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Norway's Favorite Anti-Semitic Cartoonist Strikes Again

After the publication of a dozen Muhammed cartoons in the September 30, 2005, issue of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten led to mass Muslim mayhem, the story of the cartoons went worldwide – but the cartoons didn't. Well, yes, you could find them online. But very few of the newspapers, newsmagazines, and TV news programs that reported on them actually showed them. They were too scared. One brave exception was Vebjørn Selbekk, then editor of Magazinet, a tiny Norwegian newspaper. In its January 9, 2006, issue, he reprinted the cartoons as part of a feature examining their impact. The feature included an interview with Norway's most famous editorial cartoonist, Finn Graff, who has been plying his trade at various newspapers – most recently Dagbladet – since 1960. Asked if he would ever draw anything that might offend Muslims, Graff said no. He admitted that he feared the possible repercussions, but also insisted that his decision was based “as much on respect for [Muslims'] religious belief as on real fear.” In other words, as I wrote in my 2009 book Surrender, “he supposedly respected beliefs that he knew might drive people to kill him.”

For reprinting the Danish cartoons, the courageous Selbekk ended up being savaged by pretty much the entire Norwegian cultural establishment and pressured to apologize by people at the highest levels of the Norwegian government. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (now head of NATO) declared that, yes, Norway had free-speech rights, but that those rights came with responsibilities, which Selbekk had ignored; Stoltenberg also insisted that no major Norwegian newspaper had reprinted the cartoons. (On the contrary, Aftenposten had done so, and Dagbladet had run them on its website, but in the effort to single out Selbekk for demonization these inconvenient facts were dropped down the memory hole.) On February 10, 2006, Selbekk capitulated and, in the presence of government ministers and reporters, formally expressed his contrition to fourteen imams representing forty-six Norwegian Muslim organizations. It was a disgraceful day for Norwegian liberty.

Meanwhile Graff stuck to his promise. He is still at work, and will turn eighty this Christmas, and he has never drawn a cartoon that might offend Muslims. He has, however, continued to churn out cartoons that depict another group in the most negative imaginable way. That group? Jews. Over the years, his drawings have repeatedly equated Jews with Nazis and Israel with Hitler's Germany. On April 3, 2001, for example, Dagbladet ran a cartoon that alluded to a famous photograph of Jews being rounded up in the Warsaw ghetto; in Graff's rendering, the helpless victims were not Jews but Palestinians, notably Yasir Arafat, and the genocidal monsters were not Nazis but Israelis, as represented by a single huge-nosed soldier (an image of the Jew that would not have been out of place in the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer).