The Guardian censors criticism of May and Netanyahu

Mike Cushman condemns the suppression of Steve Bell’s cartoon of Netanyahu’s meeting with May as only the latest censoring of drawings of the Israeli PM in a bonfire of morality.

The Guardian, which regards itself as Britain’s leading progressive newspaper, has censored a cartoon drawing attention to the sycophantic nature of Theresa May’s relationship to Benjamin Netanyahu.

The cartoon drawn by Steve Bell, widely regarded as Britain’s outstanding political cartoonist, is based on a press agency photo of May’s meeting with Netanyahu at 10 Downing Street.

Theresa May and Benjamin Netanyahu at Downing Street on June 6, 2018
Theresa May and Benjamin Netanyahu at Downing Street on June 6, 2018 (Photo: Getty Images)

Bell replaced the fireplace with a drawing of murdered Palestinian medic Razan al-Najjar.

The Steve Bell cartoon censored for 'antisemitism'
The Steve Bell cartoon censored for ‘antisemitism’

There has been no clear statement from the Guardian as to why this sharp but fair condemnation of the insouciance of the two prime ministers is antisemitic. This has resulted in speculation that placing Razan in the fireplace (the focal centre of the press photo) has been interpreted as an insensitive allusion to the Nazi crematoria.

Scarfe's 2013 cartoon
Scarfe’s 2013 cartoon

This action by Guardian editor Katherine Viner has been treated with widespread derision and anger on social media. It is reminiscent of the manufactured outrage over Gerald Scarfe’s cartoon of Netanyahu building the Apartheid wall on the bodies of Palestinians.

Cartoon published on May 15, 2018, by German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung after Israel's Eurovision win
Cartoon published on May 15, 2018, by German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung after Israel’s Eurovision win

 

 

 

 

 

Representations of Netanyahu provoke trouble for cartoonists in other countries as well. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung sacked its long-standing cartoonist Dieter Hanitzsc after he contrasted Israel’s Eurovision victory with Netanyahu’s bellicose record.

It appears that all criticism of Israel’s leaders is to be regarded as antisemitic when scrutinised by cartoonists no more ruthlessly than any domestic politician. This is not combatting antisemitism it is rampant censorship to conceal any reference to Israeli criminal actions. The decision to spike Bell’s fireplace is truly a bonfire of morality.

It is painful to remember that before she became editor Viner showed much more courage. She co-edited Rachel Corrie’s diaries with Alan Rickman for the powerful stage production My Name is Rachel Corrie. It seems, sadly, that in this case great power comes with the shirking of great responsibility.

Steve Bell’s message to Guardian staff

Steve Bell coped this message to Katherine Viner to all Guardian staff:

Dear Kath

I thought I’d write to you after I’d cooled down a bit, and in time for today’s morning conference (which I regret I won’t be able to attend). I took the liberty of sending the cartoon out on a global yesterday evening. I didn’t want to tweet it as this should still be an internal matter. However I do think that an unfortunate precedent has been set here.

I cannot for the life of me begin to understand criticism of the cartoon that begins by dragging in ‘wood-burning stoves’, ‘ovens’, ‘holocaust’, or any other nazi-related nonsense. That was the last thing on my mind when I drew it, I had no intention of conflating the issues of the mass murder of European Jews and Gaza. It’s a fireplace, in front of which VIP visitors to Downing Street are always pictured (see page 12 of today’s Times), and the figure of Razan al-Najjar is burning in the grate. It’s a widely known photograph of her, becoming iconic across the Arab world and the burning is of course symbolic. She’s dead, she was shot and killed by the IDF while doing her job as a medic.

I’m sorry you didn’t think it appropriate to talk to me yesterday, and I fear Katherine Butler bore the brunt of my outrage, for which I apologise to her, but forgive me for suspecting that the reason that you did not get in touch was because you did not really have an argument. The cartoon is sensitive, not tasteless, not disrespectful, and certainly contains no anti-Semitic tropes. It should have been published as it stands, but if you are still obdurate that it should remain unpublished, then I feel a duty to my subject to try and salvage something from this fiasco, and will resubmit it to you later this morning in a form that may get around some of the criticisms (to my mind wholly unjustified) that were made last night.

