The making of a moral panic

JVL Introduction

Jonathan Cook, blogging from Nazareth, asks why the Mear One mural has aroused such venom now. The story was reported by the Jewish Chronicle back in 2015, when it suggested that the mural might have “antisemitic undertones”. No-one followed up the story which died a death…

The mural may well be antisemitic, but what has changed to make something that might have had “antisemitic overtones” a couple of years ago, into something that is “obviously antisemitic”? As Cook’s headline puts it: ‘The sharks circling around Corbyn scent blood’.

The sharks circling around Corbyn scent blood

After a short reprieve following Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpected success in Britain’s general election last year, when he only narrowly lost the popular vote, most of the Labour parlamentary party are back, determined to bring him down. And once again, they are being joined in full battle cry by the corporate media.

Last week, Corbyn was a Russian spy. This week we’re in more familiar territory, even if it has a new twist: Corbyn is not only a friend to anti-semites, it seems, but now he has been outed as a closet one himself.

In short, the Blairites in the parliamentary party are stepping up their game. Corbyn’s social justice agenda, his repudition of neoconservative wars of aggression masquerading as “humanitarianism” – lining the coffers of the west’s military-industrial elites – is a genuine threat to those who run our societies from the shadows.

The knife of choice for the Labour backstabbers this time is a wall mural removed from East London in 2012. At that time, before he became Labour leader, Corbyn expressed support on Facebook for the artist, Kalen Ockerman, known as Mear One. Corbyn observed that a famous anti-capitalist mural by the left-wing Mexican artist Diego Rivera was similarly removed from Manhattan’s Rockefeller Centre in 1934.

Interestingly, the issue of Corbyn’s support for the mural – or at least the artist – originally flared in late 2015, when the Jewish Chronicle unearthed his Facebook post. Two things were noticeably different about the coverage then.

First, on that occasion, no one apart from the Jewish Chronicle appeared to show much interest in the issue. Its “scoop” was not followed up by the rest of the media. What is now supposedly a major scandal, one that raises questions about Corbyn’s fitness to be Labour leader, was a non-issue two years ago, when it first became known.

Second, the Jewish Chronicle, usually so ready to get exercised at the smallest possible sign of anti-semitism, wasn’t entirely convinced back in 2015 that the mural was anti-semitic. In fact, it suggested only that the mural might have “antisemitic undertones” – and attributed even that claim to Corbyn’s critics.

And rather than claiming, as the entire corporate media is now, that the mural depicted a cabal of Jewish bankers, the Chronicle then described the scene as “a group of businessmen and bankers sitting around a Monopoly-style board and counting money”. By contrast, the Guardian abandoned normal reporting conventions yesterday to state in its news – rather than comment – pages unequivocally that the mural was “obviously antisemitic”.

Not that anyone is listening now, but the artist himself, Kalen Ockerman, has said that the group in his mural comprised historical figures closely associated with banking. His mural, he says, was about “class and privilege”, and the figures depicted included both “Jewish and white Anglos”. The fact that he included famous bankers like the Rothschilds and Rockefellers does not, on the face of it, seem to be proof of anti-semitism. They are, after all, among the few banking dynasties most people, myself included, could name. These families are about as closely identified with capitalism as it is possible to be.

There is an argument to be had about the responsibilities of artists – even street artists – to be careful in their visual representations. But Ockerman’s message was not a subtle or nuanced one. He was depicting class war, the war the capitalist class wages every day on the weak and poor. If Ockerman’s message is inflammatory, it is much less so than the reality of how our societies have been built on the backs and the suffering of the majority.

Corbyn has bowed to his critics – a mix of the Blairites within his party and Israel’s cheerleaders – and apologised for offering support to Ockerman, just as he has caved in to pressure each time the anti-semitism card has been played against him.

This may look like wise, or safe, politics to his advisers. But these critics have only two possible outcomes that will satisfy them. Either Corbyn is harried from the party leadership, or he is intimidated into diluting his platform into irrelevance – he becomes just another compromised politician catering to the interests of the 1 per cent.

The sharks circling around him will not ignore the scent of his bloodied wounds; rather, it will send them into a feeding frenzy. As hard as it is to do when the elites so clearly want him destroyed, Corbyn must find his backbone and start to stand his ground.


This piece in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz by their senior columnnist Anshel Pfeffer sums up a lot of the sophistry (intentional or otherwise) underscoring the conflation of leftwing critiques of neoliberalism and globalism with rightwing ultra-nationalism and anti-semitism.

