Carlos Latuff (born November 30, 1968) is an Arab Brazilian freelance political cartoonist. His works deal with an array of themes, including anti-Zionism, anti-globalization, anti-capitalism, and anti-U.S. military intervention. He is best known for his images depicting the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and, more recently, the Arab Spring events.
Some of Latuff’s cartoons comparing Israel to Nazism have been accused of being antisemitic. Despite Latuff himself describes his work as controversial, he has dismissed the charges of antisemitism as “a strategy for discrediting criticism of Israel.”
Latuff was born in São Cristóvão (Rio de Janeiro), Brazil, and is of Lebanese ancestry; in his own words he said he has “Arab roots”.
Latuff’s works have been posted mostly by himself on Indymedia websites and private blogs. However, some of them have been picked up and featured in magazines such as the Brazilian edition of Mad, Le Monde Diplomatique and the The Toronto Star. In addition, a few of his works were published on Arab websites and publications such as the Islamic Front for the Iraqi Resistance (JAMI) magazine, the Saudi magazine Character, the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar, among others.
A vast number of Latuff’s cartoons are related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which according to Latuff : “became important to Latuff after he visited the area in the late 1990s.” These cartoons are heavily critical of Israel and have drawn criticism and allegations of uninhibited utilization of “judeophobic stereotypes in the service of the anti-globalisation movement.”
In his We are all Palestinians (Arabic: كلنا فلسطينيون) cartoon series, various famous oppressed groups, including Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, Black South Africans during Apartheid, Native Americans, and Tibetans in China, are all shown stating “I am Palestinian.”
Latuff has also made a series of cartoons that portray Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, United States President George W. Bush, Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and British PM Tony Blair among other politicians as monsters and as Nazis.
Latuff is also critical of US military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has made promotional cartoons for anti-US militancy as well as cartoons alleging US actions have been motivated by the chance of making profit from oil. Among the cartoons, there are also some that portray US soldiers as severely wounded, dead, or paraplegic or as harming Iraqi civilians.
In his comic series Tales of Iraq War (Arabic: حكايات من حرب العراق) he portrays “Juba, the Baghdad sniper”, an Iraqi insurgency character claimed to have shot down several dozen US soldiers, as a “superhero”. He has also made a caricature of US President George W. Bush laughing over US casualties.
Since the end of 2010, he has been consistently engaged in producing cartoons about the Arab Spring in which he openly sided with the revolutionaries. After the victory of revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya his cartoons about these countries have focused on the menace of counter-revolution or Western interference. Some of his cartoons have been displayed in mass demonstrations in Arab countries.
The notability of Latuff and his cartoons has drawn criticism from individuals and organizations, especially in the form of accusations of antisemitism.
His works were criticized by a writer for the Institute for Global Jewish Affairs, part of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (an Israeli NGO), for allegedly containing antisemitism and antisemitic motifs.
In 2002 the Swiss-based Holocaust survivors organization Aktion Kinder des Holocaust sued the Indymedia of Switzerland on the charge of antisemitism for publishing Latuff’s cartoon titled We are all Palestinians series in their website, which depicted a Jewish boy in the Warsaw Ghetto saying: “I am Palestinian.” The criminal proceedings were suspended by Swiss court.
In their 2003 Annual Report, the Stephen Roth Institute compared Latuff’s cartoons of Ariel Sharon to “the antisemitic caricatures of Philipp Rupprecht in Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer.” The SRI also complained over a cartoon showing Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara in a Palestinian keffiyeh.
In 2006, Latuff placed second for his cartoon comparing the West Bank barrier with the Nazi concentration camps, in the Iranian ‘International Holocaust Cartoon Competition’. Latuff’s entry was described as “Holocaust inversion,” a “motif” of antisemitism, by Manfred Gerstenfeld.
Joel Kotek, a professor at Belgium’s Free University of Brussels, in his book Cartoons and Extremism calls Latuff “the contemporary Drumont of the internet.” Eddy Portnoy, in The Jewish Daily Forward, reviewing the book, writes that Latuff material is “often terribly obnoxious… but it is a stretch to categorize his cartoons as antisemitic, and it is a disservice to the fight against genuine antisemitism to have included [the Latuff cartoons]”.
Latuff’s response to allegations of antisemitism
In an interview with the Jewish-American weekly newspaper The Forward in December 2008, Latuff responded to charges of antisemitism and the comparisons made between his cartoons and those published in Der Stürmer in Nazi Germany:
My cartoons have no focus on the Jews or on Judaism. My focus is Israel as a political entity, as a government, their armed forces being a satellite of U.S. interests in the Middle East, and especially Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. It happens to be Israeli Jews that are the oppressors of Palestinians… My detractors say that the use of the Magen David in my Israel-related cartoons is irrefutable proof of antisemitism; however, it’s not my fault if Israel chose sacred religious motifs as national symbols, such as the Knesset Menorah or the Star of David in killing-machines like F-16 jets.
Latuff also stated that anti-Semitism is real, that anti-Semites like European neo-Nazis, “hijack” the Palestinian cause to bash Israel. To assert, however, that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic is, in his view, “a well-known tactic of intellectual dishonesty.” He said that political cartoonists work by metaphors, and that similarities can be found between the IDF treatment of Palestinians and what Jews experienced under the Nazis. Such comparisons are not created by cartoonists, he added, but are made worldwide. He instanced the fact that a Holocaust survivor like Tommy Lapid reacted to the image of a Palestinian woman foraging in the rubble by thinking of his grandmother who died in Auschwitz. The use of cartoons insulting Muslims by depicting Muhammad as a bomber is defended as “freedom of speech”, while using the Holocaust in drawings is deplored as “hatred against the Jews”.
Latuff was included in Simon Wiesenthal Center’s 2012 Top Ten Anti-Israel/Anti-Semitic Slurs list, which he considered “a joke worthy of a Woody Allen movie”. He also claimed that Zionist lobbying groups try to associate him with well-known extremists and racists in order to disqualify his criticism of the Israeli government. According to him, “criticism or even attacks to the polity known as Israel do not mean hatred towards Jews because the Israeli government does not represent the Jewish people just as no government represents the totality of its people”. He also pointed out that figures such as José Saramago, Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter were also accused of being antisemitic, saying that he was “in good company”.