(September 4, 2018 / JNS) Known as “The Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin passed away on Aug. 16 at the age of 76 from pancreatic cancer. While people throughout the country mourned the loss of one of the great musical talents of the 20th century and a prominent voice in the civil-rights movement, her star-studded funeral last week touched off some controversy over the prominent appearance of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
In particular, former President Bill Clinton was widely criticized over the weekend for sharing the stage with Farrakhan, who has a decades-long history of anti-Semitic behavior and rhetoric.
“When I saw that anti-Semitic, white-hating bigot Farrakhan was invited to Franklin’s funeral, my great respect for her collapsed,” Zionist Organization of America president Mort Klein told JNS. “And when President Clinton shared a front row seat with and shook Farrakhan’s hand, my fears about American society escalated.”
After Franklin died last month, Farrakhan said in a statement, “In 1972, when I was minister in New York City, Temple No. 7, the police attacked our mosque. Within a few hours, Aretha Franklin came to the mosque, to my office, and said that she saw the news and came as quickly as she could to stand with us and offer us her support.”
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt told the Algemeiner that “it was absolutely jarring to see one America’s leading purveyors of anti-Semitism given a place of such prominence at Aretha’s funeral. We join the country in mourning the Queen of Soul, but this was an honor that an unapologetic hatemonger like Farrakhan didn’t deserve.”
Endowment for Middle East Truth founder and president Sarah Stern agreed, telling JNS, “It is profoundly troubling that there is a recent trend within much of the democratic party to tolerate and sweep under the rug voices of extreme anti-Semitism and hatred, and by their sheer presence in highly visible social events bestowing upon them an aura of respectability.”
She continued, “How would these same people react if David Duke were to be photographed seated in the same row as President Donald Trump? Louis Farrakhan is the apotheosis of pure, unabashed anti-Semitism. His speeches use combinations of classical anti-Semitic canards, and bold-faced lies and deceptions.”
“Like millions of other Americans who grew up listening to Aretha Franklin’s amazing voice, I was saddened by her passing,” Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement to the Algemeiner. “Putting Louis Farrakhan in a seat of honor in the first row on stage, near President Clinton and amidst a generation of African-American political and religious leaders, was equally saddening.
“Fifty years ago, Aretha Franklin received an award from Martin Luther King Jr. and toured the country to raise money for the struggling civil-rights movement,” added Cooper. “For decades, Farrakhan has stood against everything MLK lived and died for. He hates America and hates Jews. Aretha Franklin wasn’t a hater. The sight of his smiling face on stage soured the heartfelt music and words during the marathon tribute to a great icon.”
Author and Jewish intellectual Leon Wieseltier replied that “it was sickening and saddening, and also revealing about the magnitude of the gulf that separates our communities. And the two African-American leaders sitting next to him [Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton] also have a history of insensitivities (or worse) to Jews. R-E-S-P-E-C-T is precisely what they lack.”
‘Plenty of hate to go around’
Democratic New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind blasted Farrakhan’s appearance at the funeral, labeling the Nation of Islam leader “America’s Black Hitler” and Clinton’s sharing of the stage with him “shocking.”
“Louis Farrakhan, front and center, treated like royalty?” Hikind posted on Twitter. “What is this obsession with America’s Black Hitler? In spite of his crude, vicious comments about Jews, whites, gays, he is placed up front with President Clinton? Shocking!”
Despite the disturbing sighting, former U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic and attorney Norman L. Eisen defended Clinton. “I was shocked by his presence, but I don’t think it would’ve been right under these circumstances for Clinton or anyone to make a scene,” he told JNS. “If that was the choice of family and friends, however imperfect, it was appropriate to ignore it at the event.
“Personally, if I knew I were sharing the stage with Farrakhan, I would decline, but the president had a friendship with Aretha, and I understand why he attended,” continued Eisen, who also serves as board chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, D.C. “Perhaps he was not aware of that situation when he initially agreed.”
“Now that the event is over,” he said, “we can all agree that Farrakhan is one of America’s worst anti-Semites, and he has plenty of hate to go around for others, too.”