The recent increase in verbal and physical assaults on Jews by black Americans has both an internal and external history. The former relates to developments within the black community itself. The latter pertains to ways in which the antisemitism of other segments of American society have had a synergistic impact on black antisemitism.
The current dramatic rise in antisemitism in America has four main sources: far-right racist groups; Islamists and the far-left; and black groups that embrace radical and separatist ideologies, along with their acolytes among black political and cultural elites.
While having different political agendas, these promoters of American antisemitism feed off each other. For example, tolerance of Islamist, far-left and black antisemitism has stoked public displays of Jew-hatred by white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Islamists and black radicals also join the neo-Nazis in praising Hitler and Nazi Germany—such as recent statements by the rapper Ye (formerly known as Kanye West).
While the recent upsurge of black antisemitism in America, including incessant physical attacks against Jews in New York City and the murder of Jews in Jersey City and Monsey, reflects these wider trends, it has a much older pedigree.
For example, there is the film “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” recently promoted by the Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving and still available on Amazon. The movie echoes claims made by the Black Hebrew Israelite movement that blacks are the “real” Jews, Judaism is Satanic, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” is true and Jews were dominant players in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. All of these claims are slanders and lies, but they have been popular in black communities for decades.
The Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research at Harvard University, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in 1992 published an article in The Baltimore Sun titled, “The new black anti-Semitism is top-down and dangerous” (a version of which was published in The New York Times as “Black Demagogues and Pseudo-Scholars”), in which he wrote, “While antisemitism is generally on the wane in this country, it has been on the rise among black Americans. A recent survey finds not only that blacks are twice as likely as whites to hold antisemitic views but—significantly—that it is among the younger and more educated blacks that antisemitism is most pronounced. The trend has been deeply disquieting for many black intellectuals. But it is something most of us, as if by unstated agreement, simply choose not to talk about.”
Of the slave trade canard, Gates noted, “The bible of the new antisemitism is The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, an official publication of the Nation of Islam. … One of the most sophisticated instances of hate literature yet compiled … [i]t charges that the Jews were ‘key operatives’ in the historic crime of slavery, playing an ‘inordinate’ and ‘disproportionate’ role and ‘carving’ out for themselves a monumental culpability in slavery. … [I]f readers actually [checked the authors’ claimed sources], they might discover a rather different picture. … They might find out—from the book’s own vaunted authorities—that, for example, of all the African slaves imported into the New World, American Jewish merchants accounted for less than two percent, a finding sharply at odds with the Nation of Islam’s claim of Jewish ‘predominance’ in this traffic.”
“But why target the Jews?” Gates asked. “The answer requires us to go beyond the usual shibboleths about bigotry and view the matter, from the demagogues’ perspective, strategically: as the bid of one black elite to supplant another.”
“It requires us, in short, to see antisemitism as a weapon in the raging battle of who will speak for black America—those who have sought common cause with others or those who preach a barricaded withdrawal into racial authenticity,” Gates asserted.
“The strategy of these apostles of hate, I believe, is best understood as ethnic isolationism: They know that the more isolated black America becomes, the greater their power,” he posited. “And what’s the most efficient way to begin to sever black America from its allies? Bash the Jews, these demagogues apparently calculate, and you’re halfway there.”
“Many American Jews are puzzled by the recrudescence of black antisemitism, in view of the historic alliance between the two groups,” Gates noted. “The brutal truth has escaped them: that the new antisemitism arises not in spite of the black-Jewish alliance but because of that alliance.”
The path of promoting Jew-hatred as a strategy for popularizing withdrawal into racial authenticity and ethnic isolationism is today still represented by Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam and their myriad followers, including in the political, entertainment and professional athletic realms. It is also represented by significant segments of the Black Lives Matter leadership, elements of the black Hebrew Israelite movement, black college and university groups that have advocated segregation on campuses and others.
Black Americans who seek common cause with others and have spoken out against black antisemitism include academics and intellectuals like the Hoover Institute’s Thomas Sowell and Brown University’s Glenn Loury, various political figures on both sides of the aisle and numerous religious leaders, as well as prominent cultural and sports personalities.
Gates’ insight has implications beyond the issue of recent black antisemitism. For centuries, Jew-hatred has been used as a tool in political struggles between competing elites, with one or both sides attacking the other for being associated with or too tolerant of Jews.
In today’s America, this phenomenon is not confined to the black community. White advocates of the balkanization of America along racial and ethnic lines—whether on the far-left or the far-right—target Jews as champions of an integrationist ideal and defame Jews in order to discredit non-Jews who embrace that ideal.
For example, Martin Luther King, Jr., who advocated color-blindness and integration, would be as unwelcome on many of today’s college campuses as would defenders of the Jewish community. But to attack King directly would still generally be frowned upon. The Jews are a much easier target, and maligning and attacking them is an indirect way for both white and black bigots to undermine King and his integrationist message, especially in light of King’s lifelong alliance with Jewish activists and leaders.
The American Jewish response to the rise in Jew-hatred has been piecemeal and weak. This is largely because the increased antisemitism—or at least that part of it that has made the greatest inroads in American society—is coming mainly from sources towards which many American Jews have long felt affinity and identification: Black Americans, too often conceived as a monolithic community; progressives; and educators, especially those staffing what has become the greatest institutional font of antisemitism in America, the campuses.
The increasingly heated division between Americans who advocate balkanization and those who champion integration will likely grow even more intense, and the ever-increasing use of Jew-hatred as a weapon of the former against the latter will grow more ingrained and uglier. Gates’ observations cast a light on this reality. If American Jews wish to stem the rising antisemitism, they must cast aside their preconceptions, take a clear-eyed look at their situation and join with others who embrace the integrationist ideal in pushing back against those who would tear the nation apart and weaponize Jew-hatred as a means to that end.
Kenneth Levin is a psychiatrist, historian and author of The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People under Siege.
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