Pro-Palestinian activism doesn't excuse antisemitism

Rapper Lowkey has repeatedly pushed a series of antisemitic claims

April 06, 2022 10:14

Recently the pro-Israel campaign group We Believe in Israel appealed to music giant Spotify to remove what they describe as “problematic content” from its platform. This includes music by the rapper Kareem Dennis, known as Lowkey. This has kicked off a backlash of support for Lowkey that includes celebrities ranging from actor Mark Ruffalo to comedian Frankie Boyle, musician Roger Waters and journalist Peter Beinart and intellectual Cornel West who, along with over 36,000 others, have signed a petition on his behalf. In the petition the claim is made that: “Lowkey has become the target of a coordinated smear campaign to demonize, defame and deplatform him.”

But has he been smeared or is there legitimate concern over the things he has said?

In a recent interview with Electronic Intifada contributor Asa Winstanley entitled ‘A History of NATO and Nazis’ Lowkey claimed that: "the MSM has weaponized the Jewish heritage of Zelensky the President of Ukraine to try to stave off these genuine inquiries into the groups fighting in Ukraine".

Last month he appeared as a guest on a programme called ‘Zionism and Ukraine’ broadcast on Iranian propaganda channel Press TV. The show was produced by recently sacked Bristol University professor David Miller and hosted by former Labour Member of Parliament Chris Williamson. During the show, Williamson asks Lowkey to elaborate on the relationship between Ukrainian Jewish oligarch Igor Kolomoisky and President Zelensky, to which Lowkey responds: “Igor Kolomoisky a triple citizen, even though it’s illegal in Ukrainian law, of Ukraine, Cyprus and the Israeli regime…he’s also a citizen of that entity. He’s also a backer of the TV shows that Zelenskyy was a major star of and he was able to take him from being that star to his landslide victory to the landslide election in 2019.

"What’s interesting is that in addition to funding Zelensky he funded the Azov battalion and the Eidar battalion as well at the same time. Essentially the period of thrusting Zelenskyy in front of the masses on TV Kolomoisky was also funding these explicitly right wing and neo Nazi groups.”

Quite why Kolomoisky’s various passports are of relevance here is known only to Lowkey. There is a Ukrainian oligarch called Igor Kolomoisky, though Lowkey neglects to mention he was governor of the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast in March 2014 when the Russians first launched their operations against Ukraine. The oblast is the area from which President Zelensky hails and contains the strategically important town of Dnipro which the Russians have bombed in their recent invasion. The district was close to the front line after the Russian invasion in 2014 when the Ukrainian military consisted of just a few thousand soldiers so the billionaire governor stepped in with his own funds. Newsweek reported he spent $10 million on weapons and equipment for about 10 irregular militias to fight back against the Russian advance, the neo Nazi militia Azov being one of them. Kolomoisky was sacked as governor in 2015 and the militias he funded absorbed into Ukrainian military structures.

Zelensky’s connection with the oligarch is that he starred in a TV show produced by the oligarch’s media company and received campaign funding from him. While the two were reportedly close the Spectator reports that they fell out over the fact that Kolomoisky has been calling for closer ties with Russia for the past several years. 

None of the three people on the Press TV show are strangers to controversy. Williamson has claimed in the past that “the political class has been captured in this country on both sides of the chamber in the house of commons all political parties have been captured by the Zionist lobby”. David Miller has become notorious for his comments on Zionism being an “enemy” and has referred to the Jewish Society at Bristol University as “political pawns [used] by a violent, racist foreign regime” and claimed “The Zionist movement and the Israeli govt are the enemy of the left, the enemy of world peace and they must be directly targeted". Miller recently claimed “the Russians are winning” on George Galloway’s show Sputnik broadcast on Russian state media channel RT. Lowkey spent an hour interviewing Miller in the wake of his dismissal from Bristol university. 

If there was a playbook for antisemitic conspiracy theories the idea of a rich, powerful Jew installing another Jew as the President of a country in which he was manipulating Nazis for his own benefit would surely be in it. Few - other than Jewish groups - seem to have noticed. The Union of Jewish Students approached the National Union of Students with their concerns once they became aware Lowkey was scheduled to perform at the event marking the NUS centenary. Shortly after it became public knowledge that Lowkey was set to perform, the artist voluntarily withdrew from the event. But in the NUS statement about this affair, they condemned “harassment and misinformation against Lowkey”.

Lowkey remains a patron of the Stop the War Coalition, who have gone so far as to call him “one of the most important voices in our movement”. 

The argument that Russia has invaded Ukraine to “de-Nazify” the country doesn’t stand up to serious scrutiny. Voicing what amount to conspiracy theories about Jews and Jewish control, or constructing an individual Jew to represent all Jews, is to encourage antisemitic lies. So much of the defence of antisemitic tropes invokes Palestine as if there is a license to push antisemitic conspiracies if you engage in pro Palestine campaigning. But there is no such license. Antisemitism and lies need to be called out regardless of whether the person involved has pro Palestine credentials. 


April 06, 2022 10:14

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive