Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell accused of anti-Semitism over Razan al-Najjar image

The latest false accusation of anti-Semitism is particularly outrageous.

It concerns a cartoon by the renowned Steve Bell – and the reason it is an outrage is that it is an attempt to pretend the brutal murder of a young Palestinian medic is about hatred of Jews.

All those involved in this lie should be shamed at every turn.

The cartoon featured Theresa May sitting alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in front of a fire, in which Palestinian medic Razan al-Najjar is burning.

The meaning seems clear: Mrs May couldn’t care any less about the death of this young woman than Mr Netanyahu – she is deeply in cahoots with the Israeli government.

But it seems the image was spiked by the Guardian‘s current editor Kath Viner, on the grounds that it contains an anti-Semitic trope – that of comparing the actions of modern Jews with those of the Nazis who were responsible for the Holocaust in World War II.

Mr Bell vigorously denies any such claims.

In an email to Ms Viner this morning (June 7), he wrote: “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.

“It’s a fireplace, in front of which VIP visitors to Downing Street are always pictured… and the figure of Razan al-Najjar is burning in the grate. It’s a widely known photograph of her, becoming iconic across the Arab world and the burning is of course symbolic. She’s dead, she was shot and killed by the IDF while doing her job as a medic.”

He said he suspected “the reason that you did not get in touch was because you did not really have an argument. The cartoon is sensitive, not tasteless, not disrespectful, and certainly contains no anti-Semitic tropes.”

This silliness is typical of the behaviour of the fake anti-Semitism wolf-crying that has reached epidemic levels in the UK recently for one reason alone: The accusers see what they want to see.

What about authorial intent?

What about the context?

What about common sense?

These mean nothing to the accusers. They expect to see anti-Semitism, so that’s what they do see.

But it isn’t anti-Semitic to point out that an innocent non-combatant – and I defy anybody to claim that a person providing medical aid to the injured is an aggressor – was murdered by a soldier for the Israeli government.

And it isn’t anti-Semitic to point out that the UK’s response to this murder has been lukewarm.

Nor is it anti-Semitic to suggest that this lack of condemnation may be due to the UK’s financial interests in Israel – we sell a huge amount of weapons and ammunition to that country.

Following on from that, it would not be anti-Semitic to ask whether British-sold weapons were used in the killing.

These are all legitimate criticisms of both the Israeli government and that of the United Kingdom – as represented by Mr Netanyahu and Mrs May in the cartoon.

And then there is the matter of authorial intent.

Mr Bell says anti-Semitism was the last thing on his mind when he drew the cartoon and, as someone who has also been tarred with the “anti-Semitism” brush without any discussion beforehand, I believe him.

It is as the author Neil Gaiman put it on Twitter, only a few days ago:

And that is the problem. Those who cry “anti-Semitism!” at every opportunity may be making a valid interpretation.

But it isn’t the only interpretation.

And if it isn’t what the author intended – it is the wrong interpretation. Particularly if it is being used to excuse an appalling act of brutality.

Source: Guardian Cartoonist Steve Bell Denies Anti-Semitism Claims After Drawing Spiked By Editor

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11 thoughts on “Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell accused of anti-Semitism over Razan al-Najjar image

  1. Kate George

    Having read Steve Bell cartoons for many years, it struck me how how like Thatcher the image of Mrs May is! Maybe this is fitting, I couldn’t stand Thatcher either. As for anti-semitism, that’s just a false argument to detract from the rall issues.

  2. john thatcher

    It only goes to underline why Viner was made editor.Not for any talent she might have,but because she can be relied on to “toe the line”.

  3. MadManagement

    These accusations are so contrived that we must now accept that it is nothing to do with anti-Semitism at all. It is all dead cat silliness. Tell them to bugger off.

  4. Shelagh Garside

    It’s not what the author in tended, but the image made me think of Joan of Arc.

  5. marie

    This anti-semitism thing is now taking the proverbial. Whenever there is the slightest hint of a criticism of a regime, there goes the cry! It will be self-defeating in the end, just like the little boy who cried wolf all the time. People will just shrug their shoulders and go: There they go again! it will only end up annoying people.

  6. digitaurus

    Steve Bell was making a strong and excellent point in this cartoon. I hope his revised version avoided putting her in the a grate – an inadvertent visual reference for many to the burning of victims in the Holocaust.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      The problem is the people who claim the image is a deliberate visual reference to the Holocaust. Putting her in the grate was the obvious choice, and if Mr Netanyahu and/or his supporters – not Jews in general – don’t like it they should be honest and admit they don’t like it because it is a genuine criticism of the abhorrent activities they support, rather than hiding behind false accusations of anti-Semitism.

  7. Carol Fraser

    What a great wheeze. Israel commits an atrocity and when criticized shouts foul. You’re being anti-semetic. I put it to Israel your Holocaust victims would be mightily ashamed of what you have become.

  8. Zippi

    Context? Do me a favour! Nobody is interested in context, any more, nor are they interested in the truth.
    “Those who cry “anti-Semitism!” at every opportunity may be making a valid interpretation.” The issue isn’t that it isn’t the only interpretation but that it is only an interpretation. Personally. I didn’t see a link between this image and the Jewish Holocaust, until I read it in the article. If you tell people that, before they see it, that it all that they will see. I wonder how many people who saw this were primed beforehand?

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I am uncomfortably aware of the truth of your words, having been accused of anti-Semitism myself. My accusers primed the public – at least, those who were not familiar with my work.
      Still, in some cases it may be possible to draw such an interpretation reasonably. Then, as I say, authorial intention must be taken into account.

Comments are closed.