Pfeffer writes:

The conspiracy theories of globalist bankers utilizing mainstream media and corrupt neoliberal politicians to serve their selfish sinister purposes, rather than those of ordinary people, are identical whether from left or right.

And on either side, most of the theorists will never admit to being anti-Semitic. They are just “anti-racist” or “anti-imperialist” if on the left, or “pro-Israel” on the right. And most of them really believe they have nothing against Jews, even while parroting themes straight out of the Protocols [of the Elders of Zion].

Notice the problem here. If you are a radical leftist who believes, as generations of leftists before you have done, that military, political, media, and financial elites operate in the shadows to promote their interests, to wage class war, then not only are you a conspiracy theorist, but, according to Pfeffer, you are by definition anti-semitic. If you believe that an Establishment or a Deep State exists to advance its interests against the great majority, you hate Jews.

The logic of Corbyn’s critics has rarely been articulated so forthrightly and so preposterously as it is here by Pfeffer. But make no mistake, this is the logic of his critics.

Jonthan Cook adds: No one pays me to write these blog posts. If you appreciated it, or any of the others, please consider hitting the donate button on this webpage.

Comments (16)

  • Jim Denham says:

    I note that the article doesn’t provide any serious evidence to deny the obvious, that anyone can see with their own eyes: that the mural *was* antisemitic. Why would you, then, blame campaigners for timing the use of the issue to attack the guilty parities (in this case, Corbyn) as and when it would be most effective?

    • Stephen Bellamy says:

      Jim, as someone that hosts Jonathan Hoffmanon your blog, you are not well placed to be taken seriously on any of this.

    • Richard Kuper says:

      The point the article makes is that the Jewish Chronicle in 2015 didn’t see the mural as self-evidently antisemitic. Something has changed in the last two years to make it so obvious that “anyone can see with their own eyes: that the mural *was* antisemitic”.

      Your beef is surely with the Jewish Cronicle in 2015 for failing to have seen the blindingly obvious – and for the rest of the media for failing to have taken up the story. In other words they sat on a blindingly obvious case of antisemitism in order to to release it – again – when they hoped it could do maximm damage to Jeremy Corbyn.

      That’s called weaponising antisemitism. It has nothing to do with fighting the real threat of real antisemitism in the real world.

  • sandra yvonne yehya says:

    The Blairites are back trying to unseat Mr. Corbyn, and I can guess why. Many of them are facing some very awkward questions, very awkward, in their constituencies. But it will not work. People are asking more questions about this group in the parliamentary party and more importantly about what it means to be anti-Semitic: why people are being labelled in this way because they do not support racism, apartheid, theft, appropriation and murder in Gaza and the Occupied West Bank. It will backfire on them.

  • Miriam Yagud says:

    Thankyou for the back story. It explains how the perception of this mural as innocuous was weaponised to attack Corbyn at this specific time;the start of the local government elections. I will share this far and wide.

  • Stephen Bellamy says:

    The significant point that Jonathan makes is that unless Corbyn and those around him fuelling all this batchit find some backbone Corbyn is on a headlong fall into irrelevance. The letter Corbyn has written is vomit inducing.

  • Jim Denham says:

    Richard Kuper: never mind what the Jewish Chronicle said in 2015: assuming you’ve now seen pictures of the mural with your own eyes, are you seriously denying that it’s OBVIOUSLY anti-Semitic?

    Steven Bellamy: how many more times do I have to tell you? I don’t know who Jonathan Hoffman is and have *never* “hosted” him on Shiraz Socialist. Provide some evidence, or withdraw your allegation.

  • Stephen Bellamy says:

    There were two other occasions and the topics were ” antisemitism ” but you have removed them

    • Jim Denham says:

      Steven: Your link has nothing whatsoever to do with anything to do with “Jonathan Hoffman”.

      I have *never* removed any posts or comments from Shiraz Socialist.

      [This post has been edited and this very particular thread is closed]

  • Greg Dropkin says:

    I appreciate that this may look like it’s about the May elections. But I
    really doubt it.

    We know that the Israeli Embassy played a direct role in earlier interventions in Labour – as first exposed by the Electronic Intifada and then in the Al Jazeera documentary “The Lobby”

    It is surely possible that the Embassy has some involvement in the current bout of

    What might the Embassy’s concern be right now – as distinct from their general longstanding wish to align with the Labour Right to dump Corbyn (which never changes no matter how he tries to pacify them)? As Jonathan Cook argues, it can’t possibly be Corbyn’s comments over a mural in 2012 – now 6 years ago and 3 years after the Jewish Chronicle piece. Why now?

