Guardian apologises to Jewish community for ‘explicitly racist’ cartoon

The newspaper has removed a widely denounced sketch of Jewish former BBC chairman Richard Sharp


The Guardian has apologised to the Jewish community for publishing a cartoon of former BBC chairman Richard Sharp denounced as “explicitly racist”.

The sketch, released after the Jewish former banker stepped down from his role on Friday, showed Sharp clutching his CV and a box containing a squid and Rishi Sunak’s head.

“Sharp is drawn in a grotesque caricature that looks nothing like him, complete with sunken, drooping eyes, jowly cheeks, a sinister-looking grin and a noticeably prominent nose,” the Spectator magazine wrote.

The cartoon also featured a depiction of Boris Johnson sitting atop a pile of muck clutching bags of money while saying, "cheer up, matey! I put you down for a peerage in my resignation honours list!”

The image, said Community Security Trust director of policy Dave Rich, "falls squarely into an antisemitic tradition of depicting Jews with outsized, grotesque features, often in conjunction with money and power. It's appalling.”  

“First, the face,” he said. “Antisemites have often imagined Jews as ugly and physically repulsive, focusing specifically on these features.

Sharp’s squid, he added, was seemingly a reference to a 2009 description of Goldman Sachs - where he used to work - as, “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity”.

“The problem is that a squid or octopus is also a common antisemitic motif, used to depict a supposed Jewish conspiracy with its tentacles wrapped around whatever parts of society the Jews supposedly control,” he said. "Especially money. Are those gold coins in the box with Sharp's squid?”

“Isn't [The Guardian] like Ianus Bifrons the Two-faced Janus,” asked historian Simon Sebag-Montefiore. 

“Sometimes urbanely liberal;  othertimes brazenly bigoted. Like today when the once-great liberal champion is auditioning to be Der Sturmer & The Protocols of Elders of Zion [with] this repellent explicitly racist cartoon?”

On Saturday, the newspaper removed the cartoon from its website and apologised.

In a statement, the Guardian said: “We understand the concerns that have been raised. This cartoon does not meet our editorial standards, and we have decided to remove it from our website.

“The Guardian apologises to Mr Sharp, to the Jewish community and to anyone offended.”

The artist who drew the image, Martin Rowson, also apologised and provided a detailed account of how he created the cartoon.

“Satirists, even though largely licenced to speak the unspeakable in liberal democracies, are no more immune to f**king things up than anyone else, which is what I did here,” he wrote in a statement published to his website.

He knew Sharp was Jewish, he added, because he had known him at school.

“His Jewishness never crossed my mind as I drew him as it’s wholly irrelevant to the story or his actions, and it played no conscious role in how I twisted his features according to the standard cartooning playbook,” he said.

“Likewise, the cute squid and the little Rishi were no more than that, a cartoon squid and a short Prime Minister, it never occurring to me that some might see them as puppets of Sharp, this being another notorious antisemitic trope.”

The cartoonist concluded: “So by any definition, most of all my own, the cartoon was a failure and on many levels: I offended the wrong people, Sharp wasn’t the main target of the satire, I rushed at something without allowing enough time to consider things with the depth and care they require, and thereby letting slip in stupid ambiguities that have ended up appearing to be something I never intended.”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive