by Jerry Gordon (July 2011)
We have interviewed Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard and Swedish artist Lars Vilks. Both are defiant free thinkers and opponents of Islamic hatred for the Western values of liberty and free expression. We turn to another free thinker and cartoonist, American–Israeli Yaakov Kirschen, creator of The Dry Bones cartoon with its querulous character, Mr. Shuldig – Yiddish for “guilty.” Brooklyn-born Kirschen began sketching and drawing early in life and took a dual major at Queens College, part of the City University of New York, in Fine Arts and Economics – the latter an attempt at doing something practical. Along the way, he picked up some important computer skills. He gravitated to New York spending time on Manhattan’s Upper West Side involved in the Reform Democratic movement of the 1960’s. Kirschen immigrated to Israel with his family in 1971, hoping to get a job in computer science. Instead he used his art skills and created Dry Bones, which first appeared in the Jerusalem Post in 1973, as a humorous mirror of Israeli society and its problems, both domestic and international. The readership and followers of Dry Bones has grown over nearly four decades attracting an international audience. The cartoon is now syndicated in more than 40 publications in the US and Canada and on-line via polticalcartoons.com. Kirschen has established a blog about the Dry Bones cartoon, and has both a Facebook and Twitter page.
Kirschen was in the US this spring on a mission for Z Street that took him across America. One of his stops was in New Haven, Connecticut at the former Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YISSA) to present a paper on the viral use of cartoons to spread antisemitism over the past five centuries as an example of the demonization not only of Jews, but of the West as well. Kirschen has a sly way of conveying his cartoon themes to get his message across. He uses soft humor and irony. That way, if his enemy laughs, he believes he has won.
Jerry Gordon: Yaakov Kirschen, thank you for consenting to this interview.
Yaakov Kirschen: Thank you for inviting me.
Gordon: When did you get your training in your craft as a cartoonist?
Kirschen: I was a 12 year old kid drawing pictures in my notebook instead of paying attention to the teacher.
Gordon: Did you pursue that subsequently in your educational track or not?
Kirschen: I did. I pursued it figuring that I should be an artist. So I studied fine art and painting and woodcut, sketching, charcoal and took live drawing classes.
Gordon: As a Brooklyn kid, born and reared, did you graduate from one of the City universities?
Kirschen: I graduated from Queens College with a major in art and a minor in economics.
Gordon: What a combo.
Kirschen: That's right. Because I figured if I couldn't be an artist I'd be an accountant.
Gordon: When did you decide to make Aliyah to Israel?
Kirschen: In 1967 I was upset about the war in Vietnam. So I began to work against the Vietnam War within the Democratic Party. I established a Democratic Club that represented the Northern part of Manhattan. We beat the regular Democrats and I was elected to be a delegate to the Chicago Convention in 1968 where I came in contact with the radical idea of returning to your roots. That was '68. When I got back to New York from the convention, I had been lobbied by everybody from the grape pickers to separate schools for Harlem tons of mail flowed in from everybody. That was the era before the days of email. The one group that hadn't contacted me was the Jews. So I went down to the Jewish Agency building at 515 Park Avenue in Manhattan and made some inquires. That is when I found out that the Jews did not know what they were doing. I thought we were the smart guys back in ‘68, but by '71 I had moved my butt to Israel, a country I had never visited.
Gordon: Were you married at the time?
Kirschen: I was married at the time and had three children. However, we got divorced in Israel. I'm married to someone else now and super friendly with my ex wife who was at our Seder this year. Now I have eight grandchildren with my wife of twelve years.
Gordon: How did you overcome your liberal Democratic roots?
Kirschen: I don't know if it was liberal Democratic roots. Basically American Jews of the generation prior to mine, witnessed a President very much like Obama, a guy who refused to speak out against the antisemitism. A guy who horrifyingly sent back boats of Jewish Immigrants to their deaths and refused to bomb the train tracks to Auschwitz; President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. For some reason he became a God to American Jews. Illustrative of that, no one in my family had ever or would ever vote for anybody but a Democrat. When I look at people today who are enamored of Obama and are jumping into suicidal things like J Street, I understand it. It's like my family. They are crazy.
Gordon: When did you actually start your cartoon, Dry Bones?
Kirschen: I came to Israel in '71. I was and still am a computer expert. I assumed that I would be working in cutting edge computer stuff in Israel. However, I discovered that the society was so screwed up, that what it needed was a cartoon. So I started one and thus Dry Bones began January 1, 1973. I had only come to the country in '71 so I was already letting people know what it was all about.
