Guardian editor to meet with Board of Deputies over 'antisemitic' cartoon

The communal body is going to discuss the work of Martin Rowson and Steve Bell


LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 25: : Guardian Editor-in-Chief Katharine Viner speaks with Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham (not pictured) at a fringe event on the first day of the Labour Party conference at the ACC on September 25, 2022 in Liverpool, England The Labour Party hold their annual conference in Liverpool this year. Issues on the agenda are the cost of living crisis, including a call for a reinforced windfall tax, proportional representation and action on the climate crisis. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Guardian editor-in-chief Katharine Viner is set to meet with the Board of Deputies to discuss her newspaper’s publication of an “explicitly racist” cartoon.

Communal representatives will raise Martin Rowson’s depiction of former BBC chairman Richard Sharp and previous cartoons accused of antisemitism that were published by the left-wing newspaper.

A sketch published last Saturday depicted Sharp with stereotypically exaggerated Jewish features holding a box that contained a squid and Rishi Sunak’s head.

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

On Sunday, the Board said they had written to the Guardian requesting an "urgent meeting" with Viner to discuss the cartoon.

"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,” their statement added.

While a date for the meeting has not yet been agreed upon, the JC understands that the Board will also seek to discuss drawings by Steve Bell previously published by the Guardian.

Though the Guardian announced in July 2020 that Bell's daily 'if...' cartoon would no longer be publishe, his work has continued to appear in its pages since. 

The most recent work by the artist, who joined the Guardian in 1981, was published on Wednesday, April 26.

In November 2020, a cartoon drawn by Bell showed Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer presenting a platter with Jeremy Corbyn’s severed head on it after he was suspended by the party.

At the time, Labour peer Lord Andrew Adonis said: “Today’s Guardian cartoon by Steve Bell is repellent.  

"It portrays Corbyn as a victim of a sinister and murderously violent plot, which may be how the anti-semitic far left see yesterday’s events but is appalling to the rest of us."

In 2012, Bell was denounced for his use of “antisemitic imagery and tropes” by Community Security Trust chief Mark Gardner over a depiction of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a puppet master controlling UK foreign secretary William Hague and Middle East envoy Tony Blair. 

One reader complaint published by the Guardian at the time said: "Whatever disagreements Bell wishes to express regarding Israel's current actions against Hamas rocket fire, this picture uses classic antisemitic iconography that should have no place in your newspaper. 

“The echoes of such iconography are obvious: powerful Jews controlling Western politicians for their own nefarious purposes. 

“The image is vile, in other words, in roughly the same way that portraying an African country or its leadership as monkeys eating bananas would be vile."

Defending the image, Bell responded: “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. 

“It does employ the trope of 'puppeteer', but that is a trope, not an antisemitic trope.”

“I don't believe that Bell is an antisemite, nor do I think it was his intention to draw an antisemitic cartoon,” then Guardian readers’ editor Chris Elliott responded. 

“However, using the image of a puppeteer when drawing a Jewish politician inevitably echoes past antisemitic usage of such imagery, no matter the intent.”

The Guardian has been contacted for comment.

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