Updated: Apr 17, 2021
How sad then that the leader of the official opposition in the United Kingdom, is in the news again for repercussions from the growing antisemitism, on the far left. This, seemingly, some would have us think, is, to revive the phrase, a little local difficulty. But it is one with, in my view, and I am sure of many who learn of it, more than that. It is an unusual universal travesty! A mural was painted on a wall six years ago in East London. And therein is the subject of concern.
It was and is, an area with a Jewish community. In the years before the second world war, it was not that many miles away, that the wretched British Fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, marched, with his Blackshirts.Thankfully, the people of the East end of London, like most of their fellow country men and women, were, to express it, with the best of British reserve, unimpressed.
The same was true of the reaction to the ghastly mural, painted seventy years after the ghastly Mosley. The mural, like much of the rhetoric of the Fascists, maligned, the Jews. As with a significant portion of the propaganda of the Nazis, it did so masking hatred, with, satire. Just as the Nazi film machine, devoid of the talent for humanity, at the heart of artistry, hithertoo, caricatured Jews, physically, so too did this mural. Every stereotype was there for all to see. The depiction was of the bogeyman of the modern era, bankers. But the subjects were not as important as the subject, or so the painter would have us believe. The Freedom of Humanity, was it's title. Its pictorial representation or interpretation of this great theme, was as grotesque as one can imagine. For the protagonist of the piece, was the villain of the piece, the Jews. Hook nosed, full bearded and not, each a Disney villain, without the warmth of the Disney style, each a pantomime villain, without the humour of the pantomime genre! Here were the Rothschilds! And there before us were the suffering victims of their, banking, malevolence and greed! In a style that makes Guernica, Picasso's Spanish civil war painting, seem like a kid's comic book, larger than life on the High Street, here was Goebbels in the modern era! Pretty soon, the objections came, thankfully, and of course! The local Mayor, himself a controversial figure, was amongst them. The hideously overblown, and offensive, mural, was ordered to be painted over. People do not take kindly to being insulted visually while they do their shopping and go about their business in their own community!
A rather lone voice on Facebook, was sympathetic to the artist. He pointed out to the man who made the mural, that he, was in good company. Diego Rivera, the great muralist partner, of the very great, Frida Kahlo, was sighted, by this lone voice, as having had to sucumb to this sort of disdain for his work, though the lone voice spelled his name completely upside down, a little like his view, literally of the image ! Few noticed the interaction on social media. The lone voice was then a loner, a back bench member of parliament, a left wing protestor, of some renown, mainly in the left wing protest circles he frequented.
Two years later, or more, during which, and since, the self same man, has become the leader of the opposition, and in recent months in particular, has gained what some call a cult following, this old mural, is in the news, this time, not in the East end of London, or buried in likes and dislikes on social media, but in the news media nationally. The story has been revived, because the Facebook posts have been rediscovred. Because in those two or more years, the antisemitism of the far left, has, like that on the far right we know too well, seemed to have gathered a pace. It's twin or pet hates, Israel and capitalism, and it's blame of the Jews as purveying the values of both or it's conveying of it as seemingly their stance, has become a regular feature of discord in discussion. The leader of the opposition, has had, on too many occassions, to defend the indefensible, associations with unsavoury, antisemitic extremists. It is especially demoralising, as this man has a genuine reputation for anti-racism. He also however, has a frequent tendency to being involved in naive interaction.
That this man is no antisemite, has always been accepted, correctly. But now he is, by many, seen, and that is the operative word, seen, to be something else. He is, for many, in their view, and that also, is the operative word, the view, of him, which is as someone, oblivious. He said, of the mural, " I sincerely regret I didn't look more closely." He didn't see what was in full view?! He didn't notice what he commented on?! He didn't look more closely?! Cosy camaradarie, with an artist, or crass carelessness by the politician, or what was it ?!
"We didn't know." "We didn't see." This was the excuse in another era. You were not looking! This is the reposte. It is all too familiar, even to those of us who were not there, seventy years ago, in the East of Europe, or London, or six or seven years ago, when a mural was as offensive . If the leader of the political party, well placed to govern, cannot see what is obvious, he is not fit to do so.
Jeremy Corbyn, " ...didn't look." That is a problem. We are in divisive times, it is essential that we look and listen and learn. If the leader of the opposition didn't look at the mural, or didn't see it properly in a small posting on Facebook, but did comment, he needs to listen to people who realise he has much to learn about the difference between protest and power. That difference, gives no room to indifference. That is what "didn't look," means, and it means we must make sure that we do.
Author : LORENZO CHERIN