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OPINION: The pen is mightier than the abhorred

Richard Sharp, the Jewish (soon-to-be) former chairman of the BBC, his beady eyes dark and hollow, his nose long and bulbous, a smug grin across his face, clutches a box marked “Goldman Sachs” piled with gold coins, a squid and Rishi Sunak puppet.

Behind him lies a severed pig’s head and Boris “Jabba the Hut” Johnson, squatting on a pile of cash, reassuring his old pal: “Cheer up, matey! I put you down for a peerage in my resignation honours list!”

Do you find this newspaper cartoon funny ha-ha or unfunny racist? When you read its punchline, skewing chumocracy, do you genuinely take offence or just genuinely feel the need to be offended?

I ask the question as someone with deep love for satire’s talent at pissing off the powerful.

I ask as someone who fears its democratic cry is being drowned out by eggshells.

And I ask as the editor of a Jewish newspaper that publishes a weekly satirical cartoon and is accused of antisemitism every time my cartoonist sketches a schnoz of epic proportions.

The Guardian withdrew Martin Rowson’s cartoon after it was published on Saturday and apologised to Sharp and the Jewish community, saying it “did not meet our editorial standards”.

Was this the right thing to do or should the pen have been mightier than the abhorred?

Was this really a sinister and calculated attack on Richard Sharp’s religion?

A clear reference to antisemitic canards?

Or was Rowson just doing what he’s done for 40 years – being vulgar, scandalous even, pushing boundaries, holding money and power to account and making a bloody good point?

And, of course, let’s not forget, BEING FUNNY. “I put you down for a peerage in my resignation honours list!” is a cracking gag.

I am no fan of Rowson’s politics (he signed a bonkers letter in 2019 endorsing the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn), but cannot get enough of his pen.

Of course, there are profound historic sensitivities when it comes to depictions of Jews. The Nazis poisoned the caricature as an art form, using it for propaganda on posters and in the pages of Der Stürmer.

Religions that have not been psychopathically dehumanised in the same way tend not to be so touchy.

But a caricaturist must have something to hang his or her hat on.

They need and capture a subject’s essence. They need to over-emphasise physical features and the subject at hand and fearlessly exaggerate them – whatever they may be. Caricatures are not cartoons.

At its shady heart, the Richard Sharp affair is about cronyism. Not religion. It’s an old story, often told, and best dealt with by a merciless satirical sledgehammer. A caricature, after all, can paint a million words.

• First published by the Daily Express


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About Me

Newspaper editor and publisher with 30-years’ experience at national and local titles in the UK and USA including the Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and Jewish Advocate. Editor of Jewish News (Free Weekly Newspaper of the Year 2021/22) since 2009. Columnist for The Times, Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, Independent and others.


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