Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell denies rejected cartoon was antisemitic

He said he had been ‘unfairly traduced and censored’

Steve Bell on Theresa May’s meeting with Netanyahu (Photo: Twitter @cartoon4sale)

Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell has denied his cartoon the newspaper rejected evoked “antisemitic tropes”, in an email to the editor that copied in all the newspaper’s journalists.

The rejected cartoon shows Theresa May sitting alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Downing Street, while Palestinian medic Razan al-Najjar burns in the fireplace behind.

Ms Najjar, 21, was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier on June 4 during a protest in Gaza.

In emails sent to staff, Mr Bell said that he had been “unfairly traduced and censored” and accused Guardian editor Kath Viner of not speaking to him because she “did not really have an argument” for spiking his work.

Razan al-Najjar (centre right), a 21-year-old Palestinian paramedic, tends to an injured colleague during clashes near the border with Israel, east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 15, 2018. She was killed on June 4. (Photo: Getty Images)

Guardian source told the JC Mr Bell sent two emails on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.

The second email was addressed to editor-in-chief Kath Viner and began “dear Kath”. Both copied in all the journalists across its UK and international editions.

“I cannot for the life of me begin to understand criticism of the cartoon that begins by dragging in ‘wood-burning stoves’, ‘ovens’, ‘holocaust’, or any other nazi-related nonsense,” Mr Bell wrote to Ms Viner on Thursday.

“That was the last thing on my mind when I drew it, I had no intention of conflating the issues of the mass murder of European Jews and Gaza.

“The cartoon is sensitive, not tasteless, not disrespectful, and certainly contains no antisemitic tropes. It should have been published as it stands, but if you are still obdurate that it should remain unpublished, then I feel a duty to my subject to try and salvage something from this fiasco.”

In the earlier email sent to journalists on Wednesday evening, he wrote: “Dear All, I wouldn’t normally do this, but I think that this cartoon, which has just been spiked, has been unfairly traduced and censored.

“I think it’s a shame because, so far, I can only find one mention of her on the entire website, and this would at least have been the second.

“Sorry to intrude, please be as frank as you like.”

In his Thursday email, Mr Bell said he was writing “after I’d cooled down a bit” and said he “didn’t want to tweet it as this should still be an internal matter”.

“I do think that an unfortunate precedent has been set here,” he said.

Theresa May and Benjamin Netanyahu at Downing Street on June 6, 2018 (Photo: Getty Images)

He said his cartoon depicted a Downing Street fireplace, in front of which Mrs May and Mr Netanyahu were photographed when they met on Wednesday.

He added his drawing of Ms al-Najjar was based on “a widely known photograph of her, becoming iconic across the Arab world and the burning is of course symbolic”.

He told Ms Viner he would resubmit the cartoon “in a form that may get around some of the criticisms (to my mind wholly unjustified) that were made”.

“I don’t believe that I have any divine right to have my work published come what may, and am always prepared to take heed of substantive criticism,” he wrote.

In 2012 the Guardian admitted that a cartoon of Mr Bell’s “inevitably” echoed “past antisemitic usage of such imagery”.

The image was about the Israel-Gaza conflict and portrayed a grotesque Benjamin Netanyahu as a puppet master controlling William Hague and Tony Blair.