The Guardian pulls cartoon of outgoing BBC boss Richard Sharp after antisemitism backlash | Politics News

A controversial cartoon of outgoing BBC chairman Richard Sharp has been taken down by a national newspaper after being widely condemned as antisemitic.

In the face of a fierce backlash, The Guardian has apologised and removed Martin Rowson’s drawing posted on its website as it “did not meet our editorial standards”.

Also apologising, Mr Rowson said through “carelessness and thoughtlessness I screwed up pretty badly”.

Critics argued the depiction of Mr Sharp, who is Jewish, would not have looked out of place in Nazi-era propaganda sheets.

There has been condemnation of the caricature
There has been condemnation of the ‘deeply depressing’ caricature. Pic: Guardian

The row comes after Mr Sharp resigned from the top BBC job on Friday after being found to have broken the rules by failing to disclose he played a role in getting the then prime minister Boris Johnson an £800,000 loan guarantee.

The cartoon showed a heavily-featured Mr Sharp departing with a box marked Goldman Sachs, the investment bank where he used to work, containing a squid and what appears to be a puppet of Rishi Sunak.

The Jewish “puppet master”, secretly controlling the economic and political world order, has been a long-standing narrative and antisemitic trope used by conspiracy theorists.

Next to Mr Sharp, sitting on a pile of dung is a naked Mr Johnson, shouting to him: “Cheer up matey. I put you down for a peerage in my resignation honours list.”

Author Dave Rich, who has written on antisemitism, wrote on Twitter the cartoon “falls squarely into an antisemitic tradition of depicting Jews with outsized, grotesque features, often in conjunction with money and power”.

He pointed out such caricatures had been used by both the Nazis and in the Soviet Union.

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Richard Sharp’s resignation in full

Highlighting the symbolism within the cartoon, on the squid, Mr Rich said: “Yes, Sharp worked for Goldman Sachs, which was famously described in @RollingStone as ‘a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money'”.

But he added: “The problem is that a squid or octopus is also a common antisemitic motif, used to depict a supposed Jewish conspiracy with its tentacles wrapped around whatever parts of society the Jews supposedly control. Especially money. Are those gold coins in the box with Sharp’s squid?”

He added: “Is it possible that a cartoonist as experienced as @MartinRowson is unaware of these common antisemitic traditions (plus whoever else at the Guardian saw it)?

“Or perhaps this just another case of assumptions about Jews, money and power that are so familiar, people don’t notice them.”

He went on: “The physical characteristics given to Sharp in the cartoon – the nose, lips etc – are racial characteristics. Antisemitism can be racism. Just in case anyone was still unsure about that.”

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Former Labour MP Ian Austin, who quit the party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership over antisemitism and now sits in the Lords, wrote on Twitter: “What an utterly revolting cartoon, full of disgusting antisemitic imagery.

“It looks like something from a far-right Nazi publication but is in fact in @guardian and they should be ashamed of themselves.”

Fellow former Labour MP John Mann, who is also now a peer, said: “Haven’t bought this paper for many years. This is why.

“My parents who bought it every day would be so saddened and angry with those who own and edit it. A paper that chooses not to sort itself out.”

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Stephen Pollard, editor-at-large of the Jewish Chronicle, tweeted: “It takes a lot to shock me. And I am well aware of the Guardian’s and especially Rowson’s form. But I still find it genuinely shocking that not a single person looked at this and said, no, we can’t run this. To me that’s the real issue.”

‘Antisemitism should be relentlessly challenged’

Tory former cabinet minister Sajid Javid also wrote on Twitter: “Disappointed to see these tropes in today’s Guardian.

“Disturbing theme – or at best, lessons not learned?”

He linked to a previous Guardian cartoon by Steve Bell 2020, which drew accusations of racism, after depicting then home secretary Priti Patel, who is of Hindu heritage, as a huge bull with horns and a ring through her nose.

Former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith said: “The depiction of Richard Sharp in @guardian is deeply depressing.

“Antisemitism should be relentlessly challenged, day in day out. Lots to write about re the report this week, but why this?”

Historian Simon Sebag Montefiore branded it a “repellent explicitly racist cartoon”.

Responding to criticism, The Guardian said in a statement: “We understand the concerns that have been raised.

“This cartoon does not meet our editorial standards, and we have decided to remove it from our website.

“The Guardian apologises to Mr Sharp, to the Jewish community and to anyone offended.”

‘Things go horribly wrong’

Mr Rowson apologised on Twitter. He said: “Through carelessness and thoughtlessness I screwed up pretty badly with a Graun toon today & many people are understandably very upset.

“I genuinely apologise, unconditionally.”

In a longer statement on his website, he added: “Sometimes, like in this case, in the mad rush to cram as much in as possible in the five or so hours available to me to produce the artwork by deadline, things go horribly wrong.”

He continued: “I know Richard Sharp is Jewish; actually, while we’re collecting networks of croneyism, I was at school with him, though I doubt he remembers me.

“His Jewishness never crossed my mind as I drew him as it’s wholly irrelevant to the story or his actions, and it played no conscious role in how I twisted his features according to the standard cartooning playbook.

“Likewise, the cute squid and the little Rishi were no more than that, a cartoon squid and a short Prime Minister, it never occurring to me that some might see them as puppets of Sharp, this being another notorious antisemitic trope.”