Guardian apologises to Richard Sharp and Jewish community over pulled cartoon

The Guardian has apologised to the Jewish community and Richard Sharp after publishing a cartoon that has been described as “antisemitic”.

The newspaper removed a drawing – which depicted Mr Sharp who announced his resignation as BBC chair earlier in the week – by Martin Rowson from the Guardian website, saying it “did not meet our editorial standards” on Saturday.

It follows a review finding that Mr Sharp, a former Tory donor, broke the rules by failing to disclose that he played a role in getting then-PM Boris Johnson an £800,000 loan guarantee.

In a statement, The Guardian said: “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.”

The cartoon featured a depiction of Mr Sharp with a box marked Goldman Sachs, where he used to work, that contained what appears to be a puppet of the current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, an animal that looks like a squid and a CV – while a Mr Johnson figure sits on money.

Cartoonist Rowson also apologised, saying: “Satirists, even though largely licenced to speak the unspeakable in liberal democracies, are no more immune to f****** things up than anyone else, which is what I did here.

“I know Richard Sharp is Jewish; actually, while we’re collecting networks of cronyism, 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.”

The cartoon has been described as having “antisemitic imagery” such as “outsized, grotesque features” alongside “money and power”.

Rowson added: “The cartoon was a failure and on many levels: I offended the wrong people, Sharp wasn’t the main target of the satire, I rushed at something without allowing enough time to consider things with the depth and care they require, and thereby letting slip in stupid ambiguities that have ended up appearing to be something I never intended.”

Posting on Twitter on Saturday, author David Rich said: “The depiction of Richard Sharp in today’s @guardian cartoon falls squarely into an antisemitic tradition of depicting Jews with outsized, grotesque features, often in conjunction with money and power. It’s appalling.”

Rich, who is the author of Everyday Hate: How Antisemitism Is Built Into Our world – And How You Can Change It and The Left’s Jewish Problem, also explained how the animals that have tentacles are used in negative drawings.

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?”

“You might argue that outsized facial features and tentacles are common to other topics too, so it’s just a cartoon thing.

“Except where something has a long and familiar antisemitic history, it takes on a different meaning when you apply it to Jews.”

Lord Austin of Dudley, who was a Labour MP before he quit the party over what he called a “culture of extremism, antisemitism and intolerance” in 2019, described the cartoon as having “antisemitic imagery” and said the newspaper should be “ashamed”.

Former chancellor and health secretary Sajid Javid also wrote on Twitter: “Disappointed to see these tropes in today’s Guardian.

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

Julian Smith MP also wrote: “The depiction of Richard Sharp in @guardian is deeply depressing.

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

Gideon Falter, chief executive of Campaign Against Antisemitism, pointed out that the cartoon came when people who practice Judaism “observed the Sabbath” and called it a “resignation offence” for editor Katharine Viner.

He added: “Though the cartoon has now been deleted, and the cartoonist has apologetically declared that the catalogue of anti-Jewish imagery…were all a mistake, it was waved through by editors.”