caption, “With apologies to dogs everywhere.” Mosher refused to apologize at the time. He said there would be no apology for the Harper drawing either.

Such illustrations are part of a robust culture of critiquing politicians, something Israelis are particularly good at, Mosher said.

He has met Israeli editorial cartoonists, including one of the country’s most famous, Nissim “Nusko” Hezkiyahu, who is director of the Animix Cartoon Festival. Mosher said he hopes that one day he’ll be invited to Israel to present his work, which examines Canada through the eyes of a cartoonist.