Speaking for Bill

March 16, 2017 by Suzanne Rutland
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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.

Bill Leak                Courtesy: The Australian

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.

2014 cartoon                       Courtesy: The Australian

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:

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/media/its-no-joke-when-a-cartoonist-speaks-the-truth/story-fn9ymmvo-1227012193665

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/letters/palestine-conflict-lost-in-claim-and-counterclaim/story-fn558imw-1227013270368

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/letters/last-post-august-2/story-fn558imw-1227010539875

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:

Dr Suzanne Rutland

“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

Comments

8 Responses to “Speaking for Bill”
  1. Ron Burdo says:

    He was brave man in the era of brutal mouth-shutting known as “political correctness”.

  2. Adrian Jackson says:

    I watch Q&A weekly since it started and its the best serious panel show on TV.

    The ABC did not protest, it was a women in the huge hall that did which is difficult to deal with but so what we live in a democracy even though I did not agree with her comments.

    I thought the ABC handled it will and they could not blame the excellent Tony Jones as he was not hosting it this time.

    Zed Seselja, was a bit premature with the comment about dancing on Leak’s grave as his funeral was only last Friday 5 days after the Q&A program.

    Tony Abbott should be more concerned with child molesters in his religion rather than bashing the ABC.

    If people like him had their way we would all be watching cheap reality TV, fake news or alternative facts.

  3. Shula Endrey-Walder OAM says:

    Good on You Suzanne ! and thank you for standing up for a man who well understood racism & anti-sematism as noted by his wonderful cartoons,art and musicology.May he rest in peace.

  4. Auryt jacobson says:

    Thank you Suzanne for having the courage of your convictions and speaking out. This is an, empathetic and sensitive response. Well written Suzanne.

  5. Adrian Jackson says:

    I get The Australian newspapers home delivered but dont agree with some of their editorial content. The published letters to the editor are often predictable and at times neurotic, but Bill Leaks cartoons that appeared with the letters were thoughtful and often hilarious.

    Not only was Bill Leak a great cartoonist and artist, as mentioned above, but he was also a excellent musician. He had a number of painting entered in the Archibald Prize completions too.

    Archibald was the owner of the Bulletin newspaper in the later 19th century before it was sold in the 20th century and became a main stream glossy magazine.

    • Adrian Jackson says:

      Incidentally the Bulletin newspaper, of over 100 years ago, also had many controversial cartoons some drawn by the great Australia artist Normal Lindsay.

  6. Larry Stillman says:

    Of course, you are not racist if your partner is Thai and has a restaurant. We’ve heard that one before “Some of my best friends are Jewish…”. Hmm. We must live in parallel universes and I must have misread his benevolent intentions about indigenous Australians, LGBTI people, people from the Middle East and the many gods know what else including Robert Manne farting on the toilet and daring to criticize the Australian.

  7. david singer says:

    Great article Suzanne Rutland.

    Stands in great contrast to our taxpayer funded ABC as indicated in the following:
    The ABC has declined to apologise to the family of Bill Leak for an on-air outburst in which a known activist interrupted Monday’s Q&A program by calling him a racist, an act condemned by federal frontbencher Zed Seselja as “dancing on the grave” of the late cartoonist.

    Former prime minister Tony Abbott lashed out at the public broadcaster for refusing to say sorry over the slur and said the ABC would “fall over itself to apologise” if there had been some “insult against political correctness” in other circumstances.

    “It’s typical of the ABC that no responsibility should be taken,” he said. “ ‘Our’ ABC really needs to lift its game.”

    Prominent Aboriginal figure Warren Mundine described the protest as that of “idiotic morons” who should “grow up and confront the real issues in our community”.
    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/media/broadcast/no-abc-apology-for-protesters-dancing-on-bill-leaks-grave/news-story/ef56375376ecff3d40a3be18e2a6b9f6

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