Commentary Magazine


Black Anti-Semitism & How It Grows

What has come to be known as the Kean College incident has focused renewed attention on the problem of black anti-Semitism on the American college campus. Yet for all the uproar provoked by that incident and subsequent ones, there is still no clear recognition of the extent to which it is the imposition of an agenda of multiculturalism and “diversity” that is responsible for making open, poisonous, anti-Jewish bigotry into a veritable fixture of campus political life.

The basic facts about the Kean College incident are by now well known. On November 19, 1993, Khalid Abdul Muhammad, a prominent member of the Nation of Islam and the national spokesman of its leader, Louis Farrakhan, delivered a three-hour speech to a predominantly black audience at Kean College, a state-funded institution which draws its student body from the declining working-class cities of northern New Jersey. From beginning to end, the address was charged with an astonishing degree of malice, contempt, and ridicule, aimed variously at whites, South Africans, homosexuals, Arabs, and black moderates—a case, if ever there was one, of equal-opportunity hate.

Muhammad’s principal target, however, was Jews. In addition to dwelling on the traditional anti-Semitic stereotype of the all-powerful Jew, and asserting that Jews “want nothing but money,” he made a special point of their crimes against blacks. He charged that Jews had dominated the slave trade in the past and that they now had black athletes, entertainers, and politicians in their grasp. He accused Jewish landlords of exploiting black tenants. He belittled Jewish participation in the civil-rights movement. And he traced the origins of Judaism to black Africa, arguing that those who today call themselves Jews are really false Jews, the genuine Jews being the descendants of African slaves.

These were some of the “truths” that Farrakhan himself subsequently endorsed at a press conference where he also announced that, because of the unfortunate “tone” in which they had been expressed, Muhammad was being temporarily removed from his position as spokesman. As to that “tone,” the most frequently quoted passage, in which Muhammad accused Jews of “sucking the blood of the black community,” was only one example, and by no means the most repulsive, of a rhetoric seldom encountered even on the farthest fringes of the anti-Semitic Right.

Thus, Union County, where Kean College is located, he called a “Jew stronghold,” and he also referred to “Columbia Jewniversity,” “Jew York City,” and the “Jewnited Nations.” In speaking of the Jewish people and their religion, Muhammad used the phrase “synagogue of Satan.” In a passage presumably meant as humor, he described the alleged Jewish control of the gem industry in the following terms:

That’s why you call yourself Mr. Rubinstein, Mr. Goldstein, Mr. Silverstein. Because you been stealing rubies and gold and silver all over the earth. That’s why we can’t even wear a ring or a bracelet or a necklace without calling it Jew-elry. We say it real quick and call it jewelry, but it’s not jewelry, it’s Jewelry, ’cause you’re the rogue that’s stealing all over the face of the planet.

Regarding the Holocaust, Muhammad suggested that the Jews had it coming:

You see everybody always talk about Hitler exterminating six million Jews. . . . But don’t nobody ever ask what did they do to Hitler? . . . They went in there, in Germany, the way they do everywhere they go, and they supplanted, they usurped, . . . and a German, in his own country, would almost have to go to a Jew to get money. . . . Now he was an arrogant, no-good devil bastard, Hitler, no question about it. He was wickedly great. . . . But they [the Jews] are wickedly great, too, brother.

And in discussing the Jewish role in the civil-rights movement, Muhammad resorted to a bit of racist mockery:

The Jews have told us, the so-called Jews have told us, ve [sic], ve, ve suffer like you. Ve, ve, ve, ve marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ve, ve, ve were in Selma, Alabama. Ve, ve were in Montgomery, Alabama. Ve, ve were on the front line of the civil-rights marches. Ve have always supported you. But let’s take a look at it. The Jews, the so-called Jews, what they have actually done, brothers and sisters, is used us as cannon fodder.

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While Muhammad’s remarks triggered a major controversy at Kean College, the incident did not gain wider notoriety until, nearly a month later, an article appeared in the New York Times detailing some of his more outrageous statements. In response, a few commentators like the Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal and a handful of moderate black figures moved quickly to condemn the speech and to urge that the black civil-rights and political leadership do the same.

But the overall reaction was, to put it mildly, muted until the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) placed a paid advertisement in the Times and other publications consisting almost solely of quotes from the Kean address. At that point, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, the Reverend Benjamin Chavis of the NAACP, and prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus issued statements that, if belated, were at least forthright in rejecting Khalid Muhammad’s language as well as his ideas. But they showed no such forthrightness on the larger question of the black leadership’s relationship with Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. On the contrary, on this question they were cautious and circumspect.

The problem was that only recently Farrakhan, despite his well-documented anti-white and anti-Jewish ideology, had been welcomed into the ranks of black leadership. During a summit held only two months before the Kean College incident, Representative Kweisi Mfume (D.-Md.), the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, announced that the caucus had forged a “sacred covenant” with the Nation of Islam to pursue mutually agreed-upon civil-rights goals—an announcement that elicited Chavis’s wholehearted support. It seemed, then, that an absolute commitment to racial and religious tolerance was no longer a qualification for recognition as a member of America’s black political leadership.

