Critics say a cartoon of the severed head of former UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn smacks of anti-Semitism.
London’s The Guardian newspaper is not known for being friendly to Israel, and its political cartoonist Steve Bell has a long history of producing what media watchdog group Honest Reporting calls “dubious and vile cartoons … many of them crossing the line from criticism of Israel into poisonous anti-Semitism.”
Last week Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission investigation issued a damning report about anti-Semitism in the UK’s Labour Party, after which former party leader Jeremy Corbyn was promptly suspended from the party based on his response.
In reaction, Bell drew a new cartoon that showed current Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer carrying Corbyn’s decapitated head on a golden plate.
Some say the image references a 17th-century painting with anti-Semitic overtones, the Jewish Chronicle reported.
Bell appeared to be comparing Corbyn being dumped by Labour to the painting by the artist Caravaggio titled “Salome with the Head of John the Baptist,” a work that shows the Princess of Judea looking away as she receives a dismembered head on a platter.
The text from the Christian bible that inspired the painting relates to the story of Salome demanding John the Baptist’s execution as a reward for dancing for King Herod.
One online contributor said the cartoon depicted “essentially a reincarnation” of John the Baptist, who was “killed by the corruption and immorality of more worldly corrupted figures around him,” the Chronicle reported.
Others criticized the timing, noting Bell’s poor taste in drawing a decapitated head during the same period in which an Islamic terrorist beheaded a woman in a terror attack in France.
Others defended the cartoonist’s right to free speech.
The Guardian is “looking into” the complaints, but Bell is known for using anti-Semitic tropes in cartoons, although he has denied the accusations.
An in-depth study by Honest Reporting on Bell’s drawings describes one of Bell’s Netanyahu cartoons, which gave the “suggestion that Jews dominate the world and control leaders.” The cartoon not only promoted an “indisputably anti-Semitic theme,” but even Guardian editor Chris Elliott agreed that the cartoon showed poor judgment on Bell’s part.
The paper itself has also found some of Bell’s work too offensive to print, including a July 2019 cartoon that characterized former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson as an “anti-Semite finder general” for criticizing Jew-hatred in the party while Corbyn was under fire for doing little to nothing to combat anti-Semitism inside Labour.
HR notes that Bell’s offending cartoon was drawn at the same time Labour was repeatedly found to be hosting individuals who spewed anti-Semitic vitriol and an obsessive hatred of Israel.