Gordon: Who initially published the cartoon in Israel?
Kirschen: The cartoon originally was published in the Jerusalem Post.
Gordon: Where else has it now been syndicated?
Kirschen: Right now Dry Bones goes to 40 different papers in the US and Canada. It is also syndicated internationally by politicalcartoons.com which is becoming a major force in syndication. It no longer appears in the Jerusalem Post. The main outreach now is obviously online. This is where all the action is happening, so I am Twittering, Facebooking and blogging. I have gotten sucked into the whole digital world along with everybody else.
Gordon: You may be pleased to know that I am one of your fans and receive your latest cartoon daily via your blog.
Gordon: Why were you in the US in May?
Kirschen: I was here in the States on a mission.
Gordon: And what is your mission about?
Kirschen: My mission is to turn Z Street into the grass roots movement that America needs. By that I mean most Jewish organizations are somehow a back up for their leaders as are most activist Christian organizations. When people look at Zionists they think of them as being either right wing Jews or crazy Christian evangelicals. In fact the defense of Western society is partly based on the defense of its outpost in the Middle East, Israel. Anyone who values Western civilization and their own freedom should be defending Israel. Zionism should be the defense of Western society. What we have discovered is a virus, a behavioral virus. This virus attaches itself to mass movements. It's gone from the Inquisition in to Russia with the Czarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, codified by the Nazis. This virus continued on to infect the Stalinists and now has affected Islamism. The use of this virus apparently freezes people into inaction. Like there is a kind of wasp that catches a little critter and stabs it with a paralyzing serum and then lays its eggs in the quivering body of the host and when the eggs hatch the larva eats the body alive. That is happening now to the West. For example, you might say that Islamism is wildly anti-feminist. Then how come no women's organization is responding? Islamism is wildly anti-Christian. How come the major churches are not responding? Islamism is crazy homophobic. How come there is not a single gay lesbian group that is Zionist? It is totally against academic freedom. How come the professors don't speak out for Israel? All of these things are examples of the affect of this virus and I think that those of us who are relatively uninfected need to band together. This viral infection process analogy reminds me of the movie Night of the Living Dead. The plot the film had a virus spreading through town turning people into zombies and the few people who are sane are trying to protect them. I think the people in America who are sane have got to get on board a massive movement from coast to coast. You could be a Zionist and be in a Jewish organization, you could be a Zionist and be in an evangelical organization, but as Americans, we have to get on board one major grassroots movement and I intend to make Z Street into that.
Gordon: In addition to your missionfor Z Street, you also presented a fascinating paper on the viral spread of antisemitism via cartoons at what was the YISSA, now unfortunately disbanded.
Kirschen: In 2009 I was asked to be a fellow and Artist in Residence at YISSA. The work that I did with YIISA totally changed my understanding of antisemitism and of antisemitic cartoons.
Cartoon images have always been important in the spread of viral antisemitism. They were important to the Inquisition of medieval Spain, to the Nazis, Fascists, and Stalinists of the 20th century and are important to today’s global terrorist Islamists and to our own, home-grown Western antisemites.
In 2010, I wrote a YIISA paper on my work which identified antisemitism as a behavioral virus that is spread by a specific set of “secret codes” hidden in political cartoons. The paper examined the three families of code images as three strains of a virus and traced the consistency of their use from one antisocial movement to the next. As part of my work I built a compendium of these “secret codes” of Antisemitism which are always part of a “hidden war” against Western Civilization.
You can see it at http://secretcodeshiddenwar.com
The first family of codes is the Dehumanizing Codes.
These images show Jews to be non-human, i.e. Beak-Nosed, Horned demons, Blood-Drinking Vampires, Rats, Octopuses, etc.
The second family is the StereotypingCodes.
These images show how Jews behave; they control the media, they are rich lovers of money, secret power behind governments, etc.
These two families were used until the Holocaust showed Jews to be, themselves, the victims. And so athird Holocaust-Resistant family gained ground.
The Moral Inversion family.
These codes do not attempt to deny the Nazi Horrors.
They simply charge the Jews as being Nazis themselves!! This family is growing rapidly in depicting the Jewish State as a “Nazi State”
Gordon: Given what has occurred in Washington D.C. with the faceoff between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, do you believe that will make Israel a possible wedge issue in the 2012 election?
