The president of the Political Cartoon Society (PCS), who lives in Woodside Park, has defended its cartoon of the year - depicting the Israeli prime minister eating a baby - amid accusations of anti-Semitism.

Tim Benson, who is Jewish, described the storm of criticism surrounding the PCS as hysterical. Individual PCS members voted the cartoon by Dave Brown, which appeared in the Independent in January, as the best of the year.

Mr Brown's cartoon is a parody of the Goya painting Saturn Devouring One of His Sons and depicts Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in the same pose, with the sub-heading 'Whats wrong...You never seen a politician kissing babies before?' Outraged Jewish groups claim the image is anti-Semitic because it alludes to the 'blood libel', which held that Jews preyed on Christian children - a myth spread by the Nazis among others.

Neville Nagler, director general of the British Board of Deputies - which represents British Jewry - said: "The PCS's decision to give an award to this offensive, anti-Semitic blood libel is beneath contempt."

But Mr Benson said the cartoon was a criticism of Mr Sharon and his policies, not a harangue against Jews. "I'm probably the most hated person in British Jewry now," he said. "Jewish groups around the world are up in arms. These hysterical idiots are coming onto my site and calling me a Nazi. Do they not want people to have the freedom to express themselves?

"You couldn't meet a nicer guy than Dave Brown. Cartoonists depict George Bush and Tony Blair in exactly the same way. If a cartoonist attacks the Israeli prime minister, it's not necessarily anti-Semitic. Dave left the Star of David off the helicopters in the background.

"You can like or dislike a cartoon, but how can I censor a competition in which cartoonists submit their work? The cartoon was chosen because of its impact.

"What annoys me is that we are an educational organisation and we do so much good."

Mr Sharon complained to the Press Complaints Commission about the cartoon, but it rejected a link with the blood libel and did not uphold his complaint.