Israel's leading left-wing newspaper, Ha'aretz, has published a cartoon today about US-Israel relations that so breaches the very basics of good taste that it is astounding. Yes, it is a cartoon of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launching the September 11 attacks:
And here's the thing: it's not like this is an offensive joke in service of a brilliant and incisive point that might merit it. The cartoon doesn't even actually make sense. After a few hours of confused chatter in both countries — is Ha'aretz saying that Netanyahu is destroying Israel, signified by the plane? that he is secretly an anti-American extremist? — the cartoonist, the normally popular Amos Biderman, explained it to a Times of Israel journalist:
Put aside the absurdity of that for a moment — on the magnitude of 9/11! — what is Biderman even talking about?
Well, the US-Israel relationship has been really bad in the last few years, and a lot of that has to do with the increasingly hostile relationship between the Netanyahu and Obama governments. That's often been characterized by Netanyahu going to extraordinary lengths to publicly criticize, scold, lecture, and undermine Obama. That's hit the news again this week when The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg quoted a senior Obama administration official calling Netanyahu "a chickenshit," a sign of just how bad things have become.
The other bit of context here is that Ha'aretz is a left-wing outlet. It is not too friendly to Netanyahu, who is a right-wing leader, and blames him for the deteriorating US-Israel relationship, which the paper (like many Israelis) sees as a crucial issue for Israeli national security. So the idea here is that Netanyahu's policies and his personally confrontational style are an assault on America, and going to piss off the Americans, to the same degree that September 11 did.
Clearly, though, that is false, and a silly thing to suggest. Another strange and entirely separate layer to this is the fact that the cartoon could be read as reaffirming the widely held and extremely offensive conspiracy theory that Israel conducted the September 11 attacks (the reason Israel would do this varies by the conspiracist). That is obviously not the cartoon's intention, but it speaks to the obliviousness and tastelessness of it all.