The triangular sign was discovered in Stamford Hill, London, March 13, near a synagogue. It depicts the silhouette of a traditionally-dressed Orthodox Jewish man, replete with distinctive hat, side curls and long coat, bordered in bright red. It directly emulates similar British street signage, denoting the presence of children in an area or slippery surfaces for instance.
Jewish neighborhood watch group Shomrim reported the sign to police and Hackney Council.
Stamford Hill is a key cultural and religious center for Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox Jews, estimated to home some 30,000 (almost half the district's total population), a number growing at a rate of around 5 percent annually. It is the largest Hasidic community in Europe, and referred to as "a square mile of piety."
A 2016 Shomrim study recorded 32 anti-Semitic incidents in the area — among the victims were an eight-year-old boy, beaten up on his way home, and a woman, confronted by a man giving the Nazi salute.
Barry Bard, supervisor at the Stamford Hill branch of Shomrim, stated the sign caused much concern among local Jewish residents, particularly given its proximity to a synagogue.
"The people of Stamford Hill are very sadly used to instances of antisemitic hate crime, but most of those times it will be verbal abuse or even assault. A lot of the time it will be more of a person-to-person kind of thing, or graffiti, which is more unprofessional," Bard said.
Many took to Twitter to voice their outrage, including Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.
Disgusting. Unacceptable. https://t.co/uym6OisBsl— Diane Abbott MP (@HackneyAbbott) March 14, 2017
Labour MP for neighboring Tottenham, David Lammy also slammed the sign, deploring it as "despicable [and] "nasty" behavior that has "absolutely no place" in the community.
Breaking: Confirmation from artist @franckallais that he created road signs as part of an art project on identity, never intended to offend— Marcus Dysch (@MarcusDysch) March 15, 2017
However, within hours of the story breaking, it was revealed that rather than an anti-Semitic attack, it was in fact an ill-judged stunt by photographer and artist Franck Allais, who has previously worked for The Guardian, Telegraph, Independent, FT, Newsweek and Time Out.
Allais had in fact produced a series of similar signs as part of an artistic project, including depictions of a woman pulling a shopping trolley, a man pushing his wheelchair and a cat. The signs are based on real people Allais has seen crossing the road in areas where the signs are subsequently hung.
"It was a project about crossing the road… how everyone is different, everyone has an identity. There is not only one sign in the street. I put more signs up in the street, but only this one got noticed. I am sorry for any offence caused," Allais said.
@Shomrim although a shred of historical knowledge should have made them stop and think if it was appropriate. Important to call it out early— Baz (@baz_j) March 15, 2017
Nonetheless, Allais' actions were still widely condemned as extremely foolish, particularly given rising levels of anti-Semitism in London and the UK.
In the first half of 2016, the number of anti-Semitic incidents recorded by the Community Secretary Trust (CST), an organization that provides information on the Jewish community, rose by 11 percent. According to the CST, many of these incidents took place in April, May and June, when the issue of discrimination against Jews received a larger amount of media attention.