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