“Brother John Muhammad,” an ardent member of the Nation of Islam (NOI), was sworn in on Oct. 20 as a city councilman in St. Petersburg, Fla. Muhammad joined the NOI in 1998 after hearing a speech by Louis Farrakhan, its leader since 1977. “When I heard him speak,” he explained, “it was really like the voice of God.”
Muhammad decided to apply for the vacated position upon learning that the deadline fell on the birthday of Elijah Muhammad, NOI’s leader from 1934 to 1975, whom NOI recognizes as the Jesus who was “prophesied would come … at the end of the present world.” To Muhammad, this was the “sign … that it was something … I was being called to do.”
Above all, Muhammad wants everyone to understand that Farrakhan is not antisemitic. Farrakhan’s teachings only give voice to blacks’ pain, which the Jewish community “misinterprets” as “hate” because “we’re not expressing it in a way that is comfortable for them.” Farrakhan has exposed “parts of [black] history that they [the Jews] were involved in” that they “have failed to acknowledge, … that we have the research … to show.”
Muhammad complains that even he has been labeled an “antisemite,” but only because the NOI “disagrees with dominant narratives and challenges the status quo.” Similarly, he emphasizes, “Minister Farrakhan got accused of being antisemitic” because “anybody who says anything critical of the Jewish community is labeled as being antisemitic.”
The teaching that Jews have allegedly “misconstrued,” which has formed the core of the NOI creed from its beginnings, characterizes Judaism as “a dirty religion.” It contends that from the time “white Jews” received the Torah, they began converting it into “a poison book,” which “can’t be recognized as the Word of God.” They replaced God with Satan, whom they were destined to serve for the next 4,000 years.
As Satan’s primary agents, the “so-called Jews” were driven, above all, to subjugate and bleed “the Black Nation.” This was “confirmed” by NOI “research,” which uncovered that the “Imposter Jews” were “the Draftsmen and the Architects” of white supremacy, and its main enforcers.
Moreover, in corrupting the Torah, the “false Jews” usurped the position of the “so-called Negroes of America,” “the Real Chosen People of God,” and hid that the narrative of Holy Scripture consisted largely of prophecy about “the black people of America.” As Farrakhan discloses, the biblical account of Jews enslaved in Egypt is only prophecy about “the so-called Negroes” who would be in bondage “in a strange land” for 400 years.
Farrakhan thunders, “I represent the uncovering of their wickedness.” This is the message that his student, Brother Muhammad, wants the City Council to protect.
On Oct. 13, 2022, the City Council voted 4-3 to appoint Muhammad to the vacated seat. To Muhammad, “Allah put me in this position.” Although many members of St. Petersburg’s organized Jewish community had expressed their strong opposition, Maxine Kaufman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Florida’s Gulf Coast, reflected, “I don’t think enough was done, personally.” Michael Igel, chair of the Florida Holocaust Museum, observed that a white supremacist candidate “would have been disqualified out of the gate.”
After Muhammad was appointed, the Federation convinced Council member Gina Driscoll to introduce the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.
At the council’s Sept. 14 meeting, Driscoll strongly endorsed its adoption. Councilman Ed Montanari stated this “should have been done a long time ago. … I am a Christian,” guided by the parable of the Good Samaritan. “With the passing of this ordinance, the City Council is going to be like the Good Samaritan. … We’re with you.” They would be with “the Jewish community.”
By contrast, Councilman Muhammad, sporting a bowtie, a symbol of the NOI’s security force, spoke at length—often obliquely—against the resolution, until finally interrupted by a call to vote. The resolution “passed unanimously, Councilman Muhammad being absent.” Had he voted “no,” people would suspect that he was antisemitic.
Defending his opposition, Muhammad identified himself as a champion of “the principles of free speech,” which “allow dissenting opinions” whereby we can “move … toward a more perfect union.” Unrecognized by the Jewish representatives in attendance, or fellow Council members, he was echoing the recent NOI defense against efforts to censure them. As Farrakhan divulged, “God is with my tongue”—the “dissenting opinion” is the voice of God.
Muhammad reiterated that even he has been “falsely accused of being an antisemite.” As proof that the charge was absurd, he pointed out that he had recently “participated in the reading of names of Jews who died in the Holocaust”—apparently unaware that antisemites “love dead Jews.”
