(CNN) -- Two leading Jewish watchdog groups are denouncing a prominent cartoonist's illustration about Israel's offensive in Gaza, saying it uses anti-Semitic imagery.
The cartoon was published Wednesday in newspapers and on the Internet.
The Anti-Defamation League, which has been fighting anti-Semitism since it was founded in 1913, called the syndicated cartoon by Pulitzer Prize-winning Pat Oliphant "hideously anti-Semitic."
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which, among other things, fights anti-Semitism and educates people about the Holocaust, said "the cartoon mimics the venomous anti-Semitic propaganda of the Nazi and Soviet eras."
Published Wednesday in newspapers and on the Internet, the cartoon shows the small figure of a woman, labeled Gaza, carrying a child. She is being pursued by a headless, jackbooted figure wielding a sword, marching in an apparent goose-step and pushing a fanged Jewish star on a wheel.
The Anti-Defamation League said the cartoon used "Nazi-like imagery" and a "hateful evocation of the Star of David."
Abraham H. Foxman, the ADL's national director, said the cartoon's "outlandish and offensive use of the Star of David in combination with Nazi-like imagery is hideously anti-Semitic."
"It employs Nazi imagery by portraying Israel as a jack-booted, goose-stepping headless apparition," Foxman said. "The implication is of an Israeli policy without a head or a heart. Israel's defensive military operation to protect the lives of its men, women and children who are being continuously bombarded by Hamas rocket attacks has been turned on its head to show the victims as heartless, headless aggressors."
The Wiesenthal Center, which also issued its statement Wednesday, said it urged The New York Times Web site and other Web sites to remove the cartoon.
"There is nothing about Oliphant's cartoon not meant to denigrate and demonize the Jewish state, from the headless goose-stepping soldier to the horrific depiction of the Star of David about to devour a cowering innocent Gazan woman holding a baby," Rabbi Marvin Hier, the group's dean, and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the group's associate dean, said in a joint statement.
"The imagery in this cartoon mimics the venomous anti-Semitic propaganda of the Nazi and Soviet eras. It is cartoons like this that inspired millions of people to hate in the 1930's and help set the stage for the Nazi genocide," the statement said.
A spokeswoman for Universal Press Syndicate, which distributes Oliphant's work, issued a statement defending him, saying he, "like all editorial cartoonists, uses his art to comment on important issues of the day widely reported in the worldwide media -- in this case, the conflict over Gaza. That his cartoons sometimes spark intense debate is a testament to his talent."
Universal said no media outlet had informed the syndicate that it removed the cartoon, but "Oliphant's clients are not contractually bound to inform us."
A New York Times spokeswoman said, "We did not run the cartoon in the newspaper, nor do we plan to do so."
She said NYTimes.com has, by contract with uclick.com, an "Oliphant" button on the cartoons page. "Yesterday, those who clicked on it saw the cartoon you mentioned, which is now relegated to the Oliphant archive," she said.
Imagery and rhetoric comparing Israel to Nazis have been deployed by Israel's persistent critics, who decry the Jewish state's treatment of Palestinians as oppressive and brutal. Israel and its supporters defend the state as humane and say it has properly defended itself against attacks.
There has been sharp criticism of Israel's offensive against Hamas militants in Gaza who launched rockets into southern Israeli towns.
Human Rights Watch said Wednesday the Israeli military's firing of white phosphorus shells over densely populated areas during the offensive "was indiscriminate and is evidence of war crimes," a claim denied by Israel.
Israel has said that Hamas militants situated themselves among civilians during the offensive.
Oliphant, who won the Pulitzer in 1967, has been a dominant figure in the editorial cartoon world.
His work has been distributed since 1980 by Universal Press Syndicate, which calls the Australian native one of the "sharpest, most daring practitioners" among editorial cartoonists. He has received many honors, and his cartoons have been exhibited across the world.
"In 1998, the Library of Congress commemorated the acquisition of 60 of his works with a special exhibition at the Library's Great Hall," according to an Oliphant biography on the Universal Web site.
This isn't the first time Oliphant's cartoons have drawn criticism.
The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in 2005 "wrote to the San Francisco Chronicle and Universal Press Syndicate to communicate concern over racist depictions of Arabs," according to the group's Web site, and the Asian American Journalists Association criticized offensive stereotypes in cartoons in 1999, 2001 and 2007.
Debates over offensive editorial cartoons are not uncommon.
Keith Woods, dean of faculty at the Poynter Institute, a journalism school in St. Petersburg, Florida, was asked to comment on the reaction to the cartoon, whether the cartoon was improper, and at what point in the editorial process an editor can say a product has gone too far.
He said he understands the positions the Jewish groups and Israeli policy critics bring to the table.
He said he believes Oliphant is saying that "Israel is behaving toward the Palestinians the way the Nazis behaved toward the Jews" and that he is stating an opinion shared by many in the Middle East and the world.
"I believe that like the caricatures they are, editorial cartoons by their nature exaggerate their messages, so I don't think Oliphant is suggesting a one-to-one comparison. So I get the message, instead, that Israel is acting brutally toward the Palestinians."
He also believes the ADL and the Wiesenthal Center "are saying that the cartoon is at least doing unintentional harm (if not more calculated harm)."
"I see their point. There are symbols -- and the Nazi extermination of the Jews is surely one of them -- that can only truly be analogized to their equals. Unadulterated evil compared with unadulterated evil. Israel's ongoing battles with its Arab neighbors may be many things, but it is not The Final Solution."
As for the question of how news organizations should handle and discuss such a cartoon, Woods said that "Oliphant clearly has the right to provoke or offend. The question for him is: Do you truly wish to conflate a complex, historic conflict with one of the most evil acts in history? And for the newspapers that carry the cartoon -- and their behavior here is equally open to critique -- do you wish to perpetuate such a comparison?"
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