Kirschen: I don' know and actually I don't care. I think that we are watching American support for a wildly antisemitic movement in Egypt and in Libya. However, it is not just Obama aiding the antisemites. We've got Sen. John McCain, who has actually gone to Libya and called for sending them weapons. There would have been no difference had McCain been elected. There is a wave of viral antisemitism spreading through the area. It is called the Arab Spring.
Gordon: Do you believe that what Obama has done is a “failure of statecraft”?
Kirschen: I think that Obama is the product of the Chicago Democratic machine which is the most corrupt political entity in America. I think that the real business is going on behind his back. They are letting him play at running around the world and reading pretty speeches. I think Obama is pretty irrelevant. I think that the discussions that are going on between him and Netanyahu are pretty irrelevant. I think that if Obama calls for the release of Gilad Shalit while he has got his hands around Jonathan Pollard’s neck, it's just silly talk.
Gordon: In late May, MK Professor Arieh Eldad deposited a petition with thousands of names at the Jordanian Embassy in Israel and his colleagues did so at other locations including the Jordanian Embassy in Washington D.C. The thesis he propounds is one that the late King Hussein said: “basically Jordan is Palestine.” Do you go along with that?
Kirschen: Well, Jordan is part of Palestine. Palestine is a designated area and that area includes two sides of the Jordan River. One side, the eastern side of the Jordan River, that part of Palestine was given to the Hashemite Kingdom to be Trans Jordan. The other half was to be divided between a Jewish state and an Arab state. In 1948 Trans Jordan crossed the river and occupied Judea and Samaria and in 1950 to solidify their claim as occupiers they invented the term West Bank. All Arab documents pertaining to the region refer to the two areas as Judea and Samaria. However, today, if you use the term Judea and Samaria it means you are a right wing Jew or a crazy evangelical. The only acceptable term is that invented by the occupier in 1950, the West Bank.
Gordon: Where do you think this is going to lead now that Fatah has allegedly cut a deal with Hamas?
Kirschen: I think where it will lead is they want a state which must be contiguous. You can't have a state cut in two and so they are going to demand a connection between Gaza and the West Bank which of course would cut Israel in two. However, nobody seems to be worried about that.
Gordon: Do you think the U.S. has any control over a possible unilateral declaration of independence for a Palestinian state?
Kirschen: I think the whole question of the Palestinian state is bogus. Z Street recently held a conference on Capitol Hill in Washington broaching the idea that a Palestinian State wouldn’t be good for the Arabs precisely because it would be infected by Islamism and so would deny freedoms to Arabs and would terrorize both its own people and its neighbors. There is only one question to be addressed if you are really interested in discussing peace. The question is will the nations of the region recognize the Jewish state as natural and native to the region? After that the discussion of what the borders of the Jewish state are will have to be determined. However, deciding what the borders are is immaterial to me and immaterial to the whole idea of peace. Peace can come only with the recognition of the Jewish state. That's not happening and nobody is calling for it.
Gordon: You have done cartoons about the mad mullahs in Tehran seeking the annihilation of the Jewish state of Israel.
Gordon: Do you believe that Iran can ever be changed and essentially a more secular Persian polity emerge?
Kirschen: Sure, absolutely. The people most likely to become a democracy in the Middle East are not the Arabs. It's the Persians.
Gordon: Why has the Obama Administration reached out to these mad men in Tehran who are seeking not only the annihilation of the Jewish state of Israel but constitute a threat to the rest of the world?
Kirschen: I think that there are tons of reasons for it. Number One, in a democracy you can only understand what's going on by watching the media. The media in America long ago ceased to be honest. It used to be that the job of the media was to report what was going on. I have a camera. I will tell you what's going on. Many years ago what developed was called advocacy journalism. That meant you tell the world who are the good guys, who are the bad guys and let the readers decide. I remember sitting in Israel with the wife of the then Yugoslavian Ambassador. She was not being witty and not being sarcastic but being totally honest and said to me that when she sat home in Belgrade and watched CNN she knew that they were lying through their teeth. Now that she had been in Israel for a couple of years she said that CNN is totally lying about Israel, the only two countries that she has experienced. She told me, “but you know I believe them about everybody else.” That's the problem.
Gordon: Turning to our friends in Europe
Kirschen: Do we have friends in Europe?
Gordon: Well we do. We have one by the name of Geert Wilders
Gordon: What is your opinion of Geert Wilders?
