The University of Pennsylvania is embroiled in yet another scandal in the wake of October 7: communications school lecturer Dwayne Booth is under fire for political cartoons that critics say are antisemitic.
One of Booth’s illustrations, entitled “Slaughterhouse,” shows Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with red glowing eyes, covered in blood and holding a knife.
In another cartoon, Israeli and American men can be seen drinking blood from wine glasses that say “Gaza”; it has been criticized as a reference to blood libel — Nazi propaganda that claimed Jews used the blood of Christian children in religious rituals. One especially distressing image entitled “The Executioner’s Song” shows a baby with a gun — stamped with the flag of Israel — held to its head.
There is also an illustration, “Never Again and Again and Again,” that appears to show emaciated Jews during the Holocaust holding up posters protesting Israel’s actions in Gaza. Another, “Birth of a New Nation,” shows a skeletal hand ripping through an Israeli flag.
Outrage over Booth’s cartoons inspired interim Penn president J. Larry Jameson to issue a statement calling the cartoons “reprehensible,” while reaffirming the educator’s academic freedom.
Booth is a lecturer at the Annenberg School for Communication, where he teaches political cartooning. According to the Annenberg website, he currently teaches two courses: “WARNING! Graphic Content: Political Cartoons, Comix, and the Uncensored Artist” and “Sick and Satired: The Insanity of Humor and How it Keeps Us Sane.”
Raphael Englander, an 18-year-old Penn freshman from Philadelphia, submitted an op-ed to the student newspaper about the controversy, writing that, even though “the content of Booth’s classes are genuinely interesting,” he could never take the class after seeing Booth’s cartoons.
“As the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, I could never fathom taking these courses now,” he wrote. “How could I? His work simultaneously spreads the conspiracies that killed my own family members and scoffs at their memory by equivocating the Jewish state to their murders.”
The editorial team of the Daily Pennsylvanian declined Englander’s submission, citing a word limit and plans to publish a similar opinion piece about the topic, in emails reviewed by The Post.
The Post was unable to locate the referenced piece. The Daily Pennsylvanian did not respond to a request for comment.
Englander says that, although he was “reluctant to address the antisemitism on our campus in a public way,” that Booth’s cartoons made him feel “a switch flip.”
“I feel both angry and sad that a lecturer at my university creates and shares antisemitic cartoons,” Englander, a Jewish Studies major, told The Post. “While I feel safe on campus, I have many friends and acquaintances who do not feel safe, and there have been many, concrete examples of antisemitism — including these cartoons, most recently.”
Booth’s faculty profile describes him as a cartoonist and freelance writer.
“Dwayne Booth writes and speaks on the importance of preserving political cartooning as a uniquely universal language that often has a greater ability to spark debate and probe deeper conversations than lingual commentary alone,” it reads.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Booth has been a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania since 2014, and also served as an adjunct professor at Barnard College and Columbia University in 2017.
When contacted for comment, a spokesperson for the University of Pennsylvania referred The Post to Interim president Jameson’s February 4 statement posted to the university’s Instagram account.
“I find [Booth’s cartoons] reprehensible, with antisemitic symbols, and incongruent with our efforts to fight hate,” Jameson wrote. “For me, it is painful to see the suffering and tragic loss of non-combatants in Israel and Gaza be fodder for satire.”
In the statement, Jameson clarified that the cartoons were posted to Booth’s personal website and not viewed in classes, and referenced efforts to combat antisemitism on campus.
In the wake of October 7, the University of Pennsylvania has been dragged for an inadequate response to campus antisemitism, leading to the resignation of former president Liz Magill.
In recent months, protesters on campus have chanted “We are Hamas,” while signs have been gratified with “Free Palestine” and “from the river to the sea” was projected on building facades.
Jewish students have even sued the university for failing to protect them, citing violations of the Civil Rights Act. At the time of filing Penn declined to comment, and the case was subsequently dismissed by the Department of Education.
Jameson, who was appointed in December following Magill’s resignation, reaffirmed Booth’s free speech rights while condemning the cartoons.
“At Penn, we have a bedrock commitment to open expression and academic freedom,” he wrote. “We also have a responsibility to challenge what we find offensive, and to do so acknowledging the right and ability of members of our community to express their views, however loathsome we find them.”
In response to Jameson’s statement, Booth told The Post: “It just saddens me that Jameson’s statement attempts to placate the controversy in deference to those attempting to limit free speech, academic freedom, and attack independent journalism in service of an agenda designed to silence debate rather than encourage it.”
He also says he doesn’t “see how any of my work spreads any conspiracies at all.”
“There is a misreading of the artwork in question if the viewer sees it as a direct equivocation to what went on in Nazi Germany,” Booth wrote. “That said, I would say that the only comparison one could feasibly make between the actions of Israel and the actions of Germany in the 1930s and 40s is that both Germany and Israel are exercising similar campaigns of mass murder of defenseless civilians. This is by no means a rogue opinion, nor am I the only one utilizing history to point out comparable details that could be useful to the debate around the current issue unfolding in Gaza.”
In a public statement, the professor maintained that his provocative cartoons are part of a longstanding tradition of provocation.
“This is not the first time I have felt some heated responses to the work I do, nor is it at all unique to me,” Booth wrote on his personal Instagram on February 3. “Cartoonists have set themselves willingly into such crosshairs for, quite literally, many centuries … Onward, as always, in the name of Truth, Justice, and Love.”