The Politics of Black Anti-Semitism

A picture of the Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan holding a book with a star of David on it.

Nick Cannon was recently fired for making remarks which were deemed anti-Semtic. This comes not long after NFL player DeSean Jackson came under fire for a similar reason. Some of the remarks made by Jackson and Cannon were ignorant and misinformed, which is why I intend to write a separate article addressing the Black Hebrew Israelite mythology, but what concerns me is that these ignorant statements have once again made Black Americans the target of accusations of anti-Semitism. In response to DeSean Jackson’s remarks, Jemele Hill wrote that Black Americans have a “cultural blindspot” regarding Jews.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also condemned the remarks made by Jackson and Cannon. He also criticized what he perceived to be a lack of outrage over anti-Semitism in sports and Hollywood.

This is not a new issue. An article in the Detroit News in 2018 argued that Black people are the new face of anti-Semitism because LeBron James shared the lyrics to a song by the rapper 21 Savage which included the line: “We been getting that Jewish money, everything is Kosher.” The article also mentioned Tamika Mallory’s public praise of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. While some were busy trying to paint Black Americans as the new face of anti-Semitism in 2018, that same year a white supremacist killed several people in a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

In the 1990s, John Henrik Clarke and Henry Louis Gates got into an exchange over the topic of Black anti-Semitism. Clarke argued that:

Professor Gates’ reference to Black anti-Semitism is an exaggeration. A new Black awareness is causing Blacks, young and old, to question everything that has any influence on their lives. We are realizing that Jewish people have an influence on our lives far out of proportion to their numbers in the population. I totally disagree with Professor Gates that anti-Semitism among Whites is on the wane in the country. Quite the contrary, I think it is increasing in this country and in the world, and Black people are not the cause of it.

Clarke also stated:

I’m sorry that Professor Cornell West saw fit to make a statement about this false charge of Black anti-Semitism. I could agree with his statement if the statement were true. What Black people are realizing in this country, in the Caribbean Islands and in Africa is that the Jewish people, of European descent, are a part of the world apparatus of European control. And, in the matter of White control over the world, their position is no different than that of other Europeans. I am not saying that the Jews of Europe are more bent on world dominance than other Europeans; I am saying that they are not radically different from other Europeans in this regard.

There are certain segments within American society who seem to try to paint Black Americans as being anti-Semitic without examining the historical roots of anti-Semitism and the historical relationship between Jewish people and African people.

Historically prejudice and hatred against Jewish people was something that has been an issue in the culture of European society for many centuries. It was in Europe where the Jewish Holocaust took place. Adolf Hitler’s views on Jewish people were not new. Hitler referred to Martin Luther, who wrote a book titled On the Jews and Their Lies, as one of history’s great reformers. Germany was also the location of the Worms massacre of 1096, in which hundreds of Jews were massacred during the crusades.

Africa, on the other hand, has not had the same history of prejudice and hatred against Jews or people of the Hebrew faith. In The Rescue of Jerusalem: The Alliance Between Hebrews and Africans in 701 BC, Henry T. Aubin writes about how the Kushite rulers of the 25th Egyptian dynasty rescued Jerusalem from an Assyrian invasion. Aubin explains that this historical event has been ignored because of the racism against African people. Not only did African people help to save the religion of Judaism, but we also helped to influence it. In Moses and Monotheism, Sigmund Freud argued that Moses was an Egyptian and that it was from the religious tradition of Egypt that the Hebrew religion emerged. The Bible itself affirms that Moses was educated by the Egyptians (Acts 7:22).

One might point to the Hebrew enslavement in Egypt as a counterexample to what I am arguing, but as I pointed out in my book Malcolm X, Bob Marley, and Other Essays, there is no historical evidence to support the Bible’s narrative of Hebrew enslavement in Egypt and the Exodus story. As I pointed out, the pharaohs mentioned in Genesis and Exodus are unnamed, but in later Biblical stories certain pharaohs are mentioned by name — such as Taharqa, who rescued Jerusalem from the Assyrians. This gives me the impression that the events referenced in Genesis and Exodus are not meant to be historical accounts.

