Elsewhere Bell has said that he can’t be held responsible for “whatever cultural precepts and misapprehensions people choose to bring to my cartoon”. This is a view rejected by one of the complainants: “Like it or not, he works in a cultural context and must be aware that people will bring frames of reference external to his work.”
I don’t believe that Bell is an antisemite, nor do I think it was his intention to draw an antisemitic cartoon. However, using the image of a puppeteer when drawing a Jewish politician inevitably echoes past antisemitic usage of such imagery, no matter the intent.
The Holocaust and its causes are still within living memory. While journalists and cartoonists should be free to express an opinion that Netanyahu is opportunistic and manipulative, in my view they should not use the language – including the visual language – of antisemitic stereotypes. [emphasis added]
While we would have preferred that the cartoon be taken down, it’s encouraging nonetheless that Elliott warned journalists and cartoonists to avoid language and visual language conveying antisemitic stereotypes.
Finally, here are a few cartoons Bell published previously at the Guardian so you can gain some context on the current row.
Nov. 9, 2011. (The title of the cartoon is “Berlin Wall: Germany marks 20 year anniversary”, and it clearly compares Israel’s security fence, designed to keep terrorists out, with the Berlin Wall which was designed to keep East Berliners from escaping to West Germany.)
Israel, for Bell, is a sinister, controlling and manipulative state, and, as an artist, he certainly doesn’t seem too interested in subtitles or nuance.
Again, quoting Walter Russell Mead about the broader intellectual dynamic which Bell exemplifies:
“Weak minds…are easily seduced by attractive but empty generalizations. The comment attributed to August Bebel that anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools can be extended to many other kinds of cheap and superficial errors that people make. The baffled, frustrated and the bewildered seek a grand, simplifying hypothesis that can bring some kind of ordered explanation to a confusing world.”
We don’t know what’s in Steve Bell’s heart regarding Jews, but it does seem that his “cheap”, “superficial” pictorial characterizations of Israel arguably suggest a baffled and bewildered political cartoonist trying desperately to bring narrative order to the behavior of a country which frustrates and confuses him.