Steve Bell was fired by the Guardian over an antisemitism row over Netanyahu cartoons

The cartoon, depicting Netanyahu performing surgery on himself, outlined the Gaza Strip. Bell claimed that the cartoon was censored after a phone call from the newspaper suggesting that it might reference the “pound of flesh” phrase from Shakespeare’s work featuring Shylock.

He mentioned that his inspiration for the cartoon came from a 1960s cartoon of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Writing in The X, Bell stated that he had submitted the image earlier in the month, and “four hours later… I received an unpleasant phone call from the desk with a cryptic message about ‘pound of flesh.'”

Bell said he responded, “Sorry, I don’t understand,” and the response from the desk was: “Jewish guy; half a kilo of meat; antisemitic metaphor.”

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Shylock, the moneylender from Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” is one of the most well-known Jewish stereotypes in English literature due to his avaricious nature.

In the famous Bard play, Shylock demands one pound of Antonio’s flesh if his loan is not repaid within three months.

Contract not renewed Bell told the BBC that The Guardian’s interpretation “makes no sense to me because there’s no reference to that play in my cartoon, which shows Netanyahu, ready to perform self-surgery while wearing boxing gloves, with the consequences of that action still unseen.”

“The image itself was inspired by the late David Levine’s cartoon of President Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) displaying his surgical scar, which Levine depicted in the form of the Vietnam map.”

A spokesperson for GNM (Guardian News and Media) stated, “The decision has been taken not to renew Steve Bell’s contract. Steve Bell’s cartoons have been a significant part of The Guardian for the past 40 years – we thank him and wish him well.”

This issue arose as tensions escalated following Hamas’s attack on Israel earlier in the month and subsequent retaliatory strikes on Gaza.

Another cartoon This isn’t the first time Bell has been accused of using antisemitic imagery. A 2020 image depicting Sir Keir Starmer holding Jeremy Corbyn’s head on a platter was interpreted by some as a reference to the head of John the Baptist, given to Salome, the daughter of the Jewish King Herod.

In the same year, senior Conservative Party MP Sajid Javid tweeted that Bell’s cartoon, which depicted former Home Secretary Priti Patel and former Prime Minister Boris Johnson as bulls with rings in their noses, was “deeply offensive.”

Javid stated that the cartoon “resembled antisemitic cartoons from the last century” and added that The Guardian “should know better.”

The Guardian also issued an apology earlier this year after a cartoon depicting BBC Chairman Richard Sharp was criticized as antisemitic. The artist behind it, Martin Rowson, also apologized.