Australia/Israel Review

Poison Pen

Feb 1, 2006 | External author

The hateful world of Michael Leunig

By AIJAC staff


Michael Leunig once wrote that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword.’ But I fear that the cartoonist would be as dead as one of his ducks in pyjamas if he attempted to defend himself against a suicide bomber by stabbing with his quill.

Under the guise of the gentle artist, Leunig uses naïve drawings of bulbous-nosed stick figures to push a doctrinaire political agenda that teaches contempt for those who have the temerity to disagree with it. His views are delivered with the evangelical sanctimony of a self-anointed prophet. The pages of Leunig’s cartooned sermons are marinated with Christian symbolism and Jesus sits appointed as an ambassador for his prejudices.

On January 11 2006, the Age published a drawing in which Leunig cast a moral equivalence between Ariel Sharon and the founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. The cartoonist referred to Yassin as “an old Palestinian man in a wheelchair”, conveniently omitting the fact that the Sheikh had orchestrated the mass-murder of Israeli civilians through suicide bombings. This odious cartoon was published as the Israeli Prime Minister fought for his life in a Jerusalem hospital and the Jewish people were grieving and struggling to come to terms with a new reality.

On January 13, Leunig wrote a defensive opinion piece for The Age where he attempted to justify the vicious wanderings of his malignant pen. Many commentators, he argued, were depicting Sharon as “probably a war criminal and a leader who quite possibly was corrupt enough to take the odd hefty bribe.” And, he said “I can almost imagine that if Sharon could have sat up from his coma and seen the cartoon, he might have approved.”

In one shrewd breath, Leunig maligned Sharon and then claimed impunity due to a mendacious assertion of intimate familiarity with the Prime Minister’s psyche. And when he was asked, “Why do you criticise Israel and not the Palestinians?” He argued, “Well, my work is usually humanistic, so in a universal sense it can be safely assumed that I’m deeply reluctant about anybody’s violent policies or deeds. And “political cartooning”, he added is “particularly interested in the phenomenon of our hypocrisy…”

Leunig’s own hypocrisy matches what Egyptian journalist, Mona Eltahawy describes as “Arab victimhood”. The Arabs only become exercised, she says, about the purported misdeeds of Israel. The horrors Arabs inflict upon each other are deemed irrelevant. Thus Leunig defined Sharon as a “war criminal” because when the Israeli leader served as Defence Minister, he didn’t foresee the possibility that Lebanese Christian militiamen might not abide by the laws of armed conflict.

The cartoonist never bothers to ask why there has never been an Arab inquiry into a massacre committed by Arabs against Arabs, such as the Lebanese militiamen who were never bought to justice for their actions.

This isn’t the first time Leunig has utilised his pen to demonise Israel. In 2002, he produced a cartoon of Auschwitz. Where the original sign above the main gate had read Arbeit Macht Frei, he translated it into the English “Work brings freedom”. He then duplicated the image in a second panel that depicted Israel as a concentration camp under the sign: “War brings peace,” intimating that the Jews were inflicting genocide on the Palestinians. So offensive was this cartoon that Age editor Michael Gawenda made the rare decision not to publish it. Of course, the drawing found a public platform, courtesy of David Marr’s “Media Watch” on “everyone’s ABC”.

In the newly released, A New Penguin Leunig, he continues his artistic rampage. In the glossary of this publication, Leunig defines Osama bin Laden and John Howard in morally equivalent terms. Both, he says are “notorious and elusive”. Although, our Prime Minister, he claims, is “drearier than Osama.” And on a later page, he interchanges the anatomy of Bush, Howard, bin Laden and Mr Curly in an equation designed to illustrate the stupidity of those who believe there may be a moral difference between them.

Perhaps the most perverse drawing in this combative book is one Leunig drew for The Age, but which the editors toned down for fear of upsetting readers. But the unedited version constitutes a debauched attempt at irony where Leunig suggests Howard, Downer and Ruddock should be tortured to force them to tell the truth and in the process be made to “simulate bestial acts…”

Meanwhile, a published cartoon in The Age of December 8 implied an unequivocal and fervent hope that Howard should die.

Leunig claims he cannot understand the “peculiar perversions and fundamentalist kind of fearful expressions of God,” that political leaders use to rationalise their behaviour. And yet, he overtly uses his version of God to add moral and religious authority to his political views.

Leunig’s cartoons are packed with Christian imagery – light, dark, wings, halos, prayers and clouds. He uses God et. al. as a device to assure his readers that he is morally superior to those he condemns. He is a self-proclaimed pacifist who wields his religious pen as a political weapon with all the zeal of a crusader swordsman.

Leunig complained to George Negus that he felt threatened, intimidated and “ground down” by his hate mail. “I’ve been to war…” he said. But it is Leunig who has clearly launched a total war on those with whom he disagrees – and dispensed more than his share of unadulterated hate as his weapon in that conflict.




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