Guardian’s Steve Bell frames Labour antisemitism row as a witch hunt

A recent series of cartoons by the Guardian’s long-time cartoonist Steve Bell has mocked and belittled charges of antisemitism in the Labour Party.  As we’ve noted in earlier tweets and posts, the putative object of his scorn is the deputy leader of the party, Tom Watson, who’s been critical of Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of the crisis engulfing the party. 

Here’s the first cartoon, published at the Guardian on July 15th.

Bell refers to Watson as “the antisemite finder general”, a likely a reference to “witchfinders” of 17th century England who traveled across the country identifying suspected witches, who were then tortured into confession, and ultimately hanged. The leader of the campaign to rid the land of this ‘satanic’ evil was a man named Matthew Hopkins, who was dubbed the “Witchfinder General”. 

So, it appears that Bell is characterising Labour’s antisemitism row as a witch hunt – a dishonest campaign to smear Labour members with false charges of antisemitism. This precise “witch hunt” framing of the crisis, has inspired a fringe group (Labour Against the Witch Hunt) and a film (Witch Hunt)

Here’s the second cartoon, published at the Guardian on July 16th.

Here, Bell continues with the same theme, while introducing “antisemitic tropes”, which he has mocked in previous cartoons.

Here’s the third cartoon in the series, which, as we noted in a previous post, was published on Bell’s personal website, but not at the Guardian – prompting Bell to accuse editors of over-sensitivity to the “infernal” (tiresome) issue of antisemitism: 

Whilst the significance of Netanyahu in the second frame isn’t totally clear at this point, it will become apparent.

Here’s the fourth cartoon, which was also published only at Bell’s site, and not at the Guardian:  

Here, Bell evokes the classic antisemitic trope of Jews controlling non-Jewish politicians by depicting Netanyahu as a puppeteer controlling both Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.  Recall that, in 2012, Bell used similar imagery, showing Netanyahu as a puppeteer controlling former Prime Minister Tony Blair and foreign secretary William Hague, a cartoon which faced widespread criticism and resulted in a rebuke by the Guardian’s readers’ editor. 

Steve Bell, 2012

You may also recall that, in April of this year, the New York Times international edition published, removed and ultimately apologised for a cartoon which evoked the same antisemitic trope, by depicting Netanyahu as a dog leading a blind kippah-wearing Donald Trump.

Here’s the fifth cartoon of the series, published at the Guardian July 22nd:

These final frames, which show the US president and Israeli prime minister, appear to reinforce Bell’s narrative that charges of antisemitism in the Labour Party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader are unserious, representing merely a cynical effort by those making the claim to smear their political opponents. 

In his own pseudo sophisticated way, Bell is echoing the antisemitic rhetoric of those pro-Corbyn fanatics who’ve launched hateful attacks on Jews (including Jewish politicians and public figures) who’ve complained about antisemitism.  Ultimately, what Bell is doing is gas-lighting British Jews, dismissing their profound fears about the hatred directed to their community, and lending credibility to bigots who view the entire row as a conspiracy to bring down their beloved leader. 

Though we’re glad editors chose not to run the most openly antisemitic cartoons in the series, the fact that Bell, whose visceral contempt for Israel and the values of British Jews is apparent, has been employed by the Guardian for thirty-eight years is an apt symbol of how the once fiercely Zionist and philosemitic institution has, as David Collier phrased it, become “nothing but a poisonous shadow of something that used to resemble a newspaper”. 

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39 replies »

  1. I don’t think Bell is gaslighting the Jewish community. Gaslighting is term whereby someone who is its object is made to doubt his or her own sanity. For me at least Bell re-enforces the view that Antisemitism in Labour is very serious. Even Corbyn today has admitted that is true. As for Bell “lending credibility to bigots” he proves time and again also to be a bigot himself. Just because he draws cartoons for a left-wing paper doesn’t exonerate him from that definition.

    • Corbyn only admits that there is trace antisemitism … as in the other parties who have a bigger problem with it.

      • Corbyn will only admit what does the least damage to his political career regardless of truth. Vile anti-Semites will just swallow what he says.

      • “Corbyn only admits that there is trace antisemitism … ”

        It’s like the captain admitting to have found but 1 rat on the ship.

  2. I think the major point of the cartoons is the disparity. No matter who are you can’t help be see racism in other parties is at least as bad but the whole focus is solving it in Labour. You also can not deny AS is used to control criticism or those who criticize Israel. It’s not a trope to say Israel do this it’s a fact, recorded as fact and Israeli diplomats have been kicked out the UK for putting a bounty on UK politicians. Perhaps if people looked closer at some of the main critics they’ll see the picture of rather unbalance claims & outrage. For example John Mann sited a dead bird put though his letter box as AS in 2018. If the press had done a simple search they would have seen that was a rival councillor upset about a vote back in the 1990s!!

    • The major point is that your writing is as muddled as your thinking. Labour has been trying to deflect and sweep under the rug a major problem of antisemitism within the Party.

  3. “a dishonest campaign to smear Labour members with false charges of antisemitism. ”

    Correct, you hit the nail on the head.

    Any posters here can tell the world just HOW Corbyn is antisemitic? Details please. No waffle. No rumours.

  4. Again, I must say as I think I’ve intimated before on several occasions, if not for UKMediaWatch I would never take a second to look over Bell’s cartoons with their grotesque caricatures. I would go past them without ever giving a thought to reading them. I find his brand of comic strip politics sub mental, stuck somewhere between pubescence and adolescence. There is no diamond in the ruff here, never a great truth revealed. It’s as deep and meaningful as a 3 Stooges short, without the honesty.

    • So, all that waffle shows that the biting accuracy and humour is lost on Jeff. Get Nurse to explain it to you, Jeff.

      • Perhaps we need a psychiatrist to explain you to us, like at the end of the Alfred Hitchcock thriller “Psycho.” Will Marie Farmer take over completely as “mother” did? What was that you said Farmer, you wouldn’t hurt a fly? ROFL

    • Yes, America, home of the free, the brave, the Klan, the John Birchers, and, yes, children of Muslim refugees who still believe the stupid and fact free stories of their grandparents, poor despondent folks who started and lost a war against the nascent state of Israel in 1948.

      I’ve been here my whole life, Michael. Anti-Semitism has always festered here, and, boy, has it thrived with Trumpy in office.

  5. Classic example of collusion between Zionist suprematists and Labour disloyalists – who oppose the idea of a democratic & secular Palestine for Muslim, Jew, Christian, agnostics, atheists…