Photo: Steve Bell’s cartoon: captured “Residents of Gaza, get out now”, showing Netanyahu cutting his exposed belly shape of Gaza with a scalpel, wearing boxing gloves. Source: https://www.belltoons.co.uk/hotoffpress
Steve Bell, one of the most well-known cartoonist, working in this field since 1977. He has 30 books published and 6 awards for being the “ Cartoonist of the Year”(British Press Awards, 2003; What the Papers Say Awards,1994; Political Cartoon Society,2001,2008) as the artist of “ Cartoon of the Year” (Political Cartoon Society, 2005, 2007) and has numerous exhibitions all around the world. His art focuses on political figures and events that use mockery and exaggerated images.
His recent sketch of Netanyahu got refused to be published by the Guardian and his contract will not be renewed after April, until then, his cartoons are decided not to be published at the newspaper.
The cartoon included the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, holding a scalpel with boxing gloves on, over his belly with a shut in the shape of Gaza. The caption included “Residents of Gaza, get out now”. The note “ after David Levine” is also seen on the cartoon which refers to David Levine’s cartoon of Lydon B. Johnson in New York Review of Books, 1966. The cartoon can be seen as Bell’s inspiration as it shows a scar of Vietnam on LBJ after his surgery. Both images depict pain on these countries created by these political figures that will stick with their image and will not be healed or forgotten.
David Levine’s LBJ cartoon shown with the actual photograph of President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ). In the actual picture, LBJ is showing his scars from gall bladder surgery that is drawn as the outline of Vietnam by Levine. Source: New York Review of Books
However, Bell was criticised as some suggested reference to Shakespeare’s play “ Merchant of Venice” that includes antisemitic elements with negative representation of a Jewish man, Shylock. The link was made by social media users over Shakespeare’s phase “ a pound of flesh” in the play and Bell’s Netanyahu exposing his belly.
Bell’s note on David Levine clearly shows his reference to the famous cartoon, and not to Shakespeare’s play. Bell said he does not promote antisemitic stereotypes, and the media has made it impossible to draw about this current topic without being labelled as antisemitic.
This marks censorship on political cartoons, after Bell indicated his intentions and clearly showed his reference on his piece.
As Rights Defenders, we state and condemn that firing of Bell by the Guardian is unfair and creates censorship of the freedom of expression in the media.