Speaking for Bill
Last week I read with shock about cartoonist Bill Leak’s sudden death from a heart attack at the age of 61. When I read he is being attacked as a racist and a bigot, even after his passing, I felt I wanted to speak out…writes Suzanne Rutland.
I came to know Bill Leak when I was invited to present my findings on the problems of the antisemitic views of Muslim school children in Sydney at the Consilium of the Centre for Independent Studies at Sanctuary Bay on the Gold Coast held in August 2015.
One of the themes the Consilium dealt with was the issue of radical Islam and ISIS, and key speakers included Jonathan Spyer and Professor Greg Barton.
Bill Leak was the after dinner speaker on the first night and amongst other things he spoke about the issue of radical Islam and mentioned the attacks he had endured following his cartoon satirising Hamas during the 2014 Gaza War. I went up to him later that evening to thank him for his funny but meaningful presentation and for some more details – and a connection was formed.
The next morning, I presented at a breakfast session, chaired by Jewish community personality Gary Weiss. I did not have a large audience, but Bill was there, and this was followed by further discussions during the rest of the meeting and then by email correspondence.
During all our conversations that weekend, Bill’s concern for human welfare, his vitality and his larger than life personality shone out. He was in no way a racist. His second marriage was to Goong from Thailand, and he was so proud of his stepdaughter, Tasha. He told me about his wife’s Thai restaurant, which he also spoke of with great love and pride. He just saw through the hypocrisy and the simplistic approach of many people, and this was particularly in regard to Israel and the complex situation in the Middle East. As a satirist, he sought to highlight that complexity and he had the courage of his convictions.
As we parted, I asked Bill if he could send me the Hamas cartoon he had referred to in his talk and examples of the abusive emails he had received after its publication and I gave him my business card. Thinking that he is such a busy person, I did not expect to hear back from him but the day after the Consilium, he sent me the links to the cartoon and the responses:
This led to a moving correspondence between us. We discussed the problems of the left’s anti-Israeli stance and his understandings of their approach and he analysed the ‘contradictory stance of today’s left’. With his well-known sense of humour, he wrote:
“It’s no coincidence that the barbarians of Islamic State who, with their flowing beards and robes look more like hippies in the desert than Waffen SS Soldaten, are presumed by the ignorant to be fighting for a “left wing” cause. They should leave caricaturing to cartoonists, Suzanne.”
Among other material I sent to Bill, was the IDF code of ethics, which I believe everyone should read. His response was:
“It was fascinating, and somehow encouraging, to read about the IDF’s code of ethics. It’s easy to forget there are people – and organisations – out there who still know what ethics and morality actually mean and can write with clarity about them.”
Thus, Bill Leak was not only an excellent cartoonist and artist, but he was also a deeply caring and sensitive man, who saw his main aim as countering the injustices and hypocrisy in the world. He was a great friend of the Jews and of Israel, but above all he was a man who cared deeply about humanity. His passing is a great loss.
Suzanne D. Rutland, OAM, is Professor Emerita in the Department of Hebrew, Biblical & Jewish Studies. Her latest book on Australia and Soviet Jewry, written with Sam Lipski, was co-winner of the 2016 Prime Minister’s Literary Award (Australian History