In the recent furore about antisemitism on the left triggered by the uncovering of Jeremy Corbyn’s 2012 defence of Kalen Ockerman’s mural Freedom for Humanity, much of the coverage found it unnecessary to explain the nature of the mural’s antisemitism.
But explained it should be, if we want to learn from the episode rather than just use it as a factional gambit. First, there is the Eye of Providence which is depicted on the dollar bill, but is a common piece of antisemitic iconography (see below).
Then, the depiction of the bankers and capitalists. Most clearly, the banker on the left (apparently a representation of Nathan Rothschild) has a hooked nose, Fagin-esque beard and oversized hands moving towards the antisemitic caricature’s talons.
The artist is Kalen Ockerman, also known as Mear One. His style combines elements drawn from utopian/dystopian science fiction graphics, a dose of Stalinist socialist realism (lots of well-toned heroic workers staring resolutely into the middle distance), a large pinch of symbolism that could come anywhere from Dutch golden-age still life to Dali, and more than a little Buddhism and general mystical mumbo-jumbo. To judge for yourself, see www.mearone.com
Ockerman’s craft is public art and the communication of political messages: he should be sensitive of the different ways in which the images he uses will be interpreted. He is either an idiot or has deliberately inserted an antisemitic trope into his mural (or both).
These are not images of the type in the Nazi sheet Der Stürmer. Those were grosser, showing Jews as inhuman grotesques often identified with a Star of David to guide the not-so-bright reader. Such images have found continued currency in Stalinist antisemitic cartoons and in contemporary Middle Eastern anti-Israeli and antisemitic imagery, and echoes in leftwing caricature in Europe and US.
The Eye of Providence was not originally an antisemitic symbol. It depicts the all-seeing eye of God in the triangle of the Holy Trinity. It was adapted for the Great Seal of the United States with the thirteen tiers of the unfinished pyramid symbolising the founding states, and it is on the dollar bill.
It is a pictorial form of “One Nation Under God”. Thus, it could be argued that this is just a symbol of monetary, particularly American, power.
It has to be remembered that Ockerman’s business is communication through images. Anyone who has spent more than a minute or two looking at conspiracy theories on the internet will know that the image is used in antisemitic conspiracy theories, and particularly in association with Jewish bankers, and even more specifically the Rothschilds.
If you simply do use search engine to do an image search with “Jacob Rothschild” (the most recent scion of the banking family) you don’t have to scroll far before the Eye pops up. A little more searching on the internet will throw up any number of antisemitic rants accompanied by people branded with a Star of David with the Eye at its centre. In this context the New World Order (also highlighted on the mural) means the one that this Jewish conspiracy seeks to implement.
Since the Corbyn story broke, Ockerman has defended himself (bizarrely, choosing to do so exclusively on the website of right-wing conspiracy theorist David Icke, but more on that later), and has defenders elsewhere on the internet, including on pro-Corbyn Facebook pages.
The gist of these defences are that there are no caricatures (which is simply untrue); not all the bankers or capitalists are Jewish (not the point); and that the Eye of Providence is not indicative of a Jewish banking conspiracy (in fact, it is widely used to indicate that).
If I were a cynic, I would suggest that Ockerman has put just enough antisemitism in the mural to keep it deniable. But that gives him too much credit.
In his defence on David Icke’s site he suggests that there is no antisemitic connection to the Eye of Providence, and then suggests that there is a Star of David on the eagle motif on the other side of the US Great Seal.
He then recounts how some Jewish people questioned his imagery while he was painting. He brushes that aside by saying that there are only two Jewish bankers in the group and it includes the Satanist Aleister Crowley.
The sketch that Ockerman was working from (available at bit.ly/ock-sk") suggests his account is untrue. It includes the names of the bankers or capitalists. None is Crowley. It would appear that he was intending to paint the industrialist Andrew Carnegie, but executed it so poorly that he claimed it is Crowley.
It appears that the second banker from the left in the sketch is wearing a kippah, and the name on the sketch is not the non-Jewish Rockefeller whom Ockerman later claimed was represented there.
Ockerman has made great play of the third banker from the left being the non-Jewish J P Morgan (who did posses a large nose in later life, related to his conspicuous consumption of food and drink). But Morgan was fat, and while his hair thinned towards the end of his life, he was never bald.
The mural image looks much more like the Jewish banker Felix Warburg (or possibly one of his equally luxuriantly moustachioed brothers, Paul or Max), and not at all like a depiction by Ockerman of Morgan in a work prior to 2012.
Ockerman’s defenders say than none of this is proof. But this is not the first time that Ockerman has defended his mural. He previously did so using less careful language in a 2016 Facebook post (bit.ly/ock-16").
Although the mural has nothing to do with Israel, he states that “I was labelled Anti Semitic by the Zionist and unconscious supporters of capitalism”.
He goes on to praise David Icke as “one of a select few who are willing to take a stand against the crimes of humanity committed by the Zionist elite governing the state of Israel and the U.S.”
Ockerman links both to the oppression of Palestinians by Israel and to this international elite of “pure evil… unbridled pursuit of money and power.” There follows a link to a video by Icke where he argues the world is dominated by “Rothschild Zionists”, a secret conspiracy of Jews and crypto-Jews.
This puts the Eye of Providence and caricatured Jewish bankers into their antisemitic context.
Ockerman should not simply be considered someone who has lost his soul to conspiracy theories on the internet. He has developed his ideas in an environment where genuine concern with the plight of the Palestinians can merged into an unfocused anti-capitalism and ideas of the power of the Jewish/Zionist lobby, and so has already moved half way to antisemitic conspiracy theories. The old antisemitic trope of hidden power is recycled as “Zionist” power.
The left antisemitism that was once called the socialism of fools saw the Jewish capitalists as particularly worthy of attention. It is now being updated with the word “Zionist” in place of “Jewish”.
Until the left seeks to understand Israel without the demonising bogeys of absolute anti-Zionism, such left antisemitism as Ockerman’s will erupt again and again.