This is a puzzle. A few weeks ago, the cartoonist Eli Valley published a book of his vicious/dark cartoons on the American Jewish leadership’s blind fealty to Israel and distance from American Jews, and the book (Diaspora Boy from O/R) has gotten a ton of publicity in Israel and the American Jewish press too, but virtually no attention in the mainstream press.
Once again, the growing Jewish antipathy toward Israel and Zionism is just not a story. Which is imponderable because Valley has such an impressive body of work and such an arresting style, and because he has patently been a victim of that Jewish establishment, losing work because of its rage at him.
Valley tells that story in his book. For years his cartoons were accepted by the Forward, the leading liberal Jewish publication. But as he took on establishment figures, notably Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, the leaders protested shrilly, and the newspaper got more and more uncomfortable with his pictures. Valley describes an increasingly chilly relationship with the person he only identifies as the Forward‘s “editor-in-chief,” Jane Eisner. Valley relates an exchange with Eisner: “She replied that she wasn’t comfortable with a Jewish newspaper criticizing Jewish leaders–something that stuck with me, because it was the clearest indication yet that we might be at an impasse.”
That was a cartoon that ran, mocking Abe Foxman for seeing enemies everywhere on Israel and calling them out as Jews. “Just tell me if you’re a Jew. Perfidious Jew!”
That cartoon was the last straw for Foxman, Valley writes. “He and his underlings barraged The Forward with phone calls accusing the newspaper of conspiring against the ADL leader…”
The denoument: “I learned that Foxman was friends of the publisher, and he made his fury felt… I was told that my relationship with the Forward would be ending, and that I shouldn’t send in further pitches.”
Valley managed to publish a couple of other cartoons in the Forward, including a devastating critique of the Jewish leadership during the Gaza onslaught of 2014. But he hasn’t been in the Forward for three years.
Once again: You’d think that the blacklisting of a renowned New York Jewish cartoonist/author who has taken on the Jewish establishment over its blind support for Israel and opposition to intermarriage and other moral collapses would be a good story. Not to mention there was a rightwing campaign demanding Valley’s scalp. Breitbart called on the Jewish community to shut him down– Eli Valley, the son of a rabbi and devoted to Jewish culture.
But no, his dismissal, and his bitingly grotesque sendups of Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents and Michael Oren the former Israeli ambassador, not to mention Dershowitz in a straitjacket– they haven’t been covered in the mainstream cultural press. Though Haaretz covered the story from thousands of miles away, and got a careful quote from Eisner.
“We were pleased to have Eli Valley as our first artist-in-residence. (Jeremiah Lockwood followed him.) Eli contributed to The Forward before and after his year-long residence, as his author page shows. As with all contributors, his work was discussed and edited.”
Meantime, the New York Times runs a puff piece about the Forward‘s growing importance as a chronicler of the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States, and quotes Eisner at length, on the need to be “accurate and fair and passionate.”
But the Times story leaves out Eisner’s tense interactions with Valley, leading to his blacklisting after the Gaza war, the story the cartoonist relates in this book.
“This comic was spiked by the Forward after six weeks of discussion and debate,” Valley writes of a cartoon that lampooned sociological “studies and screeds” against intermarriage, in which he likened chauvinistic Jews to geneticists who compete to have superior chimpanzees.
When Valley attacked Michael Oren and Alan Dershowitz for smearing Richard Goldstone over the Goldstone Report, he was told that Eisner wanted him to “persuade, not skewer.” When he showed the separation wall and the failure of the richest Jewish population in history to take a stand against colonization, “the editor in chief felt it presented only one side of the story.”
“There’s no balance in this cartoon,” she complains to Valley about a cartoon– which the Forward ran– savaging Abe Foxman and suggesting that Israel’s actions “contribute to a rise in global anti-semitism.”
Many of these cartoons will be familiar to our readers. Valley executes dense, dark, brilliant satire. His voice is over-the-top, zealous, innocent and slightly parochial, too. He is deeply hurt by the fact that Jewish leaders have betrayed his romance about Jewish values. He contends that Jews were once devoted to social justice, and still are, en masse; but the autocratic Jewish leaders are busy flinging around anti-Semitism charges to protect Israel from any criticism for its atrocities against Palestinians– and thereby contributing to global anti-semitism.
“It’s because I’m Jewish that think Israel should be embargoed until every last West Bank colonist is brought home,” a character says in the Foxman cartoon that was the last straw.
Valley adheres to the two-state solution because he wants to believe that Israel was the fulfillment of a dream; but his betrayal is so keen in these cartoons that at moments he turns against Zionism. “What if much of what I’ve been funding, defending, parading for decades is a smoldering horror show?” a Jewish leader named Arthur ask himself in the wake of the Dawabshe family murders of 2014. After that one ran in the Forward, John Podhoretz called Valley a “kapo,” as part of the drumbeat of rightwing criticism.
During the Gaza assault of 2014 Valley pictured Netanyahu as a madman and and showed Israeli fighter-pilots dissing American Jews as effete even as they leveled Gazan neighborhoods. “We were a withered people, scattered like the wind… But now… we control our destiny–”
Writes Valley: “This… was my final comic to appear in the Forward.”
Only Israeli publications could stomach his images, he says. That makes sense. Palestinians don’t appear very often in these cartoons; and in his call for sanctions over Israeli settlements, Valley has become a hero to leftleaning Zionists.
Valley seems turned off by Zionism, and he satirizes Zionist leaders as the worm-eaten undead. But he does so from inside the tent. That gives him a power outside critics lack. Take a look at this panel featuring Malcolm Hoenlein from 2008. Hoenlein was not identified; but Valley need to say the unspeakable: Jewish orgs had pushed for the disastrous Iraq war, and were pushing one against Iran.
His other offenses were domestic. For instance, Valley refused to get upset about the Jewish intermarriage rates. When the 2013 Pew study came out showing enormous rates of Jewish mainstream inclusion, Jane Eisner pronounced it “devastating” evidence of “assimilation.” But Valley celebrated it as a sign of Jewish arrival as a “vibrant, albeit less traditionally-identified, community embraced by and embracing the American mainstream” (though in that case the Forward ran his cartoon).
He despairs over the influence of wealthy Jews; and shows big donors buying off a Jewish sociologist to offer false messages to young Jews: “Ties to Israel must be strengthened to save Jewish identity.” The sociologist protests, “That’s the exact opposite of what I found.” Then he takes the money.
It’s no wonder that Valley’s powerful book has gotten a lot of attention in the Israeli press. “Virtually no person or subject is safe from cartoonist and satirist Eli Valley’s knifelike nib,” The Times of Israel wrote.
While Haaretz has twice praised Valley. “Even when they cross a line, and maybe especially when they cross a line, these comics deserve to be read by anyone who cares about contemporary Jewish life, especially about the relationship between Jews in America and Israel,” Josh Lambert wrote in August. Later, Debra Nussbaum Cohen said Valley’s work is “a type of criticism that hasn’t existed since the advent of Yiddish political cartooning.”
And yes even the Forward has saluted Valley’s work. Its new opinion editor, Batya Ungar-Sargon (who has managed to get Steve Walt and Steven Salaita into the paper lately) wrote last month that Valley’s worldview is so powerful, that “I believe if Valley’s detractors were seated in a quiet room with Valley himself discussing the issues he addresses in his work — hypocrisy, Jewish genetics, Israeli aggression, how the Jewish leadership abandons anyone who disagrees with them — they might even come to agree with at least some of his criticisms.”
So the argument is happening inside the Forward itself; Eli Valley’s personal crisis is a community’s crisis over historic questions. But the New York Times and NPR are afraid of the story.