Poisonous Cartoon Crosses the Line?

Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell has plenty of previous form when it comes to producing poisonous anti-Israel imagery that crosses the line into antisemitism.

His latest cartoon “Mike Pompeo’s prayer for Middle East peace” raises similar questions.

We see caricatures of US President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But it’s the second box that needs further examination. Behind the barbed wire is Gaza. The barbed wire itself is a crude representation of the Israeli flag with the Star of David in the center.

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Is Bell deliberately conflating Gaza with a Nazi concentration camp where Israelis are the Nazis? The imagery certainly invokes those thoughts, which could well be reinforced by the sinister third box that portrays Israeli soldiers in a particularly dark and threatening manner standing in front of a barbed wire fence.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism has been adopted and endorsed by a growing number of governments and organizations (including HonestReporting). It includes: “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

You can sign our petition calling on media to adopt the IHRA definition here.

And why is the Eurovision Song Contest taking place “under massive security” as Bell captions? It’s not because Israel is some sort of police state but because Israel is under the constant threat of terrorism, including rockets from Gaza.

Aren’t we being neurotic and paranoid? Can’t we take caricatured criticism? Isn’t the cartoon open to interpretation?

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Indeed, context is important and the context behind Steve Bell is a cartoonist who has repeatedly over the years been called out for cartoons that have crossed the line.

Bell won the Most Insensitive Cartoon in the 2014 Dishonest Reporter Awards to add to his Most Antisemitic Themed Cartoon in the 2012 Awards when even The Guardian’s readers editor criticized Bell’s judgment.

As recently as June 2018, The Guardian spiked a Bell cartoon editors said evoked “antisemitic tropes.”  That cartoon featured prime ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Theresa May as Palestinian medic Razan al-Najar burns in the fireplace behind them. Najar was killed during Gaza border clashes.

Steve Bell
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Bell defended himself in an email to The Guardian’s editor saying:

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 … 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.

We cannot read Bell’s mind but it seems incredible that yet again, he may not have had any “intention of conflating the issues of the mass murder of European Jews and Gaza” but that’s a possible interpretation that emerges from another one of his poisonous cartoons.


Please send your complaints to The Guardian’s readers editor – [email protected]

Source material can be found at this site.

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