Although Muhammad used his acknowledgment of the Holocaust to deny that he could be antisemitic, no Jew in the audience interjected that the NOI has long taught that the Jews “brought it on themselves” and “helped [Hitler] get the Third Reich on the road.”
Objecting to the IHRA definition’s inclusion of antisemitic speech, Muhammad argued that it should only address “actual incidents.” He acknowledged that reports claim that “black people are more antisemitic than other populations, and that is [only] based upon questions about their perceptions.” But, he alleged, “when it comes to violent acts or attacks on Jews … their participation has been nonexistent.” Although unchallenged by the Jewish representatives, in fact, several reports have identified black people as a disproportionate number of the perpetrators of “anti-Jewish hate crimes.”
Again, Muhammad was protecting the NOI and echoing Farrakhan, who often boasts, “You say I’m a hater, but you can’t find one Jewish person that I or any of those that follow me have hurt.” Muhammad chose to omit that the NOI has always taught that Allah will annihilate “the white Jews” on behalf of the black community, whom they have always “bled.” Or Farrakhan’s recent announcement that “the final call” has sounded—“Satan is going down.” Indeed, Farrakhan divulged that the Jews “wanna kill me.” But if they do, Allah assured him that “He will kill them all.”
Incoherent because he dared not be forthright, Muhammad addressed the preface to the resolution, which celebrated “the Jewish community … [that] has enriched our community through their contributions to the arts, business, academia, and government.” Strangely, he warned that “if you talk about the achievements and successes, … it could be construed as being antisemitic, and so I see that in there.” Although a Jewish representative pointed out the fallacy of his argument, Muhammad responded dismissively: “You mentioned [earlier] that you are not an IHRA representative.”
Behind Muhammad’s contorted reasoning was the effort to protect Farrakhan from censure as an antisemite for his supposed acknowledgment of Jews’ “achievements and successes”—in the call-and-response with which he often electrifies crowds: “Who runs the movie industry?” “Who runs the publishing houses?” “Who controls the newspapers?” “Who controls the banking?”—culminating in “Who controls the Federal Reserve?”—the audience screaming “Jews!” to each query.
It is through their “success” on the Federal Reserve, Farrakhan reveals, that Jewish bankers have long fastened their “stranglehold on America.” In reasoning as odd as Muhammad’s, Farrakhan explains that the Fed and the Anti-Defamation League were both founded in 1913, so that if anyone reveals “the Truth” about the Fed, the ADL could quickly smear him as an antisemite.
Central to Muhammad’s effort to undermine the resolution was his call for “clarity on who we’re referring to when you say Jews and Jewish community,” telegraphing his strategy when he added, “There are some people who identify as Jews, but they are not considered Jews by others.” Although the NOI constitutes “the others,” the Jewish representative missed the signal, responding as if Muhammad were conducting an academic inquiry: “That’s a very interesting and difficult question,” elaborating that there are, for example, people “who don’t necessarily believe in God, but consider themselves Jews,” while others deny they can be Jews.
Seeing an opening, Muhammad challenged him: “So, does … this also apply to [black] Hebrew Israelites?” Don’t others deny they are Jews?
Here, the Jewish rep folded: “… this is complicated. I’m not an expert…. These questions are sometimes in the eye of the beholder.” Certain he had gained ground, Muhammad lectured, we must “understand the nuances, … see the complications.”
Uninformed, the Jewish rep failed to recognize that Muhammad was running interference for Farrakhan. At the core of the NOI belief system from its founding is the claim that those who “consider themselves Jews” are “Imposter Jews,” “Satan masquerading as a covenanted people of God.”
And the Jewish rep should have responded that Black Hebrew Israelites are not Jews—and do not identify as “Jews.” To them, “Jews” are descendants of Cain, who always clung to the ways of Satan, and inserted “the word ‘Jew’” in the bible so they could take on the identity of the Hebrew Israelites and nobody would know they were “Imposters.”
Fortunately, the City Council prevented Muhammad from scoring. But representatives of the Jewish community must become more informed about the game NOI defenders are playing. They should expose—not dignify—their drive to protect—and elevate—the platform from which the NOI relentlessly demonizes Jews, delegitimizes Judaism, and denounces the Jewish state as a “wicked hypocrisy.” Remember, the “more perfect union” that Farrakhan’s defenders seek is a world without the “Imposter Jews.”