African people have played a significant role in assisting with the formation of the Jewish religion, which has often forgotten or ignored. What is also forgotten or ignored is the role that Jews have played in the oppression of African people. There were Jews who participated in the slave trade such as Aaron Lopez. Theodor Herzl, who is regarded the founder of Zionism, originally suggested that the Jewish homeland should be built in Uganda, which was a British colony at the time. Herzl, who raised no concerns over the British abuses of African people, wanted a piece of Africa for Jewish people to colonize as well. Later on, it was Israel which played a role in the coup that brought Idi Amin into power in Uganda.

It is true that there were Jews who participated in the civil rights struggle (such as Abraham Joshua Heschel), but those Jews who supported the civil rights struggle do not represent the totality of the Jewish relationship to Black Americans at the time. Malcolm X, who has also been accused of anti-Semitism, spoke about how Jews economically exploited Black American communities. As Malcolm pointed out, he was censored for doing so.

Africans who spoke out about this exploitative relationship have often been accused of being anti-Semitic. Marcus Garvey is an example of this. Despite this charges of Garvey being anti-Semitic, it is worth pointing out that Garvey did denounce Hitler’s treatment of Jewish people. Kwame Ture (formerly Stokely Carmichael) was accused of being anti-Semitic because of his criticisms of Zionism, although Ture was always careful to distinguish between the religion of Judaism and Zionism.

African people, who have often been critical of Jewish racism and exploitation, have been accused of anti-Semitism as a means of shutting down any serious discussions about how Jews have participated in and benefited from white racism.

I am not suggesting that certain voices within the Black community haven’t gone to certain extremes in their denoucement of Jewish people. The Nation of Islam under Louis Farrakhan’s leadership has been a particular target of criticism because of the various statements which Farrakhan has made about Jewish people, such as in the video below where Farrakhan speaks of what he calls the Synagogue of Satan.

Khalid Muhammad’s remarks about Jews not only made him a very controversial public figure, but he was also suspended by Louis Farrakhan because Farrakhan felt that Khalid’s criticisms of Jews people went too far for even Farrakhan to tolerate. Khalid’s denouncements of Jews earned him the label “Black Hitler,” which I think is a bit too extreme considering that Hitler massacred millions of Jews which is far worse than anything that Khalid has said.

As the video above demonstrates, much of Khalid’s anger towards Jews takes place in the context of tensions between the Black community and the Jewish community over Jews taking control of Black areas and forcing Black people out. One may take issue with the harsh manner in which Khalid spoke, but there were very real grievances which he was speaking to. And as harsh as Khalid may have been, no one can ever accuse him of acting in violence against Jewish communities as white supremacists have continued to do.

I think these attempts to paint Black Americans as being anti-Semitic often overlook how deeply entrenched anti-Jewish sentiment has been in Western society. As John Henrik Clarke argued, this may even be an attempt to use African people as a scapegoat for a problem which we did not start. African people were not responsible for creating the ghettos of Europe where Jews were confined. Africans were not responsible for the massacre of Jews during the Crusades nor were Africans responsible for the Holocaust. Black Americans didn’t lynch Jews or attack Jewish synagogues.

I do agree with Jemele Hill’s point that African liberation can never come at the expense of dehumanizing other marginalized groups, but I also think that there should be space for an honest discussion about the fact that there are Jews who have participated in the oppression of African people from the time of the slave trade to now. For example, where is the mainstream media outrage over Israel’s support of the brutal dictatorship in Togo?

As I stated, I think the remarks made by Jackson and Cannon were ignorant and misinformed, so I am not defending those remarks. At the same time, I also don’t approve of this attempt to paint African people as being anti-Semitic without a serious discussion about the negative impact that Jewish racism and Zionism have had on African people.