Kirschen: Wilders is an unabashed friend of Israel. One of the few in Europe. The problem is we live in a convoluted and dangerous world. I think there is an interesting cartoon character in the Superman strip. He was called Bizarro. He lived in a bizarro world. He was like Superman except that, he did everything backwards and twisted. We are seeing the rise of a Bizarro world. We know that there is viral antisemitism. Now, all of a sudden people are talking about Islamophobia. What the hell is Islamophobia? There is no such thing as Islamophobia. There is fear of terrorism. Jewish organizations have stopped talking about the Arab-Israel problem and instead of talking about the Israel-Palestine problem. We're being infected by the manipulation of the news and the Bizarro world that is being created and we are infected by it. That is the reason that I came over here to talk about Z Street, which I believe can be the answer to this problem because it is composed of people who are not about Judea and Samaria. I've got to call it the West Bank because if I call it Judea and Samaria everybody is going to say he's a right wing fascist Jew. So I am forced to call it that if I am going to talk about the region. If I'm going to try to make people see it from my point of view, I can't use the correct terms. I must use the occupier name of West Bank. That's the only way I'd be taken seriously. That is a disastrous situation.
Gordon: You mentioned J Street earlier. What is their real agenda?
Kirschen: I think that it is clear that the Obama Administration didn't like the Jews it had. So it decided to make some new ones and that is J Street.
Gordon: What do you think of the role of Mr. George Soros in facilitating some of the backing for groups like J Street?
Kirschen: We're talking about spooky dude?
Gordon: Spooky dude, right.
Kirschen: Right. There are several names that if I mention them in a cartoon I would get people trying to “educate” me. One name is that of Jonathan Pollard, others are John Hagee and Glenn Beck. When I do a cartoon supporting Glenn Beck I get all kinds of people arguing with me telling me I support him just because he's pro-Israel. The same goes with Hagee. You have someone like Glenn Beck who is producing really exciting accurate documented reporting. However, in America what has happened is that people listen to the people they like to listen to. They listen to the news they like to listen to or the opinion they like to listen to. I think it's important to get the accurate story. However, the accurate story is vilified today and therefore Americans are walking around worse than ignorant. Americans have been deluded into thinking something different is happening. I had a friend who grew up, she was a little Polish kid and they got evacuated to the Soviet Union. She grew up in Russia and I met her in Israel. She once told me something that I was offended at. She said Americans are stupid and I said “what do you mean Americans are stupid?” She had lived in America for a few years. She said the reason is that Americans read the newspaper and they believe it. She said, “You know in Russia when you read a newspaper you read what they said and then you said to yourself what could the truth be if they wrote this?” However, she said Americans just believe it, so they are made stupid by the media. I have come to see that she was right.
Gordon: What do you perceive as the role for political cartoonist like yourself, like Kurt Westergaard in Denmark and others, in terms of being truth tellers?
Kirschen: I think that most cartoonists have the goal of attacking the bad guys. They want to draw blood. They want to nail the bad guy. I am totally uninterested in nailing the bad guys. I'm interested in seducing my enemies into seeing things from my point of view and therefore I use a soft kind of humor like a cartoon that has Mr. Shuldig saying Israel is the only country in the world that has guards at coffee houses to shoot people to prevent them from committing suicide. What that does is make someone laugh, even someone who is my enemy. When my enemy laughs for that moment he sees it from my point of view. The purpose of my cartoons is to win my enemies closer to my side.
Gordon: What is your opinion of American Jewish leadership when it comes to Defending Israel and the Jewish people?
Kirschen: In my opinion, most of what passes for American Jewish leadership is pitifully unable or tragically unwilling to truly stand up and defend Israel or the Jewish people. The abandonment of Jonathan Pollard for 26 long years is a shocking case in point. There are, of course, a few notable exceptions, one being Rabbi Pesach Lerner of the National Council of Young Israel.
Gordon: Is there anything you would like to add?
Kirschen: Yes there is. What we have witnessed with the Arab Spring were messages spread through the use of Facebook. So I have set up a Dry Bones page at Facebook. People need to go to Facebook.com/friends of Z and to Zstreet.org. I have traveled across the US. Every place I spoke at I am collecting people’s emails. I ask them to sign up. When I return to Israel I intend to do what they did with Arab Spring. We are going to organize ourselves and we are going to use Facebook to do it. Z Streetis going to become the grassroots Zionist movement that we Americans need.
Gordon: I want to thank you for this interview.
Kirschen: Thank you very much. Take care of yourself.
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