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.
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.
“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 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.”
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.”
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.