    I think it’s what’s about to happen in Palestine, and particularly Gaza, starting this Friday and running through to 15 May – and how the world will react to that. If they can rewrite the outrage here as yet another example of Labour antisemitism, they will. Influencing the international response is part of military strategy (not just for Israel). In July 2014, it took 5 days of total war before even the fact of mass casualties in Gaza surfaced on the BBC, by which time another narrative had been established.

    It’s clear Israel is preparing a military response – though of course we don’t know if they will carry it out.

    From the Israeli press:

    Whilst Corbyn’s opponents and supporters in Labour may be looking at the May elections, Palestine may explain the timing.

  • Bob Pitt says:

    Back in 2012 people expressed different opinions on the antisemitic character of the Brick Lane mural. I checked the Islamophobia Watch archives and found that I described it as “a clearly racist mural featuring antisemitic caricatures of scheming Jewish bankers” and backed Lutfur Rahman’s call for it to be removed. Others took a contrary view. For example:

    “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.”

    The quote is from the aggressively Zionist blog Harry’s Place. Of course, that was before the mural was weaponised as part of the political campaign against Corbyn. Now it has become (in the words of Jim Denham) “OBVIOUSLY anti-Semitic” and anyone who questions that view is an antisemite themselves.

  • Bernard Gibbons says:

    Didn’t Denham’s mob republish the Danish Mohammed cartoons in the name of “defence of free speech”?

  • Jim Denham says:

    I would indeed say the mural is “OBVIOUSLY” anti-Semitic, but probably quite clever – knowingly walking the line of deniability. I wouldn’t even base that assessment on the argument that the bankers in the mural are meant to be real people. I am guessing for the first for the left is meant to be Nathan de Rothschild (first Baron, not his grandfather, Nathan Mayer d R) or possibly his son Walter – looks like Fagan, open and shut caricature (neither of the two real de Rs had wild beards or large noses).

    I assume that third from the left is J P Morgan (not Jewish, but did have a prominent nose, particularly later in life) but he was never that bald and therefore could be Edmund de R (not a big nosed man).

    The others? I have read that there is another Rothschild, a Warburg and another non-Jew, John D. Rockefeller (possibly John Jr. is second from the left) but I am not seeing the others.

    The illuminati and the “new world order” have clear association with antisemitic associations in the world of conspiracy theory. This guy is clearly drawing on a range of racist sources, although I think the claims that this is something that the Nazis could put on a wall (John Humphreys on the Today programme) or from the page of Der Sturm (D’Acona in the Graun) are over-egging it – this is, I think, more knowingly walking the line of deniability than stamping gross caricatures with the star of David just to make sure.

  • Richard Kuper says:

    I gather that Kalen Ockerman who created the mural, has identified the men as Rothschild, Rockefeller, Morgan, (Aleister) Crowley, Carnegie & Warburg (left to right). The first and last are Jewish, the others not. The placard on the left reads: “The new world order is the enemy of humanity”

    A number of readings are possible, but I cannot see how NOT to read it as antisemitic as well, whatever else it might be. These men are symbols of capital, yes; but depicting even one Jewish financier in this way inevitably bring with it the old antisemitic baggage – whatever the intentions of the artist may have been. (And if it is supposedly a depiction of the new world order, you wonder why the chosen hate figures go back to the early twentieth century…)

  • Col says:

    Isn’t the problem here that if you are going to attack the financiers of war and slavery then that will necessarily include the most powerful people on the planet, some of whom are Jewish. It doesn’t make it anti-semitic. You have to incorporate some weird logic to jump into that pseudo-reality.

    • Mike Cushman says:

      You could argue that if you forget about centuries of antisemitic abuse about Jewish financiers controlling the world.

      This misses the central point, while on reflections it is easy to see antisemitic attitude underpinning the mural on a quick glance on an FB sized image of the mural it is not obvious; that was what Corbyn responded to. It was, in hindsight, a misjudgement but it takes considerable mental agility to infer antisemitic intent on Corbyn’s part.

      Indeed the Jewish Chronicle when it first reported on the mural in 2015 (3 years after the Facebook incident) did not see the mural as grossly antisemitic but as highly problematic and supported its removal but made no further claims. It is only three years later that a cacophony of abuse surges. If these people had been so offended why had they kept silent for 3 or even 6 years when the Jewish Chronicle had already brought it to their attention?

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