Guardian editor personally apologised to Richard Sharp for 'antisemitic' cartoon

Katharine Viner is set to meet Jewish communal representatives


Guardian editor-in-chief Katharine Viner wrote to Richard Sharp to personally apologise for a cartoon of the former BBC chairman condemned as “explicitly racist”, the JC can reveal.

A sketch by Martin Rowson published on Saturday featured “outsized, grotesque” characteristics that echoed traditional Jewish stereotypes, Community Security Trust director of policy Dave Rich said.

In a statement released a day later, the left-wing newspaper formally apologised to Sharp, the Jewish community, and “anyone offended”.

“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,” they said.

The same day, Viner sent a personal missive to Sharp to underline the message, a Guardian press officer confirmed to the JC, but her letter came "rather late", a source said, more than 24 hours after the row blew up.

The former Guardian US chief is also set to meet with representatives of the Jewish community over the row.

Viner will discuss Rowson’s cartoon with the Board of Deputies “in the near future,” a newspaper press officer said.

Requesting an "urgent meeting" with the Guardian to discuss the cartoon, a statement from the Board said: "This is far from the first time that the paper has crossed the line in terms of highly questionable content connected to the Jewish community.”

Communal representatives will also seek to discuss Steve Bell cartoons previously published by the Guardian at the summit.

The veteran political artist has previously faced criticism for his use of “antisemitic imagery and tropes” by Community Security Trust chief Mark Gardner over a 2012 sketch depicting Israeli prime minister as a puppet master. 

Defending the image at the time, Bell said: “It doesn't generalise about a race, a religion or a people; it doesn't try to characterise any such generalisation: it is a very specific cartoon about a very specific politician at a very specific and deadly dangerous moment.”

Rowson has also apologised for his cartoon of Sharp since its publication sparked outrage.

“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.”

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