By Judith Mora
Brighton, UK, Nov 17 (EFE).- Steve Bell, the renowned British cartoonist, has accused The Guardian newspaper of damaging his reputation by discontinuing his work over a caricature of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allegedly evoking anti-Semitism.
The newspaper has decided not to renew Bell’s annual freelance contract. The incident sheds light on the challenges of navigating accusations of anti-Semitism, particularly in the context of the Israel-Hamas conflict.
“It’s fine, if they want to go our separate ways…But don’t say you’re not going to use my work because that says there’s something questionable about my work,” the veteran cartoonist told EFE in his studio at his home in Brighton, southeast England.
He emphasized that by not using his work, The Guardian essentially declared him “persona non grata.”
Bell indicated that he is in contact with the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and is contemplating legal action. “There is a slur in my reputation because they are not using (my work).”
The controversy over the never-published cartoon of Netanyahu, depicted wearing boxing gloves and holding a scalpel, seemingly preparing for self-surgery, with a cut in the shape of the Gaza Strip.
The Guardian’s opinion desk rejected the cartoon, claiming it contained an “obvious anti-Semitic trope” of a “Jewish bloke” demanding a “pound of flesh” like a Jewish moneylender Shylock did in “The Merchant of Venice.”
Bell dismissed the interpretation, saying it is “ludicrous” to label Netanyahu simply as a “Jewish bloke” and argued that the Guardian’s decision was unfounded.
The cartoonist said the inspiration for the cartoon came from a 1966 drawing by New York illustrator David Levine, depicting US President Lyndon B. Johnson revealing his scar from a bladder operation, shaped like the map of Vietnam.
Bell said The Guardian editors were unwilling to engage in a reasoned discussion. Subsequently, Editor Katharine Viner informed him via a brief email that they would cease publishing his work.
In April, the Guardian forced another cartoonist, Martin Rowson, to apologize for a cartoon perceived as antisemitic.
Bell highlighted the growing difficulty of satirizing the Israeli state and its politicians due to the fear of complaints of alleged anti-Semitism from lobbying groups, emphasizing the need to distinguish legitimate criticism from baseless accusations.
He cited the case of Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour leader ousted over accusations of anti-Semitism, to underscore the heightened sensitivity surrounding the issue.
“The problem is you have a very active lobby… they’re very, very alert to any hint of anything, any criticism of Israel…But what it seems to do is see anti-Semitism where there isn’t actually any.” EFE