You know there’s a problem when one of Los Angeles’s most avant garde
event spaces unapologetically showcases a mural of the Grim Reaper, cloaked in a Stars of David robe, holding a dead baby and a missile. Sadly, this is not a nightmare, it’s reality.
The Vortex, a 400-person venue in downtown Los Angeles, is currently showcasing the mural, created as part of the company’s “L.A. vs. War” art show. Mayor Eric Garcetti called the Jewish Grim Reaper a “shameful act of anti-Semitism,” but too many are silent. And from the mainstream media? Mostly crickets — and that is what should frighten people of good conscience the most.
Hatred disguised as socially charged art is hardly a new phenomenon.
In 1915, filmmaker D. W. Griffith made history with “The Birth of a Nation.” The film was years ahead of other silent films. It pioneered the use of thrilling chase scenes and other dramatic techniques. President Woodrow Wilson, a Democratic “progressive,” born in Virginia, who segregated the U.S. Postal Service, was a fan. He called it “history written with lightening.” Despite the president’s two enthusiastic thumbs up, the film was vile. It pictured African Americans — newly freed from slavery — as ignorant brutes, who terrorized white Southerners, even threatening to rape their wives and daughters during post-Civil War Reconstruction.
The newly formed National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) picketed Griffith’s film, but it inspired little concern otherwise. Quite the opposite. Not only did “The Birth of a Nation” package bigotry for the masses, it influenced the talkies, including artful Nazi propaganda films such as "Der ewige Jude" ("The Eternal Jew"), which made its debut during the Nazi blitzkrieg on Western Europe in 1940. That film featured an animated montage comparing Jewish migration through Europe with rats spreading disease in the street. It was a powerful moving image, which dehumanized European Jewry. We know what happened next.
So here we are. Nearly 80 years after "Der ewige Juden" made genocide palatable in the movie houses of Berlin, a depiction of Jewish blood libel adorns the exterior of an uber-chic L.A. gathering spot. Artist Vyal Reyes set the mural as his Facebook profile picture in July 2014. He’s been bragging about the mural on his Instagram since January 2018, when he wrote, “Same as it ever was….. #tbt A piece influenced by my trip to Palestine some years back, still running … #tbt#whocontrolsamerica #peopleoverprofit.”
Now, Reyes says that he intended the mural to be “critical of the U.S. and it’s increasing focus on war. That particular neighborhood that the mural was painted in was in worse shape at the time and homeless people lived all around there. It seemed to me at the time that the U.S. was more into funding war than helping its homeless…. Yes, even at that time, the U.S. was funding massive amounts of money to Israel as they still are. That’s not anti-Semitic that’s just a fact.”
Yes, Mr. Reyes. Your mural does reek of anti-Semitism. Blood libel. Baby murderers. A devil wreaking havoc on the world. It’s right up there with historic medieval Jew-hatred, Nazi genocidal propaganda, and Soviet-era anti Zionism.
If Reyes is not an anti-Semite, he certainly could have passed for one at Nazi Nuremberg rallies. But more dangerous than Reyes is The Vortex’s sanctimonious refusal to take the mural down, insisting that it “stands for free expression” and that the artist “did not intend to express an anti-Semitic message.” It plans to host a public discussion about the controversy at the Olympic Boulevard event space, and invited “those who feel otherwise to paint another mural next to it.” Really? What’s next? Murals and seminars by white supremacists, KKK, and anti-immigrant “activists?”
Has history taught us nothing?
This mural is straight out of Munich’s illustrated rag from the 1930s, Der Sturmer. It depicts Israel as a devil taking in a vortex of innocent babies. Its message is real simple: If Zionists/Israel, are the devil, they’re killing babies and spreading war and terror, what do you do against such people? You take them out.
How dare The Vortex allow this kind of activity on a public street in the city that’s home to the second largest Jewish community in the world?
It’s an outrage. But it is also symptomatic of a creeping minimization of anti-Semitism in contemporary society — a society that cannot seem to muster outrage over global campaigns that demonize the Jewish state as anti-Semitic hate crimes surge on both sides of the Atlantic. This grotesque incident is yet another reminder that Jews alone cannot defeat anti-Semitism. We need our neighbors’ help. Without it, the stain of Jew-hatred will continue to spread, fraying the social fabric of our society.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the Associate Dean, Director Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish human rights organization. Abraham Cooper has been a longtime activist for Jewish and human rights causes. His extensive involvement in Soviet Jewry included visiting refuseniks, helping to open Moscow’s first Jewish Cultural Center, and lecturing at the Soviet Academy of Sciences and the Sakharov Foundation. In 1977, he came to L.A. to help Rabbi Marvin Hier found the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and for three decades Rabbi Cooper has overseen the Wiesenthal Center’s international social action agenda including worldwide antisemitism and extremist groups, Nazi crimes, Interfaith Relations, the struggle to thwart the anti-Israel Divestment campaign, and worldwide promotion of tolerance education. Widely recognized as an international authority on issues related to digital hate and the Internet, Rabbi Cooper was listed in 2017 by Newsweek among the top most influential Rabbis in the United States. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian, is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
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