Guardian cartoonist defends Netanyahu 'puppet-master' image

Steve Bell's Guardian cartoon (Credit: Steve Bell)

Steve Bell's Guardian cartoon (Credit: Steve Bell)

The Guardian cartoonist behind an image implying that Jews are "omnipotent conspirators" has denied that he is in any way repeating an antisemitic trope.

Steve Bell's drawing about the fighting in Gaza, which appeared in Friday's paper, shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a puppet-master, controlling tiny versions of Foreign Secretary William Hague and Tony Blair.

It was published after Mr Hague said on Thursday that Hamas bore "principal responsibility" for the military operation". In the background are Israeli flags with stars of David, explosions and a sign stating "Vote Likud" – a reference to Mr Netanyahu's party.

Mr Bell said the cartoons of Mr Hague and Mr Blair were "a side issue" and noted that he had drawn inspiration from a press conference given by Mr Netanyahu in front of numerous Israeli flags.

But barrister Jeremy Brier, who has already lodged a complaint about Steve Bell's drawing with the Press Complaints Commission, labelled the image "plainly antisemitic".

The image had attracted more than 100 comments on the Guardian website by 11.30am, and was being discussed at length on Twitter.

The Community Security Trust said in a blog post that the cartoon fell into the category of "subtle" antisemitism for its use of the "trope of Jews as puppeteers, controlling the politicians of ostensibly much more powerful nations".

"He seems to have reached for the 'puppeteer' trope to explain that fact that William Hague's statement on the conflict was presumably not critical enough of Israel for his liking, as if this is the most plausible explanation for Hague's view.

"This cartoon self-consciously takes its place amongst a long line of cartoons and propaganda suggesting that Jews are omnipotent conspirators: operating behind the scenes and against the public good, exerting a malevolent and disproportionate power over international leaders," said Mr Brier.

He said the cartoon placed Mr Bell "in a long line of artists who have used their talents for antisemitic purposes?"

Mr Bell said he had chosen to draw the cartoon because "the coverage of Operation Pillar of Defence has been so skewed in favour of the Israeli side, particularly I regret to say on the BBC, that I do personally feel quite a strong need to make the counter argument".

He said the cartoon was about "the cynical manipulation of a situation by a specific politician" and "NOT about cynical manipulation by 'the Jews'. I refute completely any charge of antisemitism, since I would never conflate the two."

Mr Bell added: "I also refute the charge that I am somehow deliberately repeating the antisemitic 'trope' of the puppet master. The wilful manipulation is Netanyahu's not mine.

"I can't be held responsible for whatever cultural precepts and misapprehensions people choose to bring to my cartoon. My intention, I think, is fairly clear."

Last updated: 5:50pm, November 20 2012