I've had my differences with the Guardian readers' editor, Chris Elliott - and that on an issue in the same general ballpark - but credit it to him for his conclusion on the recent Steve Bell cartoon. Chris writes:
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.
Precisely so. It's very simple, but evidently not simple enough for Steve Bell himself. Having tried the 'innocent mind' plea, to the effect that he didn't mean any anti-Semitism, Bell now supplements that with a version of the Caryl Churchill argument: you know, I wasn't referring to Jews as a category. Chris quotes Steve Bell as follows:
... this is not about the Jews: it's about Binyamin Netanyahu... It's not antisemitic, it is focused on him as a politician, on his cynicism... it is a very specific cartoon about a very specific politician...
This is an equally vain plea - for a reason given by someone who wrote to the readers' editor's office:
The image is vile, in other words, in roughly the same way that portraying an African country or its leadership as monkeys eating bananas would be vile.
It would be vile even if, as would be inevitable, the African leadership portrayed were ever so specific - like a single person even. Remember this case? As Hugo Rifkind wrote (£) in the Times last week:
It [Bell's rationalization] made me think of a racist football fan trying to avoid prosecution by claiming that it was just his own honest and culturally isolated opinion that a footballer genuinely looked like a monkey.