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There is only one word for Jeremy Corbyn

Mr Corbyn's explanation of his defence of an antisemitic mural is clearly untrue

    Freedom for Humanity by Kalen Ockerman
    Freedom for Humanity by Kalen Ockerman

    The word liar is overused in politics. Politicians rarely lie, if for no other reason than the risk of being caught out.

    But sometimes it is the only appropriate word – when a politician is guilty of a deliberate attempt at distorting the truth willfully and shamelessly.

    That time is now, and the politician is Jeremy Corbyn.

    In November 2015, the JC reported that back in 2012, Jeremy Corbyn had defended the existence of a mural which had been widely condemned as being antisemitic.

    The work, Freedom for Humanity, was painted near Brick Lane in London’s East End by “graffiti artist” Kalen Ockerman, who goes by the name of Mear One.

    Its intent was obvious. It showed businessmen and bankers sitting counting their money. Not only did they look like obvious caricatures of Jews – in a style reminiscent of Nazi propaganda in the 1930s – the artist himself confirmed they were intended as such, writing: “Some of the older white Jewish folk in the local community had an issue with me portraying their beloved #Rothschild or #Warburg etc as the demons they are.”

    Anyone with even a basic knowledge of politics, history and the world would see that the work was caricaturing Jews. And, to be blunt, anyone denying that is indulging in sophistry of the most pathetically unconvincing kind.

    Indeed, the then Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfar Rahman, himself ordered council officials to “do everything possible” to remove the mural, agreeing that “the images of the bankers perpetuate anti-Semitic propaganda about conspiratorial Jewish domination of financial institutions.”

    To repeat: this was not a controversial view. The artist himself held it, publicly.

    But when Mr Ockerman wrote on Facebook that his mural was to be removed, a then insignificant Labour MP expressed his support for the piece, writing in response: “Why? You are in good company. Rockerfeller destroyed Diego Viera’s mural because it includes a picture of Lenin.”

    Mr Corbyn was referring to the removal in 1934 of a work by Mexican artist Diego Rivera from the Rockefeller Centre in New York.

    When we unearthed Mr Corbyn’s 2012 comment in 2015, we contacted his office for a response, asking about his support for a clearly antisemitic mural remaining on display.

    No response was forthcoming then or, indeed, for over two years – until yesterday, when the Labour MP Luciana Berger came across the story and asked Mr Corbyn’s office for a response.

    That response was perhaps the most appalling single comment by any mainstream party leader of my lifetime.

    A spokesman for the Labour leader said: "In 2012, Jeremy was responding to concerns about the removal of public art on grounds of freedom of speech. However, the mural was offensive, used antisemitic imagery, which has no place in our society, and it is right that it was removed."

    The more one thinks about this, the more shocking it is. The statement acknowledges what it could hardly deny, that the mural was antisemitic. But it also says that Mr Corbyn was defending it on “grounds of freedom of speech”. In other words, we are expected to accept that it was perfectly fine for the leader of the Labour Party to support the existence of a large public antisemitic mural.

    The free speech argument is, of course, risible. Few politicians have been less committed to upholding free speech principles than Mr Corbyn. In February 2006, for example, he did not merely attend but spoke at a rally in London against the Danish cartoons of Mohammed published in the Jyllands-Posten.

    The obvious truth of the matter is that he liked the mural and saw it as wrong that it should be destroyed. There is almost no room for ambiguity over this, despite his spokesman’s attempt yesterday to create some.

    But deplorable as this was, it was not even the worst aspect of this affair.

    The spokesman's comment prompted outrage on social media and from some Labour MPs. Ian Austin, who has consistently stood up to Mr Corbyn and taken him to task over antisemitism, tweeted: "Luciana won't be alone. I think lots of Labour members will want an explanation for this." Gavin Shuker, MP for Luton South, said that the statement from Mr Corbyn's spokesman "isn't even an apology. I know this is like screaming into the wind; it'll make zero difference; but I want to state that this is just so wrong. It's impossible to confront anti-Semitism in our party if this is the response from the very top."

    And Ms Berger said the response was "wholly inadequate".

    Even Mr Corbyn’s office could see that its explanation made things worse. So a few hours later, a statement from Mr Corbyn himself was issued:

    "In 2012 I made a general comment about the removal of public art on grounds of freedom of speech. My comment referred to the destruction of the mural Man at the Crossroads by Diego Rivera on the Rockefeller Center.

    "That is in no way comparable with the mural in the original post. I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on, the contents of which are deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic.

    "I wholeheartedly support its removal.

    "I am opposed to the production of anti-Semitic material of any kind, and the defence of free speech cannot be used as a justification for the promotion of anti-Semitism in any form. That is a view I've always held."

    As I wrote at the start, the word “lie” is overused in politics. But it is impossible not to regard this statement as a lie.

    Mr Corbyn saw the image. He went out of his way to comment on it on Facebook. He knew what the mural depicted; it is not possible not to see that after even a moment’s glance. The Jewish caricatures were the entire point of the mural.

    This incident must be judged on its own terms and those terms show that Jeremy Corbyn a) defended an antisemitic mural b) refused to answer questions on that defence for over two years c) when pushed for an explanation by a Labour MP argued that it was a free speech issue and then d) said that he hadn’t really looked at it.

    But there is a pattern here. Only last week, Mr Corbyn was revealed as having been an active member of a private Facebook group which was suffused with antisemitism. His excuse then was the same as his latest excuse yesterday: that he hadn’t noticed it.

    This newspaper has spent the two years and six months since Mr Corbyn’s election as Labour leader exposing antisemitism within the Labour Party. Barely a day has gone by in that time when another incident has not emerged.

    During his first leadership campaign in 2015 we posed seven questions to Mr Corbyn on the front page of the JC over what we already knew back then about his unsavoury associations with antisemites. To date, no serious response has been given even to those original questions.

    Now this, and last week’s Facebook story.

    Mr Corbyn protests that he cares about antisemitism “and all forms of racism”, in the formulation he insists on using.

    Mr Corbyn is a liar.

     

     

     

     

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