Attacks on the Bush administration’s Middle East policies in the Arab press have culminated in personal insults and racial slurs aimed at Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, with one cartoon depicting her pregnant with an armed monkey.
“Rice speaks about the birth of a new Middle East,” the cartoon’s caption reads, referring to the secretary’s recent remarks about the “birth pangs” of the region.
The image, as well as words such as “raven” and “black spinster” to describe Miss Rice, appeared in Palestinian newspapers controlled by President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party.
“This is truly ugly,” said a former senior aide to Madeleine K. Albright, secretary of state in the Clinton administration. “It’s unfortunate and not reflective of the Palestinian people, and they should be upset about it. But you have to ignore these things, you can’t respond to them.”
The State Department did just that, saying only that those are “ugly attacks,” but that “criticism comes with public service.”
“We encourage development of a free press, but along with those freedoms come certain responsibilities,” said department spokesman Sean McCormack. “Secretary Rice is focused on doing her job. She knows that the United States is doing the right thing.”
Mr. McCormack also said that Miss Rice “has a great working relationship with President Abbas” and “a great deal of personal respect for him.”
The Palestinian Authority official daily, Al Hayat Al Jadida, published articles last week that called Miss Rice “the Black Lady” and “raven,” according to a translation by Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli group.
“Beware of this black spinster,” the newspaper said. “We don’t want to say ‘the black widow’ out of respect for her femininity and intelligence.”
The cartoon of a pregnant Miss Rice appeared in Al Quds, another Fatah-controlled newspaper regarded as moderate by Washington. Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell gave the publication two interviews during his tenure, in 2002 and 2003.
The press and even government officials in the Middle East have insulted senior U.S. officials before, but nothing comes close to the cartoon, current and former officials said.
Mrs. Albright chose to respond to insults humorously. Soon after then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein called her a “snake,” while she was ambassador to the United Nations in the mid-1990s, she showed up at a Security Council meeting on Iraq wearing a snake pin.
Last year, the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper caused an uproar in the Muslim world, resulting in violence against Danish embassies and other interests.
Denmark’s government refused to demand an apology from the paper, Jyllands-Posten, citing freedom of the press. The paper eventually apologized.
The recent publications about Miss Rice, which were first reported by the Web site World Net Daily, also included coverage of protests in the West Bank city of Ramallah while she was meeting with Mr. Abbas last week.
Some of the posters carried by protesters and shown in Al Hayat Al Jadida read, “Murderer Rice, go to Hell” and “Get out.” One poster had Miss Rice drinking the blood of dead babies and saying, “I need more blood.”