I do hope you can find your way to publishing it. I don’t believe that I have any divine right to have my worked published come what may, and am always prepared to take heed of substantive criticism.

Liberty AGM warns of dangers of IHRA ‘definition of antisemitism’

Liberty LogoLiberty, Britain’s leading human rights charity, agreed a resolution deploring use of the IHRA (mis)definition of antisemitism at its AGM on 19 May.

Media Notice from Free Speech on Israel

Liberty Warns against IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

Resolution passed by civil liberties body says government-adopted definition risks undermining the fight against antisemitism

  • Liberty reiterates abhorrence of antisemitism as “repellent undercurrent which persists across the social and political spectrum.”
  • Definition conflating antisemitism with criticism of Israel is “threat to freedom of expression.”
  • Public bodies urged not to adopt IHRA definition.

The Annual General Meeting of Liberty, Britain’s leading organisation concerned with civil liberties and human rights, has warned public bodies not to adopt a government-backed definition of antisemitism because it brings confusion to the fight against anti-Jewish prejudice as well as constituting a threat to freedom of expression.

This refers to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance “Working Definition of Antisemitism” adopted by the UK government in December 2016, widely promoted as a tool for opposing hostility towards Jews, including within the Labour Party.

A resolution passed with overwhelming support at Liberty’s Members’ Conference and Annual General Meeting on May 19 said that the IHRA definition blurred “the previously clear understanding of the nature of antisemitism,” risked “undermining the defences against it” and threatened freedom of expression by “conflating antisemitism with criticism of Israel and legitimate defence of the rights of Palestinians.”

The resolution [see note 1 below] reiterated Liberty’s “abhorrence of antisemitism as a repellent undercurrent which persists across the social and political spectrum.”

Moved by Prof Jonathan Rosenhead, [see note 2 below] it cites a legal  opinion from Hugh Tomlinson QC stating that the IHRA definition is “unclear and confusing” and “has no legal status or effect.”

Rosenhead quoted retired Appeal Court judge Sir Stephen Sedley who has called the IHRA document “a protean definition of antisemitism which is open to manipulation and capture”. It has been cited in many cases where public authorities, including universities, have refused to host speakers, cancelled room bookings and called off academic conferences.

Rosenhead noted that whenever Israel assaults Gaza, as in recent weeks, there is a spike in antisemitic incidents in the UK. This happens because people conflate Israel with Jews. “An official definition should not make the same error,” he said.

The Resolution

This AGM reiterates:

its abhorrence of antisemitism as a repellent undercurrent which persists across the social and political spectrum; and Liberty’s support for effective measures to combat antisemitism and all other forms of racism;

notes:

the legal Opinion of Hugh Tomlinson QC which states that the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance ‘Working Definition of Antisemitism’, adopted by the UK government in December 2016, is “unclear and confusing” and “has no legal status or effect”; and that the overriding legal duty of public authorities is to preserve freedom of expression; that the guidance that is attached to the definition conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism, that the definition is being interpreted as saying that to describe Israel as a state practising apartheid, or to call for Boycott or Sanctions to be applied in defence of Palestinian rights, is an inherently antisemitic act that should be prohibited; that the definition is being cited in attempts to deter, obstruct or prevent events that are critical of Israel, or support the legitimate rights of Palestinians;

resolves:

that by blurring the previously clear understanding of the nature of antisemitism, the IHRA definition risks undermining the defences against it; and that the definition’s conflation of antisemitism with criticism of Israel and legitimate defence of the rights of Palestinians is a threat to freedom of expression. It regrets that some local authorities have already adopted it, calls on those that have done so to apply it with extreme caution, and calls on other public bodies not to adopt the definition

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