Satire or Anti-Semitism? The cartoonist writes

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The Independent Online

On Sunday morning, as I listened to radio and TV news bulletins and leafed through the papers, one story stood out as a subject for the next day's cartoon: Ariel Sharon's attack on Gaza City. It was not the first time I had been prompted to criticise Sharon. But what stood out was the timing – the thought that the assault was not unconnected with the approaching Israeli election.

The task was to create an image illustrating that, although the missiles had been targeted at Gaza, the message was aimed squarely at the Israeli electorate. My starting-point was the newsreel pictures of helicopter gunships over the rubble of a Palestinian town. The first associated image that sprang to mind was of the helicopters and their blaring loudspeakers in Apocalypse Now. To me, the message they would be broadcasting was: "Vote Sharon".

There was clearly a gulf between our mundane experience and this more macabre form of electioneering, which could be exploited in a cartoon. The image of an estate car plastered in stickers, a loudhailer taped to the roof, supplanted these sinister aircraft. But one thing stood out that already had stock comic potential – the politician kissing babies. I wanted to find a darker equivalent to that.

My first idea was of Sharon puckering up to a child, revealing missile-like fangs. Then my thoughts progressed from biting to eating children, and immediately Goya's painting Saturn Devouring One of His Sons came to mind. Goya's picture has the power to shock that I thought the situation merited. By borrowing the image, I hoped to benefit from its associations; those who knew the classical myth of the Titan driven, by his fear of being supplanted by his children, to the insanity of devouring them, might draw some parallels.

Do I believe, or was I trying to suggest, that Sharon actually eats babies? Of course not – one of the other benefits of the borrowed image was that it was sited squarely in the field of allegory. My cartoon was intended as a caricature of a specific person, Sharon, in the guise of a figure from classical myth who, I hoped, couldn't be farther from any Jewish stereotype.

I also omitted certain things. I might have drawn Israeli insignia on the tank or helicopter to set the scene. But not only did I have no intention of being anti-Semitic; I had no desire to make an anti-Israel comment. At a time when the Israeli Labour party was offering the choice of a settlement, I sought only to target a man and a party I consider to be actively working against peace.