"If you do this for a living, you get two things: awards and hate-mail," he joked before 150 or so people at Old York Road Temple-Beth Am in Abington.
During a presentation last week to the Philadelphia section of the National Council of Jewish Women, the 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner sat perched in front of a laptop computer, changing overhead slides featuring cartoons from more than 30 years on the job. He also shared scathing response letters that he received from readers over the years — some apparently from members of the Jewish community.
The event brought a somewhat controversial figure to a Jewish audience. In 2003, Auth was criticized by several Jewish groups for a cartoon he drew in response to Israel's plan to build a security barrier separating Jerusalem from the West Bank. It depicted a Star of David made out of a wire fence, with each of the seven sections enclosing groups of huddled Palestinians.
The image prompted outrage from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the Anti-Defamation League, the Zionist Organization of America, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, with many saying that the use of a Jewish star and Holocaust imagery crossed the line to anti-Semitism.
'Counter These Accusations'
Auth did not specifically address the controversial cartoon during his talk, and nobody from the crowd asked him straight out about it during the question-and-answer session. He did offer comment afterward, saying that since the incident, he's been making it a point to speak at synagogues to show that he is not anti-Semitic — something he called a "particularly painful accusation."
"I'm trying to counter these malicious accusations that I'm an anti-Semite, that [Inquirer columnist] Trudy Rubin's a self-hating Jew, and that the newspaper's an anti-Semitic organ," he said.
During his presentation, Auth made it a point to show a cartoon that bashes Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent Holocaust-denial conference, and one aimed at revealing a lack of Muslim outrage over terrorism.
He also displayed a pro-Israel cartoon that he drew in the days following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It depicted an "Uncle Sam"-like figure joining an Israeli soldier on the battlefield. The Israeli turns to the American and says, "Welcome Brother."
"My thinking was, now we know what it's like — as the Israelis have known for so long — that you could be a victim at any moment at any time," he said.
Auth read a letter that he received in response: " 'Dear Tony, I can't believe my eyes, a pro-Israel cartoon in the Inquirer. How did you get it past your anti-Israel, Zionist-hating, pro-Arab, anti-Semitic, incredibly biased editorial board? Anyway, keep up the good work.' "
Judith Ginsberg, the president of the Philadelphia section of the National Council of Jewish Women, said that the group invited Auth to speak because of his long career addressing national issues, and that she "can't accept his being anti-Semitic."
In her mind, he simply satirizes every issue, Israel being one of them. She also said that he offers legitimate criticism of Israel, which is not anti-Semitic. "I'm a very strong supporter" of Israel, said Ginsberg, "but I don't think we can't question things."
She admitted receiving a few anonymous phone calls telling her that the NCJW was wrong to host the cartoonist. From the lack of tough questions from the audience, she felt those people simply didn't show up.
"It would have been a forum for them to air their feelings," said Ginsberg, "and give him a chance to respond."