In the aftermath of Kean College, however, some members of the Black Caucus began distancing themselves from the alliance with Farrakhan. Several even claimed that no such agreement had ever been reached, that Mfume had simply unilaterally announced the accord without consulting other black Congressmen.

The most outspoken comments were made by Representative Major Owens (D.-NY), who called the idea of an alliance with Farrakhan “suicide for the black community” and denounced the Nation of Islam as a “hate-mongering fringe group.” Owens said that Farrakhan had already held three unpublicized meetings with the Black Caucus at which he focused not on legislation, but on requests that the caucus assist the Nation of Islam in securing federal contracts for a prison-inmate rehabilitation program and in gaining other contracts from officials in Africa, where the Nation of Islam hopes to buy land.

But Owens’s unequivocal rejection of an alliance with Farrakhan, though seconded by Congressmen Mel Reynolds of Chicago and John R. Lewis of Atlanta, appeared to be a minority position among black leaders. Following Farrakhan’s statement endorsing the “truths” uttered by Khalid Muhammad—a statement which included a sharp attack on the ADL—both Jesse Jackson and Benjamin Chavis commended him and voiced satisfaction that he had put the unpleasantness to rest by demoting Muhammad. Chavis declared flatly that he was prepared to believe that Farrakhan was “neither anti-Semitic nor racist,” and insisted that Farrakhan would be invited to a forthcoming summit meeting of black leaders.

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This raises the question of what, exactly, are Farrakhan’s views on Jews and Judaism. His apologists contend that while he did indeed call Judaism a “gutter religion” some years ago, he has moderated his attitude over time and has even made such important gestures toward the Jewish community as publicly performing the solo part in the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (!) and meeting with a prominent Jewish journalist in Chicago. Yet to conclude that a new and unprejudiced Farrakhan has emerged requires that one not only cast aside Farrakhan’s past obsession with Jews and Jewish influence, but also ignore what he and the Nation of Islam are saying and doing right now.

One must ignore the fact that the Nation of Islam publishes The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, a pseudo-history, with no listed author, which purports to prove that the slave trade was dominated by Jews. One must ignore the fact that the Nation of Islam continues to distribute the infamous anti-Semitic forgery, Protocols of the Elders of Zion. One must ignore the fact that anti-Semitism is central to the message of Khalid Muhammad and other speakers who represent the Nation of Islam at campus forums. And one must ignore Farrakhan’s own words, not uttered five or ten years ago, but within the past year.

In the midst of the Khalid Muhammad furor, for instance, Farrakhan told an audience in Harlem that Jews “are the most organized, rich, and powerful people, not only in America, but in the world,” and added that they were “plotting against us even as we speak.” More telling were his comments in a Chicago Sun-Times interview conducted in July 1993. Presented with an ideal fence-mending opportunity, Farrakhan responded by actually reinforcing the anti-Semitic dimension of his message:

When I talk to the Jews, I am talking to a segment of that quorum that holds my people in their grip. And I can’t get to you unless I get to them first because they got a grip on you whether you want to admit it or not because they got a grip on politicians, on black preachers, on black intellectuals.

. . . [It] is like the Bible. They are elders of Israel, but the elders of Israel are under the control of Pharaoh and your . . . top black leaders, your top black intellectuals, your top black professional sports and entertainers are not under our control. They are under the control of those who have done injustices to the masses of black people, so I have to go to them to get you out of their grips so you can work for your people and their salvation rather than work on a job for your enemy.

In the same interview, Farrakhan described himself as “the lone voice for black people,” and left no doubt that he believed he had attained this position by refusing to knuckle under to demands that he renounce his anti-Jewish “truths.”

That Farrakhan declined to disavow Khalid Muhammad’s opinions, then, should have come as no surprise: Muhammad, after all, was only repeating ideas, albeit in less temperate language, taught by his leader, including most definitely the notorious proposition that Jews are “sucking the blood” of the black community.

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Apart from the black leaders who issued a narrow disavowal of Khalid Muhammad’s remarks, and the ones who ventured a broader repudiation of Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, there was a third category. It consisted of those who, while not sympathizing with Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, expressed annoyance at the demand that black leaders condemn every new expression of bigotry to emerge from any black source. One member of the Black Caucus, Congressman Charles Rangel of New York, actually taxed the ADL with having exploited what he perceived as a minor and isolated episode to raise money and gain publicity. Why, Rangel asked, had not a joke by Senator Ernest Hollings (D.-S.C), which depicted African leaders as cannibals, provoked a furor similar to that triggered by Muhammad’s speech at Kean College?

The Amsterdam News, New York’s principal black newspaper, eagerly picked up the same theme, accusing the ADL of the “willful and cynical exploitation of a people for the purpose of raising money from Jews by frightening them.” A similar emphasis colored the coverage in Time magazine. It titled its analysis “Enforcing Correctness,” and expressed sympathy with what was depicted as exasperated black leaders under constant pressure from whites, and mainly Jews, to disavow any “semi-obscure black figure [who] says something outrageous or anti-Semitic.”

