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I was wrong about the mural

For the past few weeks, I’ve been receiving email after email alerting me to a mural in Hanbury Street, off Brick Lane. It is the work of an artist called Kalen Ockerman, also known as “Mear One”.

One email, from a celebrated artist, expressed the view that it appeared to have been produced by a “spray can wielding time traveller from 30’s Berlin”. The others commented on what they perceived to be its antisemitic message. In short, they took the bearded and big nosed financiers in the middle of the mural to be Jews.

I’ve seen the mural, in person. It is clearly a conspiracist work. In particular, the use of the pyramid motif from the dollar bill is a favourite theme of those who are fixated on freemasons and illuminati. But were the men with beards supposed to be Jews? Well, possibly – but I’ve seen more obvious stereotypes of Jews deployed in antisemitic art.

This is what Mick Hartley had to say:

Do the members of that evil cabal have big hooked noses, by any chance?

Hmm….we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on that one. Just.

That was my view too.

Well, I was wrong. The JC reports:

Mr Ockerman is based in Los Angeles and completed the Tower Hamlets mural last month. On his Facebook page he admitted the mural was intended to depict Jewish bankers.

He wrote: “A group of conservatives do not like my mural and are playing a race card with me. My mural is about class and privilege. The banker group is made up of Jewish and white Anglos. For some reason they are saying I am antisemitic. This I am most definitely not… What I am against is class.”

Mr Ockerman asked supporters to “rally” at the mural and stop any attempts to remove it.

The illustration is actually a very clear exposition of Ockerman’s worldview. There’s a huge masonic world conspiracy, involving financiers and capitalists, who are thematically (but not exclusively) rich Jews.

His objection to being thought an antisemite is also worth examining. What Ockerman is essentially saying is “you don’t understand my conspiracy theory properly”. His point is that his conspiracy theory include Jews: but only as a component of the capitalist-illuminati-masonic conspiracy. And even then, not all Jews. Just rich Jews: the embodiment of Capitalism.

Ockerman really does not think that this is a racist perspective. He either doesn’t recognise the very ancient history of the rendering of Jews as the epitome of Capitalist exploiters (not to mention the Communist enslavers). Or he thinks that this is just, well, true.  Moreover, he thinks that he’s essentially engaged in a “class” rather than a “racial” struggle.

The equation of Jews with Capitalism is, once again, commonplace with people who think of themselves as Left wing.

Lutfur Rahman, the Islamic Forum Europe backed Mayor of Tower Hamlets, has called for the mural to be removed:

The mural is painted on the end wall of a private property, but Tower Hamlets Council said it was liaising with police to have the image removed.

Lutfur Rahman, the Tower Hamlets mayor, said: “I have received a number of complaints that the mural has antisemitic images. I share these concerns. Whether intentional or otherwise, the images of the bankers perpetuate antisemitic propaganda about conspiratorial Jewish domination of financial and political institutions.

“Where freedom of expression runs the risk of inciting racial hatred then it is right that such expression should be curtailed. I have asked my officers to do everything possible to see to it that this mural is removed.”

In one sense – good for him. There’s an irony though: in that the depiction of Jews in traditionally antisemitic terms is also stock in trade of his closest political allies.

Nevertheless, I’d oppose the whitewashing of the mural. It will be gone in due course – the wall is a shifting canvas for a range of artists, including the very impressive piece which preceded it, whose political message struck a chord with me.

But what a foul man Mr Ockerman is.