CAIRO (Reuters) - The Israeli embassy has sent a complaint to the newspaper of Egypt’s ruling party about a cartoon that linked Israel and Nazis, an unusual step from a mission that tends to ignore its Egyptian media critics.
Al-Watani al-Youm (the National Today) published a cartoon on June 15 showing an aid ship apparently bound for Gaza being grabbed by an octopus carrying an Israeli flag with a Nazi swastika in place of the Star of David symbol.
The weekly is the mouthpiece of President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party.
“The Israeli Embassy chose to comment on this caricature specifically because of the comparison between Israel and Nazism,” spokeswoman Shani Cooper-Zubida told Reuters.
“There are a lot of anti-Semitic comments and caricatures in the Egyptian media that we prefer not to comment on. This one didn’t present legitimate opposition to Israeli policy, but defamation,” she said in an emailed response.
The cartoonist, Carlos Latuff, a Brazilian, said in an email to Reuters: “The Israeli ambassador could show the same interest, that he shows for my cartoons, for the lives of the activists lost in the Freedom flotilla.”
“Allegations of anti-Semitism are a well-known strategy of the Israeli government and its supporters in order to neutralise any criticism against the Israeli apartheid. These malicious allegations will not prevent me keeping on making my cartoons on behalf of the brave Palestinian people,” he added.
Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel, but ties have often been chilly. The storming of a Gaza aid flotilla in May by Israeli forces in which nine activists died drew Egyptian and world criticism.
The flotilla had sought to break an Israeli blockade of Gaza. Egypt, the only Arab state to border Gaza, had been criticised by the Arab public for also imposing restrictions on border crossings. Those restrictions have now been partially lifted.
“Using the Nazi swastika symbol in the heart of the cartoon, and even the idea of using it, is an insult to humanity and is tantamount to an anti-Semitic statement,” said the letter sent to the newspaper and passed to Reuters by the embassy.
Editor Mohammad el-Alfy defended his newspaper’s position in an editorial, saying it was a matter of freedom of expression.
Egypt’s president and other officials hold frequent meetings with top Israelis, but the government is often critical of Israeli policies.
Egyptian media and the public are more vocal critics, particularly over Israel’s dealings with Palestinians. The flotilla raid drew critical articles in Egypt’s press.
Reporting by Yasmine Saleh, editing by Edmund Blair and Peter Graff