Is the Mear One Mural, at the centre of the recent controversy, anti-semitic? This is the question being debated on twitter and Facebook at the moment. I’ve read several perspectives on it, ranging from, ‘it screams anti-semitic’ to ‘there is nothing anti-semitic about it whatsoever.’ Whenever I read such opposing views I always tend to shrink back from the whole subject, but this time I have dived in, reading tweets, FB posts and articles which have all helped me reach a settled view which I will try to explain. If you examine the mural from a dispassionate perspective, breaking it up into its constituent parts, you can make the argument against it being anti-semitic. This is a summary of the arguments I have heard to date: the artist strongly denies it is, the eye of providence features on the back of the dollar bill and stems from christianity, it is simply a critique of capitalism, the new world order most likely represents a sweeping away of the capitalist system, the six bankers represented were based on real bankers, two of whom just happen to be Jewish therefore it is not singling out Jews, if it’s anti-semitic to depict a negative character with a large nose are they going to ban Oliver Twist? I’ve probably missed something here, but this is the gist of the challenge to the anti-semitic charge made against the mural.
However there is something important missing amidst this analysis; empathy and understanding toward Jewish people who have a history so unique, so horrendous, their perspective should always be taken very seriously indeed.
I want to add a caveat here. Not all Jewish people see the Mural as anti-semitic, but that does not mean it isn’t for the vast majority. When we look at art, do we all see it the same? Of course not. We all look at art through the filter of our own emotions, lives, experiences, culture, race, gender, age, religion. That is the magic of art. And that is what is happening here. We are all looking at the same Mural and seeing something different. There is nothing wrong with that. And that means the people who don’t see it as anti-semitic are not anti-semitic, and the people who do, are not lying, or milking it to denigrate Jeremy Corbyn, who himself didn’t see any anti-semitism at first glance.
We all need to start being kinder to each other, more empathic on both sides of the fence. Only then can we build a bridge between us. So if you are Jewish, or even a non Jew who sees this Mural as blatantly anti-semitic, please go easy on those that are not seeing it. Explain the emotions it triggers in you. Explain the history of Nazi art and the anti-semitic tropes within it. And if you are failing to see anything anti-semitic in the Mural, please listen to the Jewish people who are telling you they find it disturbing, unsettling and upsetting. Please let’s stop shaming each other and listen to each other. We are all born ignorant. We don’t possess innate knowledge on anything. We just need to open our minds and our hearts to each other, and that way we will learn from each other. We don’t need to be all right, or all wrong. We can just have different views, but all the time respecting that other people might see things differently because of their unique perspective.
I think one of the primary reasons people have grown so defensive on the left is because for the past almost three years we have had to defend, defend and defend, time and time again.
We are either defending Jeremy against false charges of being a terrorist sympathiser, anti-British, anti-semitic, incompetent, sexist (because he didn’t appoint any women in the ‘top’ jobs), a disaster for our electoral chances, arch Brexiteer, communist, a traitor and a Czech spy, or we are defending ourselves against accusations of bullying, sexism, anti-semitism, extremism, naivete, idealism, self indulgence and cult thinking. It is relentless.
Only yesterday, Government minister Sajid Javid, referred to Momentum as a Neo-fascist group (something he has been challenged to repeat beyond the protective forcefield of Parliament, and which to date he has failed to do). That is the level of extreme abuse and smears we face on an almost daily basis. Currently our party is purported to be a nest of anti-semites. It does not matter that this is not born out by the evidence. There are apparently 74 cases of suspected anti-semitism being investigated against party members, which is 0.01% out of a party of 600,000 members. Of course that is far too many, but when you compare it to a recent survey by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, which found that over a quarter of all British people harboured at least one anti-semitic belief, with just over 2% holding extreme anti-semitic views, it does not seem to hold water to imply that Labour is a hotbed of anti-semitism. We are a party with a proud history of fighting racism and anti-semitism and that is still true.
No wonder then we bat away any criticism as a smear, and question the motives of those who denigrate us. And we are right to question those motives, because we all know they are not always pure. We know there are some who will not be satisfied until Corbyn resigns, or is annihilated at a General Election. They will take an innocent mistake Jeremy made six years ago, and milk it for all they are worth. I would even go so far as to say it is anti-semitic to exploit very real concerns about anti-semitism to further a quite separate agenda. We all rightly hold Jeremy Corbyn in high regard, and know he is being unjustly accused and targeted, and feel angry and defensive on his behalf. But when it comes to the Mural, I believe we need to respect his efforts to learn from a past mistake, rather than insinuate that he didn’t make one.
So yes, it’s difficult for us on the left to be open hearted and open minded when so many are trying to engineer our downfall. But we must try to tease out the genuine expressions of concern or unhappiness from those with an anti-Corbyn agenda. We must guard against instinctively throwing up our arms to defend ourselves from the punches, and instead take a deep breath, stay calm and seek counsel from people who are neutral on the issue or maybe pro Corbyn, but who are known for their balance and fairness.
And always remember, the Blairites and their Tory friends want us to grow weary, angry and defensive. They want us to attack them, shout liar, bat away legitimate complaints, because that feeds into their narrative of a closed down cult, who worships their leader and can’t see any wrong in anything he has ever done. Let’s NEVER give them what they want.