Cambridge cancels talk by fired Guardian cartoonist over anti-Semitism

Cambridge college cancels talk by sacked Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell over sketch of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu amid fears it would be platforming anti-Semitism and could ‘provoke protests’

  • Queens’  Cambridge Politics Society cancels talk from cartoonist Steve Bell
  • Critics have claimed his work depicts the anti-Semitic ‘pound of flesh’ trope

A Cambridge University society has cancelled a talk by sacked Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell over his sketch of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid fears it would provide a platform to anti-Semitism.

Queens’ College Politics Society yesterday cancelled the event over concerns that Bell’s attendance could ‘provoke protests’.

This comes after the cartoonist, who worked for the Left-wing newspaper for more than 40 years, was sacked after submitting a drawing of the Israeli leader holding a scalpel over his exposed belly to make a cut in the shape of Gaza.

Critics have taken this to be a reference to Shylock, the Jewish moneylender in Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice who demands a ‘pound of flesh’ from someone who cannot pay him back.

President of the Queens’ Politics Society Michael Watts said the decision was made to scrap the talk ‘as soon as I discovered the cartoon and the surrounding controversy’.

A Cambridge University society has cancelled a talk by sacked Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell (pictured) over his sketch of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid fears it would provide a platform to anti-Semitism

Bell, who worked for the Guardian for more than 40 years, was sacked after submitting a drawing of Netanyahu leader holding a scalpel over his exposed belly to make a cut in the shape of Gaza

Mr Watts said that he did not believe it would be in ‘anyone’s interest for the event to go ahead’, when he spoke to Cambridge University newspaper Varsity.

READ MORE: All former Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell’s past controversies revealed 

Steve Bell’s decision to depict Priti Patel as a bull next to Boris Johnson caused anger and revulsion

He added that the club would not offer a platform to people ‘linked with anti-Semitism’.

Bell yesterday refused to apologise for his Netanyahu sketch as he revealed his relationship with bosses became ‘strained’ after editorial interventions became ‘more and more petty’. 

He told Press Gazette that the cartoon ‘has nothing to do’ with the Merchant of Venice and he ‘would not dream’ of promoting anti-Jewish stereotypes.

‘I’m not going to apologise for the image,’ he said. ‘I think it’s a good one. I think it works.’

Mr Bell said his relations with Guardian editors ‘have been a bit strained’, claiming their interventions had become ‘more and more petty’ and ‘silly’.

Today, a spokesman for Guardian News and Media said: ‘The decision has been made not to renew Steve Bell’s contract. Steve Bell’s cartoons have been an important part of The Guardian over the past 40 years – we thank him and wish him all the best.’

Mr Bell previously failed to publish an earlier cartoon in the Guardian which depicted Labour’s antisemitism crisis under Jeremy Corbyn as a witch hunt. It was published by the Socialist Worker instead.

Mr Bell also claimed The Guardian had suggested the same and he retweeted a supporter who defended him against the claim. The tweet said: ‘The alleged Shakespearan analogy in the message hardly fits the political message of the cartoon, except possibly to someone who is ignorant of both’.

He has insisted it is a reference to a 1960s cartoon by David Levine, who drew US President Lyndon B. Johnson with a Vietnam shaped scar on his torso at the time of the war in the south-east Asian country. The cartoon Mr Bell submitted last week has the words ‘After David Levine’ above the artist credit.

In the picture, the Israeli prime minister wears boxing gloves and holds a scalpel over his exposed belly, readying a cut in the shape of Gaza, with the caption: ‘Residents of Gaza, get out now.’

Bell told Varsity that the Politics Society had not given him ‘a great deal of explanation’ for the cancellation of the talk, which was due to go ahead tomorrow.

Mr Watt’s said the society had ‘regrettably’ told Bell about the cancellation a few hours after publicly announcing the withdrawal.

Cartoonist Steve Bell says he has been effectively sacked by The Guardian over accusations of anti-Semitic work

Steve Bell has criticised Guardian editors

Mr Bell has vehemently defended the image and decried accusations that he used anti-Semitic tropes.

He told the Jewish Chronicle: ‘The cartoon is specifically about Benjamin Netanyahu’s disastrous policy failure which has led directly to the hideous recent atrocities around Gaza, and about his proposed response that he had announced, using his actual words addressing the citizens of Gaza.

‘The Guardian has every right not to publish my cartoon if it so chooses, but it should not do so using entirely contrived and false reasons.

‘All that does is inhibit discussion of a dreadful but important subject.’

Last Monday Mr Bell claimed on Twitter that he had submitted the artwork but it had been ‘spiked again’.

He added that it was becoming ‘pretty nigh impossible to draw this subject [Israel] for The Guardian now without being accused of deploying ‘antisemitic tropes”.

After filing it, he said he received a phone call from the newspaper ‘with the strangely cryptic message ‘pound of flesh”.

Bell submitted a cartoon of Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (pictured) relating to the ongoing conflict between the country and Gaza

A spokesman for The Guardian confirmed the newspaper will not be renewing Mr Bell’s contract when it expires

Mr Bell later suggested the cartoon didn’t make sense if it was a reference to the Shakespeare play, given Netanyahu is ‘wearing boxing gloves’.

It is not the first time his work has been accused of anti-Semitism. In 2020, the cartoonist came under fire for a drawing of Keir Starmer offering Jeremy Corbyn’s decapitated head on a platter.

The image was likened to Italian painter Caravaggio’s work, Salome with the Head of John the Baptist.

It portrays a story in the New Testament in which Salome, the Jewish daughter of King Herod, asks for the head of John – seen as a forerunner of Jesus Christ – and is later presented with it.

But its publication sparked a backlash among readers. Many decried it as anti-Semitic for portraying Corbyn as ‘martyr St John the Baptist’ and victim of a ‘sinister plot’ and Sir Keir as ‘bloodthirsty’ Salome.

The cartoon was published after Corbyn’s suspension from the Labour Party for his reaction to the findings of a report on anti-Semitism under his leadership.

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