Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell has written an angry email to staff after the newspaper declined to publish his latest cartoon, allegedly over worries about “anti-Semitism” and a possible “legal challenge.”
In a leaked letter posted to Twitter by BuzzFeed journalist Mark Di Stefano, Bell refers to a “bizarre telephone conversation” he had – presumably with an editor – about his latest cartoon. Bell was told that the paper’s lawyers “were concerned” about the cartoon, which features the Labour Party’s deputy leader Tom Watson as a witchfinder on the hunt for “unholy anti-Semitic tropes,” as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
One of the panels shows Netanyahu with two plush puppets he calls “Trumpy Wumpy” and “Bozzy Wozzy” – clearly referring to US President Donald Trump and current candidate for Tory leader and UK prime minister, Boris Johnson.
“Sorry,” says the cartoon Watson, backing down. “I thought you were members of the Labour Party.”
Bell contends that the caricatures are “not anti-Semitic” or “libelous” and that if Watson objected, he would “make himself look far sillier than he does in the cartoon.”
Watson has recently criticized Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of accusations of anti-Semitism within the party. Corbyn’s defenders, however, accuse his political opponents of launching a witch hunt against him to serve a political agenda.
Bell said he “cannot understand” why the cartoon in question would be more open to a legal challenge from Watson than his two previous illustrations, which the Guardian had already published. Those cartoons labelled Watson the “anti-Semite finder general.”
I suspect that the real problem is that [the cartoon] contravenes some mysterious editorial line that has been drawn around the subject of anti-Semitism and the infernal subject of ‘anti-Semitic tropes.’
The email then heats up even more, with the cartoonist suggesting that the Guardian refused to publish the latest cartoon because they too have taken part in much of the Corbyn-bashing.
“Does the Guardian no longer tolerate content that counters its editorial line?” he asked. “Is it that you don’t want to offend poor Tom but are quite happy to offend poor Jeremy?” he added, referring to a “highly partisan and personally insulting” advert against Corbyn published in the paper on the same day it refused to publish his cartoon.
Bell also notes that the Guardian recently published – and then deleted – a letter in support of Labour’s Chris Williamson, who was accused of anti-Semitism. The letter had been signed by 100 Jews, including academic Noam Chomsky.
Were they the wrong kind of Jews?
The letter sparked outrage among Bell’s fans and Corbyn’s defenders on Twitter.
Kerry-Anne Mendoza, editor of the left-wing Canary News, tweeted in “solidarity with a great cartoonist who deserves better than this.”
Journalist Jonathan Cook tweeted that the cartoon might have hit “too close to the bone” for the Guardian, “which has been cheerleading the same witch-hunt” that Bell alludes to in his cartoons.
Last month, the New York Times announced it would discontinue all political cartoons, after receiving backlash for “anti-Semitism” over a caricature of Netanyahu, who was portrayed as a dog leading a blind Donald Trump.
RT’s Going Underground talked censorship with Steve Bell in May. Watch the full video below.
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