It has been the perennial Jewish condition since Jesus’ death – our cross to bear, if you will – to be blamed for and inserted into crises, causes and momentous world events that don’t seem to have any specific connection to us. The Jews are the answer, whatever the question. For those with a particular kind of cognitive impairment, there is presumably comfort in the certainty that as much as the world changes, some things stay the same.
Recently Louis Farrakhan, the bow-tied leader of the Nation of Islam (labelled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center), has been in the limelight. Farrakhan publicly calls Jews ‘termites’ and praises Hitler as a ‘great man’. In his 4 July speech this year, he referred to Jews as ‘Satan’ and urged his audience to ‘fight Satan the arch deceiver [and] the imposter Jews who are worthy of the chastisement of God’. As of 15 July, the speech had garnered over 1.2 million views on YouTube.
This brand of antisemitism – singling out Jews as oppressors of black people and advancing a kind of replacement theology – can be murderous. It appears to have at least partially motivated two fatal New York state attacks in December last year – one on a Chanukah gathering in Monsey in which five people were stabbed and one ultimately died, and one shooting spree that ended in a Jersey City kosher shop, with four dead.
A white supremacist ideology visits the perceived sins of non-white people on the Jews. Farrakhan’s ideology visits the perceived sins of white people on the Jews, so that Jews (those with white skin) are charged with not only being complicit in systemic racism like all white people, but with orchestrating and profiting off it. In both cases, Jews are believed to wield outsized, occult power and privilege, supplanting people and manipulating events to advance their evil agenda.
Most right-thinking people (or perhaps, non-far right-thinking people) identify white supremacy as a toxic, racist ideology. Its proponents like David Duke are shunned from mainstream society and deprived of platforms. Last month he was banned from Twitter permanently.
What makes Farrakhan (who is also homophobic) arguably the most dangerous antisemite in America, is that far from being ostracised and ‘cancelled’, he is embraced and promoted by celebrities and those who profess to be progressives and anti-racists. He sat upfront onstage at Aretha Franklin’s funeral alongside Bill Clinton. The Women’s March became mired in controversy in 2018 because one of its leaders, Tamika Mallory, was a dedicated follower.
Since George Floyd’s abhorrent death, a number of confirmed Farrakhan fanboys – black people with big platforms and blue checkmarks – have apparently concluded that combatting racial hatred and uplifting the black community requires rolling out a medley of Farrakhan’s greatest hits of antisemitic tropes, stereotypes and conspiracy theories.
It began with rapper Ice Cube. He tweeted a slew of antisemitic images and conspiracy theories to his more than 5 million followers, all on the theme of you-know-who exploiting black people.
In case that wasn’t enough Kool Aid with your Ice Cube, DeSean Jackson, of the Philadelphia Eagles, took to Instagram to (mistakenly) quote Hitler that black Americans are ‘the real children of Israel’ and ‘white Jews’ will extort America to advance ‘their plan for world domination’. Former NBA player Stephen Jackson defended DeSean, adding that the Rothschilds own all the banks.
Then Nick Cannon, a TV host, talked on his Youtube podcast about how Jews control the media and black people are the ‘true Hebrews’.
Across the Atlantic, British rapper Wiley went on an antisemitic bender on social media, likening Jews to the KKK and indulging in countless canards about Jewish money and power. He follows Farrakhan on social media, although when it was suggested he was parroting him, took offence at the perceived slight on his originality.
There have been some consequences for the offenders; DeSean was fined by the Eagles, Wiley was banned from social media platforms and ViacomCBS cut ties with Cannon. The merits of such consequences can be debated elsewhere, but they have been interpreted by some as confirmation that the Jews are indeed omnipotent. All except Ice Cube have apologised to some degree; Cannon appears to be genuinely remorseful, and keen to learn. That should be encouraged.
Antisemitism may not be any more prevalent in the black community than it is among white people or in any other community. Certainly, other black people with significant platforms have condemned the offenders including Pittsburgh Steeler Zach Banner, rapper Zuby, actor and TV host Whoopi Goldberg, former NBA stars Charles Barkley and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, sports journalist Jemele Hill and ESPN anchors Sage Steele and Michael Wilbon. They serve as a good reminder not to make hasty or collective judgements about a community based on the unpalatable statements of some of its individuals.
Theoretically, we should hold those individuals to account in the same way as we would if they were not black and condemn the double standard that sees Farrakhan lionised amidst a climate of cancellation. But in identity politics, minorities are collectivised, pitted against one another and ranked according to victimhood status. There is also an historical context. While black people and Jews both have histories of oppression and have been allies, most notably in the civil rights movement, their relationship has sometimes been fractious and their experiences of oppression are very different. Indeed, there are good reasons for the Nation of Islam’s popularity that have nothing to do with antisemitism; the group organises social service programmes in low-income black areas and teaches self-reliance. But history tells us, and what we observe now, is that bigotry is not readily compartmentalised. Under cover of good policies and deeds, it becomes normalised, not neutralised.
None of this is to say that racism should be excused, or that black people do not deserve the empathy and solidarity of Jewish people. Quite the contrary. The great shame is that antisemitism has become a distraction and a cause of division within the black community, at a time when they – and Jews – should be united in their fight for racial justice. With the death of congressman John Lewis recently, a civil rights leader who spurned Farrakhan because of his ‘divisive and bigoted’ statements and built a close relationship with the Jewish community, it would be timely to embrace his legacy.
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