Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell 'sacked' after Netanyahu drawing accused of being anti-Semitic

16 October 2023, 08:43 | Updated: 16 October 2023, 10:01

Cartoonist Steve Bell sacked by The Guardian over drawing of Israeli PM Netanyahu
Cartoonist Steve Bell sacked by The Guardian over drawing of Israeli PM Netanyahu. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

The Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell says he has been sacked after he drew a cartoon of Benjamin Netanyahu that was accused of being anti-Semitic.

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Bell, who has attracted controversy for a number of past works, drew the Israeli prime minister operating on his own body, which bears a cut in the outline of the Gaza Strip.

A caption read "Residents of Gaza, get out now" - a reference to Israel telling residents there to flee south ahead of an expected ground invasion.

Critics said its imagery was similar to Shylock, the antagonistic Jewish moneylender from Shakespeare's the Merchant of Venice who insists on the "pound of flesh" he is owed.

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Bell, who has worked at The Guardian for four decades, said the paper now refuses to print his work.

He defended the Netanyahu cartoon, saying it was "impossible to draw this subject for The Guardian now without being falsely accused of using ‘anti-Semitic tropes", and claimed it was a reference to a 1960s cartoon about former US president Lyndon B Johnson.

Bell's drawing of Netanyahu has been criticised
Bell's drawing of Netanyahu has been criticised. Picture: The Guardian/Steve Bell
Bell was criticised over his Priti Patel cartoon
Bell was criticised over his Priti Patel cartoon. Picture: Alamy

"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," Bell told the Jewish Chronicle.

"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."

He will remain at the paper until April 2024.

The Guardian 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."

Bell's previous cartoons have attracted controversy. In 2020, he drew Priti Patel as a grotesque, fat bull - along with Boris Johnson - which sparked outrage as some said it was a reference to her Hindu heritage.

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This cartoon led to criticism of Bell
This cartoon led to criticism of Bell. Picture: Bell/Guardian

The Guardian refused to take it down and the image remains on its website as the newspaper said the cartoon was a reference to Patel and Johnson being accused of bullying a civil servant.

Bell was also criticised for a drawing showing Sir Keir Starmer holding Jeremy Corbyn's head on a platter.

His critics said that was a reference to John the Baptist's head being presented to the daughter of King Herod, the Jewish monarch from the Bible.