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Israel A History in 100 cartoons by Colin Shindler
Posted on Thursday 11th May 2023 by Tim
As someone who has written more on political cartoons than anyone else, I was much looking forward to reading this cartoon history of Israel by Colin Shindler. The author had initially approached me 20 years ago with the idea of collaborating on such a book after I had curated an exhibition of original cartoons at the Guardian Newsroom on the history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I am coincidently now in the process of editing a cartoon history of Palestine and the plight of European Jewry between 1918 - 1948 to mark the 80th anniversary of the creation of the Israeli State. Upon perusal i was disappointed to find that this is not the type of book the title implies. Do not get me wrong, it is certainly a well written, balanced and insightful narrative history of Israel by one of Britain’s leading authorities on the subject. What it is not is neither a visual history in cartoons, nor, in any way, is it from the cartoonist’s perceptive. The cartoon element is, therefore, very much secondary to the main body of Shindler’s text. For example, of its 365 pages in total, only two to three pages in the introduction are given up to the cartoons/cartoonists themselves. Even here, any reference to cartoons/cartoonists is not in respect to Israel. His knowledge of political cartoons is sketchy to say the least and the assumptions he makes about cartoonists is often inaccurate. For instance, he accuses Dave Brown, who he wrongly refers to here as David, and Les Gibbard as having produced anti-Semitic material. However, had he spoken to them or bothered to read what they have already had to say on the subject, he would have found this was not the case.
In his short introduction, the author waxes lyrical about Sir David Low but refers to him only in regard to his work during the 1930s and 40s. Low himself not only had a lot to say about Israel but drew many cartoons on the subject. However, nothing of this is mentioned in the book. Other cartoonists get the same treatment, again without any reference to their cartoons on the subject of Israel. Also adding insult to injury, none of their work is actually featured despite Schindler describing a number of their cartoons to the reader. Considering the high price of this book, surely the publishers must have had some budget to pay copyright so that these cartoons could have been included for the readers’ benefit. To be fair to Schindler, he does admit in his introduction that the cartoons are secondary to what he has written, for he states that the book is not ‘an art book of brilliant sketches which utilises the history of Israel as little more than a vehicle.’ So it is quite clear that the cartoons have been used not as historical sources in their own right but as mere illustrations to the body of text. Shindler is not the first to make this mistake. Others such as Kenneth Baker and Michael Wynn Jones (husband of Delia Smith) have done exactly the same thing. The 100 black and white cartoons that appear in the book are all from Israeli publications. Israeli cartoons tend not to be well drawn and most that appear here are second rate and let down by poor draftsmanship. This is in stark contrast to the work of British cartoonists from the same period. Shindler also, in my opinion, regularly makes the mistake of pointlessly telling the reader in the captions for the cartoons what they can quite plainly see for themselves. The point of the caption is to add historical context to the cartoon as they can lose their topicality within weeks let alone years. Considering this is a British publication, why Shindler has not included cartoons from the British, American, European, Russian and the Arab press is beyond me. This would have given the book greater depth and a better understanding of how others perceived Israel over the last 84 years.
It was interesting to note that the reviewers of this book both in the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish News had not actually read it, with the latter newspaper even illustrating their review with cartoons that are not even in the book. At £29.99 it is twice the price of most cartoon books published today. If you are looking for history of Israel then you cannot go far wrong but if you are buying it primarily for the cartoons, don’t waste your time hereIsrael: A history in 100 cartoons by Colin Shindler is a real missed opportunity.