OpinionSchools & Higher Education

Malcolm X founded Harvard University’s antisemitism

Jews and Zionism have been cast as the ultimate oppressors of black Americans.

Malcolm X meeting with then-Crown Prince Faisal Al-Saud in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, April 1964. Source: Saudi Press Agency/Wikimedia
Malcolm X meeting with then-Crown Prince Faisal Al-Saud in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, April 1964. Source: Saudi Press Agency/Wikimedia
Eunice G. Pollack
Eunice G. Pollack
Eunice G. Pollack, Ph.D., is the author of Black Antisemitism in America: Past and Present and Racializing Antisemitism: Black Militants, Jews and Israel, 1950‒Present.

On Sunday, the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and the African and African American Resistance Organization posted an infamous image on Instagram. The Harvard Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine group quickly reposted it.

The image depicts 1964 world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali and then-President of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser. A rope is wound around their necks held by a hand stamped with a Star of David, a dollar sign at its center.

This image was originally published shortly after the 1967 Six-Day War illustrating an article published by the black activist group the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) titled “The Palestine Problem.” Harvard admirers failed to republish an accompanying image of then-Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan that depicted him sporting a large Star of David on his chest and dollar signs on his epaulets.

The Harvard organizations later deleted the post, with the student groups claiming they had “inadvertently included an image that played upon antisemitic tropes.” This confession seems disingenuous and even risible. Still, given the state of scholarship today, it is possible they were simply uninformed about the image’s historical roots and implications.

Those implications are profound. The image intentionally expressed the antisemitic ideology espoused by black nationalist leader Malcolm X in 1964, six months after he left the Nation of Islam (NOI). This ideology was based on the concept that Malcolm X called “Zionist Dollarism.” It is this ideology that most of the current anti-Israel campus groups have echoed and endorsed in updated form.

Strangely, interim President of Harvard Alan M. Garber, who strongly denounced the posts, appeared to be unaware of the fact that the image conveyed and was intended to represent Malcolm X’s antisemitic teachings.

The image portrays Zionism, supported by U.S. capitalism, lynching both a black man and an Arab (a person of color in today’s lexicon). This coupling was not unprecedented. Malcolm X and the NOI had always characterized black people and Arabs as “brothers.” In fact, they cast the Arabs as “foreparents” of the “so-called Negroes of America.”

Malcolm X always neglected to mention that over fourteen centuries those “foreparents” enslaved 17 million of his black African forebears. During his trip to Saudi Arabia in 1959, he even managed to overlook the slave market operating nearby.

In the same way, campus anti-Israel groups ignore this elephant in the room. Their chosen narrative cannot accommodate the fact that people of color can oppress, much less enslave, black people.

“Zionist Dollarism,” Malcolm X asserted, is a modern form of evil—“neo-colonialism,” now in the stranglehold of Zionists. Based on his study of the notorious antisemitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, he concluded that Zionists were proficient in the art of deceit. So, he claimed that they had designed neo-colonialism to last much longer than the collapsed European empires. In fact, he taught, the Europeans “foresaw that the awakening masses … would not submit to their old methods of ruling through ‘force and fears.’” Thus, Malcolm X claimed, the Europeans issued the Balfour Declaration and turned their evil mission over to the crafty Jews, who would rule through subterfuge.

Malcolm X stressed that the “colonialism” of “the Israeli Zionists … appears to be more ‘benevolent’” and thus “has fast become even more unshakeable than that of the 19th century European colonialists.” Distorting the Jewish concept of chosenness, he then insisted that “Israeli Zionists religiously believed their Jewish god has chosen them … [to establish] a different form of iron-like rule, more firmly entrenched even than that of the former European Colonial Powers.”

Despite strong Jewish involvement in the civil rights movement, Malcolm X claimed that Jews were only “claiming to be friends of the black man” so they could derail “the real Black Revolution.” In fact, he asserted, Jews “sapped the very life-blood of the so-called Negroes” and were thwarting the uprising of the “22 million colonized Afro-Americans.” Moreover, he instructed, “Israeli Zionists” had captured and were bleeding out their prey in Africa and the Middle East. The “Zionist capitalist conspiracy,” entrenched in “Zionist Israel’s occupation of Arab Palestine,” was making “economic cripples” of the Arabs.

After the Six-Day War, Malcolm X’s admirers in SNCC elaborated on this narrative. In “The Palestine Problem,” SNCC claimed to have exposed the villainous Zionist Jews directly responsible for neo-colonialism. They had discovered that it was “the famous European Jews, the Rothschilds, who have long controlled the wealth of many European nations, [who] were involved in the original conspiracy with the British to create ‘the state of Israel’” in order to tighten their grip on Africa and the Middle East.

Like Malcolm X and his current admirers who preach the doctrine of intersectionality, SNCC stressed the parallels between the experience of black Americans—who had allegedly been ghettoized, subjugated and bled dry by American Jews—and the Arabs and Africans who were supposedly being colonized by “Israeli Zionists.” American Jews’ wealth, they claimed, was stolen from the pockets of black Americans and Israel’s wealth was now being stripped from Africans and Arabs.

Malcolm X, SNCC and their successors at Harvard said nothing new. They simply updated and racialized the world’s oldest hatred. Jews and now Zionists and the Jewish state were libeled as the consummate oppressors. Thus, like many antisemites before them, they turned Zionism on its head. Instead of the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, Zionism became the ultimate enslaver.

In 1999, the U.S. issued a postage stamp honoring Malcolm X. The ominous implications went unnoticed.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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