The above the line essay tries to excuse the cartoon and the Guardian‘s approach, but does finish with a caution that Bell would be well advised to heed:
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.
The below the line comments – also predictably – include the usual CiF material, with a generous portion of that very much in the anti-Israel camp. (I am being polite.)
What I found interesting was this part (with my added emphasis):
Bell himself is adamant that the cartoon, based on an agency picture of a Netanyahu press conference, is neither intentionally, nor unintentionally antisemitic. He said: “This is a crucial point – this is not about the Jews: it’s about Binyamin Netanyahu. It’s referring to a specific news image. [The puppets] are a side issue. Binyamin Netanyahu is manipulating the whole situation. He is one of the world’s most cynical politicians. An obvious point to make is that it’s always going to be an awkward one. It’s not antisemitic, it is focused on him as a politician, on his cynicism.
So Steve Bell rates Netanyahu as one of the world’s most cynical politicians. Hold that thought. Now examine it. Is it credible? Is it a reasonable belief? Is it fair? In the whole wide world of politics, Netanyahu is one of the most cynical? Hold that thought a bit longer.
I will just say a little by way of further commentary on the above issues before going on to enter my two major reservations. As regards the earlier points in that list of agreements, it is now clear, if it wasn’t already, that Israel has lost the propaganda battle (aka the effort to persuade people that there is a just Israeli cause), and there is nothing that can be done to reverse its defeat. This is not because there is no just Israeli cause. It is because for a wide swathe of left-liberal and ‘anti-imperialist’ opinion there is now no way Israel can conduct itself from which it will earn moral credit. It is irredeemably tainted in its origin. Conversely, and in the same quarter, there is nothing that Hamas or other representatives of the Palestinian people can do, no wrong or outrage they can commit, which will not be morally ‘cleaned up’ by the perception that these representatives are supposedly the pure vehicle of a struggle against injustice. Neither the codes of war nor the principles of international law nor the ordinary requirements of humanity count for a tittle or a jot against the volume of hatred that Israel incurs each time a new armed conflict breaks out. The double standards that underwrite all this and the stinking hypocrisy of it are one thing; but another is the rank failure of anyone to find the terms in which it can be rationally and convincingly explained. For want of such explanation, it is impossible to believe that anti-Semitism plays no part in it. Jonathan doesn’t say this but I for my part do. I would also want to point out, as he does not, that one of the main conduits for the types of anti-Israel cheerleading of which he is tired is the Guardian.
Steve Bell is following the path Geras (rightly) complains about. Israel – or Netanyahu for the purposes of the present discussion – is “irredeemably tainted”. That allows Bell to elevate Netanyahu to the ranks of the worst of the world’s politicians. This, despite the fact any reasonable and objective observer would be able to name at least half a dozen UK politicians who are streets ahead of Bibi when it comes to cynicism.
However, even if that “cynicism” allegation were true, does the cartoon look to you as if it is making a point about cynicism? The central motif is the puppetry. To pretend otherwise is indefensible. For Bell to say the puppets are “a side issue” is nonsense. It is undermined, for example, by one of the letters the Guardian published in its defence(!) saying it was “pointing to the ability of Binyamin Netanyahu to successfully manipulate British and US politicians.” That’s what you call an own goal, Steve.
Steve Bell and the Guardian. Made for one another. Proponents of bigotry and hate.