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Black Lives Matter Oxford faces antisemitism concerns

Black Lives Matter Oxford faced criticism from a South Oxfordshire councillor over posting a photo of the mural 'Freedom for Humanity', which is widely regarded as anti-Semitic.

CW: antisemitism, Racism

The group Black Lives Matter Oxford has been accused of antisemitism after posting a widely criticised mural as a cover photo for a Facebook event on Saturday. The photo gained attention following a tweet by South Oxfordshire Liberal Democrat councillor Alexandrine Kántor. Over the past weeks, Black Lives Matter UK has repeatedly faced concerns regarding antisemitic elements in the organisation. 

On June 27th, Black Lives Matter Oxford, an independent organisation showing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, posted a mural by graffiti artist Mear One which has been described as “combin[ing] a variety of antisemitic slurs” by the Jewish Chronicle. The mural was posted as a cover photo for the event ‘Freedom Summer BLM’, a solidarity march to be hosted on Saturday. 

Shortly after, Alexandrine Kántor, a South Oxfordshire Liberal Democrat Councillor, posted on Twitter: “The Oxford #BlackLivesMatter seems to think antisemitism is a [sic] acceptable way to fight racism. How disappointing. You don’t fight racism with racism.”

On Facebook, the councillor asked Black Lives Matter Oxford to remove the picture, saying she would otherwise report the group for racism.

In July 2018, Oxford City Council agreed to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism which includes “making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or […] Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions”.

Following posting this image on Facebook, Black Lives Matter Oxford retweeted a statement on Sunday from the organisation Black Lives Matter UK, which described “mainstream British politics [as] gagged of the right to critique Zionism”. The tweet has been widely condemned as antisemitic.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism, a major UK Jewish watchdog, has heavily criticised this tweet. The watchdog stated: “Black Lives Matter should aspire to be a movement against racism that unifies people and achieves lasting change, not a movement that spreads hatred and achieves lasting division.”

Black Lives Matter Oxford has replaced the mural photo on Facebook and published a formal apology on their Twitter account.

The statement reads: “We understand that recently an antisemitic image was used on one of our events. This is deeply concerning and the person who used the image is deeply sorry. We absolutely do not condone the image used and have since removed it.” 

“We will use this time to learn from their mistakes and ensure every person who attends our events feels safe. We stand resolutely against antisemitism, and see our struggles for liberation as interconnected.”

Black Lives Matter Oxford have also apologised for retweeting the Black Lives Matter UK statement regarding Palestine, saying: “We would like to state we are extremely upset and sorry concerning the retweet made by an unauthorised individual who was not given permission nor had cleared the action with us. The views implied do not represent us and we are working to ensure that this never occurs again.”

Source: Twitter (@Alexa_Kantor)

Speaking to Cherwell, Councillor Alexandrine Kántor said: “I do not think they have an issue with antisemitism, it was a case of not being aware and they have learnt from it and took action on their staff members to ensure this does not happen again.”

“Mistakes can happen and become opportunities to learn and educate ourselves. It is quite rare to receive an honest and meaningful apology, as well as actions to ensure this won’t happen again. Apologies appreciated and accepted, but this is not about me […]. I am an ally, I am very glad about their public statement. UK BLM should learn from them.”

Adam Bernstein, President of Oxford JSoc, told Cherwell: “We were disappointed to see it posted but pleased to see it taken down almost immediately. Oxford Jsoc remains determined to stand up to antisemitism and anti-black racism.”

The mural in question, titled ‘Freedom for Humanity’, depicts six men in suits under an Eye of Providence, playing a Monopoly-like board game that rests on the backs of naked, predominantly dark-skinned figures. The artist Mear One has confirmed that “the banker group is made up of Jewish and white Anglos”. On his Facebook page, he further stated: “For some reason they are saying I am antisemitic. This I am most definitely not… What I am against is class.” 

The Jewish Chronicle, an influential Jewish newspaper, wrote in 2018 about the mural: “The overall message is a classic conspiracy theory. […] Antisemitism has always had a left-wing version that fingered Jewish capitalists as the enemy of the good. Saying rich Jews are a class enemy is no less vile than saying they are a racial one.”

The article was published when Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader at the time, was heavily criticised for his reaction to the mural on social media during his time as a backbencher. He has since publicly stated his regret for his actions and described the contents of the mural as “deeply disturbing and antisemitic”.

Black Lives Matter Oxford has been contacted for comment. 

Background photo by Bablu Miah/ Flickr. Mural by Mear One.

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