How America’s most controversial ’non-Zionist’ comic sparked outrage with his new ’bigoted’ book on Diaspora Jews
Eli Valley’s goal with ’Diaspora Boy’ is to energize a ’besieged Jewish left’: ’We’ve been told we’re self-haters and Jewishly ignorant, and my book says, enough of that shit’
NEW YORK – Eli Valley’s book is hard to read. His comics are dense and intense, a bloody steak compared to the amuse-bouches of The New Yorker’s single-panel witticisms. But, like after eating a steak, reading Valley’s “Diaspora Boy: Comics on Crisis in America and Israel” leaves you feeling sated. And maybe a bit nauseous.
The dozens of cartoons Valley includes in the soft-cover, large-format book, which is out August 31 and includes a forward by political commentator Peter Beinart, are sardonic and ironic. Valley’s commentaries on contemporary Zionism as taught by the American Jewish establishment are bitter, not amusing. “I consider comics to be activism,” he told Haaretz in a recent interview.
Valley takes aim at the Jewish world’s sacred cows, including American organizational leaders like Abe Foxman and Malcolm Hoenlein, tycoon Sheldon Adelson and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Since 2007 his cartoons have been published in outlets ranging from Jewcy and +972 Magazine to The Village Voice, Gawker and The New Republic. He was The Forward’s artist-in-residence from 2011 to 2013.
Though in person an affable presence, Valley uses a pointed poison pen to create cartoons that are “alarming. Stark. Like a car accident you can’t look away from,” as Eddy Portnoy, a senior researcher and curator at YIVO in Manhattan, put it in an interview.
To Portnoy, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on Yiddish comics, Valley’s comics resemble the Yiddish political cartoons that flourished from the late 19th century through the 1960s. “His work is really compelling,” Portnoy told Haaretz. “It’s a type of criticism that hasn’t existed since the advent of Yiddish political cartooning which was intensely communal, and extremely critical in similar ways to Eli’s.”