A cartoonist’s collection of graphic provocations on Zionism, the Diaspora, and Jewish stereotypes.
When Valley began publishing these cartoons in the Forward, they ignited “a series of debates on the meaning and limits of satire that would endure throughout my time at the newspaper.” He was accused of anti-Semitism, self-hatred, and Nazism. If satire’s aim is to ruffle feathers and stir things up, these strips most certainly succeeded. In this collection, they will likely rile readers again, particularly those who feel a strong allegiance to Israel or fear that such pointed humor concerning Jewish issues and clichés will simply feed a prejudice that has never disappeared. As Peter Beinart writes in his foreword, “Eli Valley’s cartoons are outrageous and absurd.” They are also explosively subversive, with a MAD-meets–R. Crumb sensibility. At the crux of these comics is the tension between the cultural assimilation (and dilution?) of American Judaism and the anti-assimilation militancy of Israel. In the one-page comic “Israel Man and Diaspora Boy,” the former is a muscle-flexing superhero, while the latter is a drooling cripple with a crutch. He wails, “My entire existence is a useless waste, Israel Man!” And Israel Man responds, “Have no fear Diaspora Boy! I am here to replace you!” This may not be sophisticated political analysis, but much of the value lies in Valley’s thoughtful and reflective annotation, which does not pull any of the punches he has struck with his drawings but provides some context on the current events that inspired him, the thinking that went into each piece, the process of publication (or not; some were spiked), and the reader’s response. As he proceeds through subjects including Jewish ambivalence toward Barack Obama, Darth Vader (“Half-Jew”), Bernie Madoff, Amy Winehouse, Charlie Hebdo, Bernie Sanders, and Batman and Robin, it is clear that the author knew exactly what he was doing and what sort of reaction he would receive.
For those as interested as the artist in the limits of satire, this audacious, potent collection pushes past them.