What the Consensus Got Wrong About The Guardian Firing of Cartoonist Steve Bell

Let’s start with what The Guardian got wrong – the Steve Bell cartoon was anti-Bibi, not antisemitic.

The solution to Israeli’s problem, if there is one, will require a deft and diplomatic negotiator. Netanyahu is not that man, he is a warrior not known for finesse. Steve Bell shows that by picturing Netanyahu attempting a delicate operation while being hampered with his soldier attitude (boxing gloves).

© Steve Bell

The Guardian editor(s) saw the image evoking “a pound of flesh” trope and rejected the submission. Bell objected publicly. Days later The Guardian wished Steve well and ended the contract between the paper and the cartoonist.

Then came the headlines:

Guardian cartoonist fired over accusation of anti-Semitism.

Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell axed over ‘antisemitic’ drawing of Netanyahu.

Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell ‘sacked’ for ‘antisemitic’ drawing.

The Guardian fires longtime cartoonist after allegations of antisemitic imagery.

The Guardian fires cartoonist over Netanyahu depiction.

Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell and editor-in-chief Katharine Viner.
Pictures: Youtube/The Cartoon Museum (left), David Levene/The Guardian (right)

But it wasn’t the cartoon that got Bell fired, it was Bell taking his objection with the paper’s action to the public on social media. Steve Bell has admitted to increasingly strained relations with the paper his cartoons had appeared in for forty years. He decided that this one was the hill he would die on, admitting it was him bringing his spat with The Guardian into the open, not his cartoon, that led to his dismissal:

Bell told Press Gazette he had been “asking for trouble” by posting last week’s Netanyahu cartoon on Twitter: “I should have known better, really.”

He added: “The Guardian don’t like having their editorial processes discussed in the open.”

The Guardian has refused comment. Steve Bell, on the other hand, consented to a Press Gazette interview.

4 thoughts on “What the Consensus Got Wrong About The Guardian Firing of Cartoonist Steve Bell

  1. It’s just not a very good cartoon. In boxing, you wear gloves to limit the harm to your opponent. If Netanyahu is trying to undertake a difficult operation (on… himself, apparently?) while wearing boxing gloves, the obvious solution would be to take the gloves off (i.e. get more violent) — which I don’t think Bell is actually advocating.

    The “after David Levine” note, apparently intended to evoke the “LBJ scar” cartoon, is even weirder — is Bibi trying to operate on his own scar? While wearing boxing gloves? What does that even mean? (Also, how many people are going to read “after David Levine” and immediately think “ah, of course, the famous cartoon of LBJ with a Vietnam-shaped scar”? And how many of those people live in the UK?)

    Since the imagery is so bizarre and confusing, it’s not surprising that the editorial staff misinterpreted it so badly.

    What the cartoon really shows, I think, is how difficult it can be to convey subtle and nuanced commentary on complex issues in a visual medium — which makes it even more impressive that cartoonists around the world (whose names are not Steve Bell) do this successfully day in and day out.

    1. I read the interview and learned the source of the scalpel and the improbable pose: Rembrandt, apparently. It’s as if Bell set out to draw a cartoon with no purpose other than to “baffle the critics” and perhaps tweak his editor. But Bell is no Joyce, and despite all its erudite sources, the cartoon is more garbage pizza than bourgignon.

    2. boxers wear gloves to protect the their own hands, not their opponent. The skull has a much more rigorous bone density and structural matrix than the nimble Chains of small bones that combine to form the hand.
      However, I have no clue who David Levine is which supports your other point

  2. Hamas is an evil terrorist organization and should be wiped out.

    Netanyahu is also a terrible human being, and there is nothing anti-Semitic about saying so. Israel is not exempt from criticism.

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