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The Arab Press' Nazification of Israeli Leaders

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The images are stark and ugly: Demonic figures with blood dripping from their hands; Nazis in uniform, carrying out brutal atrocities against defenseless civilians; smug, arrogant figures who orchestrate their influence and dominance over the United States and the international community.

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These are not images from some low-budget, B movie horror picture or ripped from the pages of the notorious Nazi propaganda organ, Der Stürmer. They are caricatures of Israeli prime ministers as they have been routinely portrayed over the past decade in editorial cartoons in newspapers across the Middle East, from Dubai to Cairo and beyond.

Sadly, we have come to expect mainstream newspapers in the Muslim and Arab world to dabble in pernicious anti-Semitic stereotypes. It is a trend that has been going on almost since the creation of the Jewish state.

There is a consistent drumbeat of anti-Semitism in editorial cartoons and images appearing in the mainstream large-circulation daily newspapers in many nations, including Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the United Arab Emirates.

In periodic reports over the last few decades, the Anti-Defamation League has exposed the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic editorial cartoons appearing almost daily in dozens of newspapers and Web sites from across the Arab and Muslim world, while monitoring the newspapers for trends in their criticism of Israel or their portrayals of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Among the many trends we have seen in recent years has been a consistent effort to demonize and attack Israel's prime ministers and others in positions of leadership.

These images of Israeli leaders are the subject of a new ADL report, issued this month. "Personalizing the Conflict: A Decade of an Assault on Israel's Premiers in the Arab Media" shows how four successive Israeli prime ministers - Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu - have been repeatedly vilified and demonized along with the Jewish state and its people using hateful and extreme anti-Israel themes and frequently anti-Semitic stereotypes.

We have found that no matter which government is in power, whether it is a time of relative quiet or conflict, or whatever current policy is being pursued, newspapers across the Arab and Muslim world have consistently portrayed Israel and its leaders with vicious, hateful images.

When the depictions are not blatantly anti-Semitic, inappropriate and offensive Nazi comparisons abound.

In the Arab world, the use of such Nazi imagery serves a dual purpose: It trivializes the actual events of the Holocaust while labeling Israel's actions against the Palestinians as "Nazi-like." This in effect hypocritically turns the victims - Jews who fled persecution and the death camps in Europe for British-mandate Palestine in the years during and after World War II - into criminals who are as bad or worse than their oppressors during the Shoah.

Of course, Palestinian or Arab leaders rarely come in for such treatment. They are often shown as weak or powerless, but never in terms so grossly outrageous as those used for Israel's leaders. And Palestinians are certainly never rebuked for their use of terrorism against innocent civilians.

It does not come as a surprise that Ariel Sharon was the most despised prime minister of all, blamed for the Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982 and consistently portrayed as a bloodthirsty killer with bloodied hands, eating Palestinian children, drinking their blood and butchering them. In the cartoons, Sharon was frequently compared to the Nazis and Adolf Hitler.

Ehud Barak was depicted in Arab cartoons as a Nazi or war criminal, compared to both Hitler and to former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. He, too, was often depicted as a blood-thirsty killer, surrounded by skulls or dead Palestinians.

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Ehud Olmert was often shown as a Nazi with swastikas emblazoned on his uniform, or as a blood-thirsty killer of Lebanese and Palestinians in the 2006 Lebanon War and the 2008 Gaza Operation.

Most recently, editorial cartoonists have vilified Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with these same themes - as the devil incarnate, as one who is controlling and manipulating, or holding the U.S. government hostage.

To be sure, the job of editorial cartoonists is to depict public figures in an exaggerated manner. But in using incendiary images, including age-old anti-Jewish stereotypes and conspiracy theories, these caricatures cross the line from comment or parody into demonization of Israel and of Jews.

On numerous occasions, I have raised this issue in meetings with leaders from Egypt, Jordan, and the Persian Gulf. I have shared with them examples of how newspapers in their own countries depict Israelis and Jews in a hateful and incendiary manner, and requested that they take action.

Each has deflected, downplayed and excused this phenomenon. All have questioned how I, as an American, can expect them to violate these cartoonists' "free speech" or "freedom of the press."

The fact is that the media in these countries is far from free. Newspapers are often owned and controlled by the government and, even in cases where newspapers claim to be independent, the content often must be approved by the governments. We are not asking that these leaders censor their newspapers (which many of them already do); we are asking that they take a public stand against anti-Semitism and condemn these manifestations of hatred.

These caricatures are a visually powerful medium and there is no doubt that they have a profound impact on public opinion across the Arab and Muslim world, and shape attitudes towards Israel and Jews.

The reality is that in these societies there is virtually no alternative to the images of Israeli or Jew as blood-thirsty, monstrous Nazis with aspirations of carrying out war crimes or controlling the region and the world.

While at this time of tension peace seems very far away, any lasting Israeli-Arab peace will require not just agreements on paper, but understanding, tolerance and peace between people. Putting a stop to incitement in Arab societies, beginning with the Palestinian Authority, will be a vital component to ensure a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors.