Art is no excuse for racism and anti-Semitism

When it comes to anti-Semitism, the fundamental and most important factor should not be so much about the motive of the offender; it should be focused on the deep offence and distress it has caused to the victims.

On Tuesday 14/03 Shomrim in Stamford Hill tweeted that they reported to Police and to the Local Authority a triangle road sign that was fixed just 200 yards from a Synagogue, a sign that is generally used as a warning, to alert motorists of ‘caution/beware’, with a silhouette of an Orthodox Jew wearing a hat, long coat and side curls.

Overnight, the story hit national and international headlines, and was Wednesdays number one discussed topic on Twitter, with the words ‘Beware of Jews’ trending in the United Kingdom for 14 and a quarter hours.

Then around midday, Franck Allais, a French photographer, came forward, claiming responsibility, and admitted it was a silhouette of a Jew, he said “of course, it was a Jewish man — everyone in the area knows that. I cannot pretend it is not a Jewish man. But I did it because I like the different characters in the area.”

He also apologised saying “I am sorry for any offence caused” explaining that “it was a project about crossing the road”.

A 44 year old man was later interviewed by Police ‘under caution’.

Many people were satisfied with this latest development and happy that it was not a Neo-Nazi behind it.

But what puzzled me was how lots of people including journalists somehow assumed that because it was part of an “art” project, this sign was not offensive.

Although I am very pleased that we do not appear to have a Neo-Nazi breathing down our throats on this occasion; yes I will give the photographer the benefit of the doubt for now and not question his motive behind this offensive publicity stunt, and accept his apology as sincere; we must not get carried away from the reality of the consequences and deep offence caused by the carelessness of this photographer.

The sign in itself was offensive and was undoubtedly going to cause alarm and distress, and it became no less offensive because it was part of an “art” project.

As an example, if I were to place different political symbols around London, and placed a symbol of a Nazi Swastika near a Synagogue in Stamford Hill, would it be less offensive because it was part of an “art” project about different symbols? Obviously not! The same should be applied here.

I was pleased to see this view shared by David Munro, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey, who said: “As the national lead for Equalities, Diversity and Human Rights (EDHR), I take incidents of these kind very seriously.

“When this was brought to my attention, I was dismayed with the true lack of thought given by the artist for the distress this could cause to those of Jewish backgrounds.

“The work of Mr Allais is incredibly irresponsible… The location and connotations of the sign was undoubtedly going to cause alarm and offense and Mr Allais simply should have known better.”

This was echoed by the Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott MP, whose message in an email to the local Jewish Community was very clear, she said: “I was disgusted by the anti-Semitic “art” work put up in Stamford Hill recently. Art is no excuse for racism and anti-Semitism.”

I hope that you will agree with the above and certainly hope that the appropriate lessons have been learnt from this incident, that something similar will not be repeated. Feel free to Tweet me @ShulemStern with your own views and feedback.

About the Author
Shulem Stern is a prominent member of London's Orthodox Jewish and Charedi community in Stamford Hill. Shulem has done a lot of work with victims of anti-Semitic Hate Crime in the Charedi Community in Stamford Hill, London UK, as well as raising awareness to this issue. Shulem, @ShulemStern on Twitter, has earned the nickname of a 'Twitter Guru' as he regularly helps other Twitter users, with his immense knowledge and expertise with the social media platform.
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