Eli Valley is an American Jew and an author of a respective amount of satirical pictures, comics
and comic strips. His most recent comic, the Diaspora Boy, is meant to illustrate the relationship between the Jewish diaspora and the community in Israel. With him coming to Prague we were fortunate to have the chance to interview him for our Jew’s News magazine.
What got you into drawing comics in the first place?
Well, this is not that simple because I don’t actually remember at this point. But I used collect comics when I was a kid and I liked to draw all the time and thanks to that I wanted to create that which I saw. I think this is the most common thing with comic artists – it starts with a childhood passion that, over the course of time, becomes an overwhelming adult passion.
And have you been a fan of superheroes? I’m asking because
in your most recent comic, the Diaspora boy, there are superhero-like characters.
Yeah, definitely, I used to be a huge fan of superheroes and in that particular construct I was using the superhero metaphor to satirize the Zionist assumptions about diaspora Jews.
In the comic you sort of implement some ideas in these characters. For example the Israel Man is a being of perfection, of flawlessness, while, on the other hand, the Diaspora Boy has a handful of flaws. What was the motivation or the general thought behind this?
The thing is that ever since I was young in all Jewish lectures etc. we were taught – especially when we were interacting with the visitors from Israel – that our culture was insufficient, that our accomplishments in the diaspora were not worthy and that the ultimate goal and aspiration of Jewish peoplehood was nationhood and the existence of the state of Israel.
And so I was just satirizing that ideology because it was an ideology of hatred, essentially, towards the diaspora. And I think we need to reverse that because it disrespect our own culture when we allow ourselves to be constantly put down like that.
So do you even agree with the Zionist ideology?
In theory I’m not opposed but I think, at this point, there just needs to be full suffrage, a right to vote for everyone west of the Jordan River. And I don’t think this necessarily had to come. I mean when I lived in Prague – it was during the 90s – I actually had some hope for that. But Israel has methodically trampled on any hope. And in their view, this single state is an apartheid state and I don’t agree it should be like that. I just think there needs to be full suffrage.
Do you personally think there are good relationships between the Jewish communities in America and those in Israel?
The relationship is deteriorating. Unfortunately the leadership of the American Jewish community tends to be more on the right side of the spectrum, politically speaking, and Israel is off the brink right side. Take Netanyahu, for instance.
There some cases like where Jews can pray or the legitimacy of the non-orthodox Judaism – in those cases the leaderships get all upset sometimes. But unless it affects them – like trampling on human rights etc. – they don’t care usually. And so the American Jewish leaderships are in a way friendly with the Israeli government but the American Jews are sometimes way more progressive than their unelected leaders.
If I am to give some examples of this, just let me say that the communal leaders tend to be non-reflective of the actual discrimination. Mort Klein, the head of the Zionist organization of America, has said despicable racist bigoted things about Arabs, black people etc. Or people like Malcolm Hoenlein – he has, for a long time, been an executive vice chairman at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. He’s defended the Iraq war in 2003. And this man hasn’t been kicked out of his job. Since then there have been so many scandals under his watch but because the American Jewish community has no vote in its leadership he has continued to act and speak for all of us.
But there is a huge divide and the Diaspora Boy, my newest comic book, is meant to reflect this.
In your opinion, is Donald Trump’s behavior and support towards Israel problematic in a similar way?
The American Jewish leadership was embracing Netanyahu throughout his reign of bigotry, demagoguery and assaults on all of the institutions of civil society from the press to the jurisdiction system. And the leadership – not the actual community, not us Jews – has never criticized him for any of that. Not to mention what he did in terms of the issue of Palestinian human rights.
And now we see Trump who is basically a mirror of Netanyahu. Everything Netanyahu did; calling African refugees infiltrators, building a wall, all that kind of stuff Trump does as well and now we’re all offended and upset. Guess what, we should’ve put the brakes on this kind of demagoguery 10, 15 years ago. And we had the power to do it because the American Jewish community is powerful but unfortunately we allowed our leaders to walk in tandem with a demagogue. And now we have a demagogue in America and everywhere else, really.
Trump has unleashed the greatest wave of neo-Nazism in America since the holocaust. And some of American Jewish leaders are turning a blind eye to that, certainly the republican Jewish coalition, for example. They are just ignoring it purely because he’s pro-Israel.
So now you have this weird phenomenon in world’s history, sadly in Europe too, for instance with Orbán, where you have these right wing extremists often allied with Nazis who, because they are pro-Israel, are given a pass by the Jewish community.