The Guardian, a British newspaper, has ended its longstanding relationship with cartoonist Steve Bell after his work criticizing the Israeli government’s stance on Gaza was deemed to perpetuate an anti-Semitic trope. According to a spokesperson for the outlet, the decision was made to not renew Bell’s contract.
The cartoon in question features Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu depicted as if he were performing surgery on himself. He is shown wearing boxing gloves and holding a scalpel, seemingly ready to make an incision that resembles the shape of Gaza. Bell took to social media to express his frustration, stating that it has become increasingly difficult to draw this subject for The Guardian without being accused of using anti-Semitic tropes.
Bell claims to have received an ominous phone call after submitting the cartoon, in which he was told, “Jewish bloke; pound of flesh; anti-Semitic trope.” The cartoon has been interpreted as an allusion to Shylock, the Jewish antagonist in Shakespeare’s play ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ who demanded a pound of flesh from his Christian rival if he failed to repay a debt.
However, Bell argues that the comparison makes no sense to him. He points out that the cartoon includes the caption “After David Levine,” referring to the late cartoonist of The New York Review of Books. Levine’s 1966 work, ‘Johnson’s Scar,’ parodies a contemporary photo of then-US President Lyndon Johnson, who had his gallbladder removed, depicting the scar in the shape of Vietnam in reference to the US invasion.
This is not the first time Bell has faced accusations of anti-Semitism. In 2020, he drew a cartoon portraying Labour Party leader Keir Starmer holding the decapitated head of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn on a platter. The cartoon was seen as a commentary on Corbyn’s expulsion from the party for his refusal to accept accusations of anti-Semitism. It was perceived as an allusion to Salome in the Bible, who demanded the head of John the Baptist from her father King Herod II.
The decision to end Bell’s contract comes at a politically tense time, as the UK government has expressed full support for Israel in its campaign against Hamas. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are currently carrying out airstrikes in Gaza in retaliation for a deadly raid by the Palestinian militant group earlier this month.
In conclusion, The Guardian has severed ties with Steve Bell, citing his use of an allegedly anti-Semitic trope in his cartoon criticizing the Israeli government’s stance on Gaza. Bell, however, insists that his intention was not to perpetuate anti-Semitism but rather to offer political commentary. The incident reflects the ongoing debate around free speech and the boundaries of political satire.