The Guardian Rejects Steve Bell Cartoon – Update: Guardian Ends Bell Relationship

The Guardian has apparently declined to publish a depiction of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu by cartoonist Steve Bell, reportedly telling him the artwork perpetuated an anti-Semitic trope.

© Steve Bell

The London Press Gazette reports on Steve Bell‘s description of what happened and Bell’s history with the problem:

Bell posted the blocked cartoon to Twitter/X on Monday, saying that after he filed it that morning he received a “cryptic message” from Guardian editors saying: “pound of flesh”.

In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice the antagonist, Jewish moneylender Shylock, demands “a pound of flesh” as security for a loan made to his Christian rival, Antonio.

Bell said he responded to the desk saying he did not understand the allusion, “and received this even more mysterious reply: ‘Jewish bloke; pound of flesh; anti-Semitic trope’”.

Bell’s drawing includes a note referencing a cartoon by David Levine from the 1960s, picturing then-US president Lyndon Johnston with a scar on his belly shaped like the map of Vietnam.

In another tweet on Monday, Bell said: “It is getting pretty nigh impossible to draw this subject for The Guardian now without being accused of deploying ‘anti-Semitic tropes’.”

The Guardian declined to comment.

© David Levine/New York Review of Books (via Ohio State)

The Jewish Chronicle also reported on the rejection:

“Clearly it was self-evident, anybody could see it.”

Explaining the meaning behind the cartoon, Bell later told the JC: “The cartoon is specifically about Benjamin Netanyahu’s disastrous policy failure which has led directly to the hideous recent atrocities around Gaza, and about his proposed response that he had announced, using his actual words addressing the citizens of Gaza. 

 “The Guardian has every right not to publish my cartoon if it so chooses, but it should not do so using entirely contrived and false reasons.

“All that does is inhibit discussion of a dreadful but important subject.”

However, Dave Rich, policy director at the Community Security Trust (CST), said: “The Guardian should be applauded for refusing to publish this appalling cartoon.

“It’s good to see that lessons have been learnt.”

The Telegraph also carries the story.

The discussion continues on Steve Bell’s Twitter/X feed.

I’ve managed to avoid providing roughs for most of the last 40 years. Unfortunately, since the Rowson squid business, the desk now arbitrarily demands to vet all jokes by 10:30am. I told them it takes me long enough to think up one idea, let alone alternatives, but to no avail

UPDATE – October 15

Cartoonist Steve Bell has effectively been sacked by the Guardian newspaper for an alleged “anti-semitic” work, he has revealed to the Morning Star.

Mr Bell, who had worked for the publication for 42 years, said that the decision had been “a bit of a shock.”

The Morning Star reports Steve Bell’s claim.

Mr Bell said the decision was devastating, adding: “They said they won’t publish anything more of mine even though I am on the books until April 2024.”

The Telegraph also carries the story but behind a paywall. But MSN carries The Telegraph report:

A Guardian spokesman said: “The decision has been made not to renew Steve Bell’s contract. Steve Bell’s cartoons have been an important part of the Guardian over the past 40 years – we thank him and wish him all the best.”

The Guardian declined to comment on the cartoon.

21 thoughts on “The Guardian Rejects Steve Bell Cartoon – Update: Guardian Ends Bell Relationship

  1. It’s a terrible cartoon. I mean terrible in the sense that I look at it and say “what is going on here?!?!”

    I’m willing to believe Steve’s explication of his work, but given the really surreal depiction of Bibi’s belly, the use of the scalpel, and . . . are those boxing gloves for some reason? the Guardian editor’s reading is defensible.

    When semiotics is your stock-in-trade, and for every editorial cartoonist, it is, you have to do better than this.

    1. Ok, then you don’t really understand the cartoon if the boxing gloves went over your head, and you are rushing to pass judgment based on your own personal bias, and probably an “antisemetic” narrative that you have come to accept. The boxing gloves are there to depict that 1. You will not be able to surgically remove this problem with ease, and you are going to create a big mess BECAUSE you are wearing boxing gloves. 2. Netanyahu is ready to fight.

      1. Doesn’t matter what he intended. His editor saw the obvious chance for misinterpretation and saved him from a raft of grief. That’s what editors are for and they don’t do the job often enough.

  2. Yeah, it’s just not a very good cartoon. It’s not anti-Semitic, it’s just confusing and bad. If he was referencing Levine’s LBJ cartoon, he did a terrible job.

    1. IF he was referencing Levine’s cartoon?! He wrote the artists name right under the country’s borders!

  3. The first thing I saw looking at this was a ‘lb of flesh’. Superficially it looks like the LBJ cartoon, but LBJ didn’t have a scalpel, and he pointed at a pre-existing scar, not flesh he appeared ready to cut out. The circumstances in Vietnam were very different from Gaza.
    It’s very confusing anti-semetism, and very poor taste. For once, I agree with the Guardian.

  4. Once again, Zionists proving the power they have in the media to censor their atrocities and terrorism in Gaza. Good bye SUN/Guardian.

    1. Good. Hamas lovers and other British apologists in the UK take note – we have the power to take you down. Your move, softlad.

  5. Goodness gracious, a cartoonist with a reputation for pillorying anyone in the news is accused of anti-Semitism on the basis of one cartoon? It is Orwell on stilts and steroids and I will never buy The Guardian or donate to the web service again. I took the image to mean “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” And the “joke” is that the invasion of Gaza is going to add to the toll of innocent lives, the very thing Israel is rightly upset about,

  6. If Steve Bell intended the trope to reference The Merchant of Venice, he’s successfully subverted it by framing Benjamin Netanyahu as so zealous in his response to the Hamas attacks as to practice self-mutilation (not attempting to force the act of violence to be carried out on someone else). Were Mr. Netanyahu, and especially those who would cast aspersions on Mr. Bell’s work as anti-Semitic, sufficiently open to reasonable counter arguments, they might see another line of reasoning here: a plea from one human being to another to consider more carefully the course of self-destruction he’s set for himself. Pie in the sky? Of course. The considerable military support Israel receives from their Western allies will more likely continue to buttress the hubris Mr. Netanyahu already suffers. And it will ensure a confidence that the morbid reporting of unequal deaths certain to come will be the horrific resolution for the tragedy that he is narrating.

  7. This is the Guardian missing the mark, not Bell. The cartoon is clearly about self-mutilation – and in any case, did I miss something? Is Shakespeare cancelled too?

    1. This is a very strange misinterpretation of the cartoon by The Guardian. It must be possible to do a cartoon of someone as politically active as Netanyahu without being accused of antisemitism. The Guardian seems to have suddenly abandoned its defence of journalists against political pressure. The complaint against the cartoon is a misrepresentation of the facts because Bell’s cartoon is clearly a reference to an earlier political cartoon about he invasion of by one country of another — the USA invading Vietnam. Now Israel is warning that it is about to invade Gaza.

      I am a subscriber to The Guardian but will cancel my subscription until such time as Bell in reinstated.

  8. Any excuse from the Guardian. They’ve been trying to ge rid of Steve Bell for some years now and certainly don’t like near the knuckle cartoons. Comment has got to be acceptable to the SCR.

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