Now Rangel has never been identified with the more militant, nationalist-oriented members of the Black Caucus. His district contains a fair percentage of whites, many of whom are Jewish. But it also contains Harlem and a constituency of loyal followers of Louis Farrakhan. While the formal nationwide membership of the Nation of Islam is not believed to be especially impressive—most estimates fall in the 10,000 to 15,000 range—Farrakhan himself commands a substantially larger following, including many middle-class blacks. Over 30,000 admirers packed a recent Farrakhan address in New York, and over 10,000 attended a rally in Harlem where attendance was limited to black men. No other figure in black America could draw the large and enthusiastic crowds which regularly jam Farrakhan’s meetings; and indeed, the Black Politics Study conducted at the University of Chicago has found that a whopping 67 percent of black respondents consider Farrakhan a positive force in the black community, with a mere 28 percent viewing him negatively. The results of a Time/CNN Poll are even more discouraging, with 70 percent of black respondents agreeing that Farrakhan “says things the country should hear,” 63 percent agreeing that he “speaks the truth,” and only 34 percent seeing him as “a bigot and a racist.”

Farrakhan’s appeal may stem in part from his preachments against drugs and black-on-black violence and his emphasis on black self-respect, but there is no question that racism is fundamental to his popularity. When, for instance, during one of his New York speeches, he mentioned the black man who, in a deranged orgy of racial vengeance, killed six non-black passengers on the Long Island Railroad, Farrakhan was greeted by sustained applause. The applause was a testimony to the level of racial resentment that pervades the Farrakhan constituency, a resentment he has labored long and hard to exploit.

So far as Jews in particular are concerned, black attitudes provide a fertile field for Farrakhan. Almost every poll shows a higher level of anti-Semitism among blacks than among other groups. In a 1992 ADL survey, only 14 percent of black respondents registered no anti-Semitism, whereas 37 percent fell into the category of most anti-Semitic, more than double the level found among non-Jewish whites. Other polls have shown that better-educated blacks tend to be more anti-Semitic than blacks with less education, a reversal of the pattern in the general population.

One has to conclude that this situation is likely to get worse when one considers how seriously off the mark Rangel is in dismissing the Kean College incident as an isolated and therefore unimportant case. For the truth is that it is an all-too-typical example of the growing phenomenon of unconcealed, virulent black anti-Semitism on college campuses.

Indeed, while Khalid Muhammad may have been an obscure figure nationally before his appearance at Kean, he was most certainly no stranger to college students, having frequently addressed groups at both black and multiracial colleges. Very often the message, and even the vocabulary, were similar to the Kean address. At Columbia, he employed the line about “Columbia Jewniversity” and “Jew York City.” During a second appearance at Columbia, he praised Henry Ford (who in his own day had also distributed the Protocols of the Elders of Zion) for standing up to “international Jewry.” And at Mary Washington College, speaking on the first night of Passover, he declared that “blacks, not Jews, are God’s chosen people” and accused Jews of “working to keep blacks ignorant and repressed.”

Another favorite campus speaker, Professor Griff, once associated with the rap group Public Enemy, charged at Southern Connecticut State University that Jewish doctors have injected black babies with AIDS. A similar message has been delivered to the campuses by Conrad Muhammad, a Nation of Islam official: while attacking Zionism, he declares that whites have deliberately introduced drugs into the black community as a measure of control. At the University of Minnesota, the Africana [sic ] Studies Department sponsored a series of speakers with “anti-Zionist” themes. They included Farrakhan, Steve Cokely (a Chicago figure who was removed from a political post for anti-Semitic utterances), and Kwame Ture (the former Stokely Carmichael). Ture’s contribution was to repeat the unspeakable lie that “the Zionists joined with the Nazis in murdering Jews” in order to encourage Jews to flee to Palestine. This past February, Ture delivered the initial lecture during Black History Month at the Community College of Philadelphia. In the course of his talk, he characterized “Zionism” as an oppressive movement working to stifle black progress.

In short, there is a cadre of professional black anti-Semites who travel from campus to campus, sometimes appearing in tandem, preaching a message virulent enough to earn the appreciation of Julius Streicher. And, it should be noted, being well rewarded for their efforts. Muhammad was paid $2,650 for the Kean College speech; more prominent speakers, like Farrakhan, earn higher fees.

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Nor is the problem of black anti-Semitism on campus limited to the controversial personalities invited to deliver guest lectures. At CCNY, Professor Leonard Jeffries, Jr. continues to serve as chairman of the Black Studies Department despite a well-established record of anti-Semitism. (Jeffries, incidentally, has served as an adviser to Kean College and has spoken there on more than one occasion.) At Wellesley, Tony Martin, a tenured professor in the Africana Studies Department, who has assigned his class readings from The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, hit back against criticism by saying that “anti-Semitism . . . has become for the privileged and powerful U.S. Jewish leadership and their unthinking Negro stooges, a bludgeon to subdue dissent, stifle discussion, deprive African-Americans of a living, and perpetuate historical lies.” He also said, in a formulation quite similar to Khalid Muhammad’s charge that Jews used blacks as “cannon fodder” during the civil-rights movement, that the “Jewish Establishment has concluded that a prostrate African-American population, to be oppressed or paternalized as the times warrant, will continue to be an insurance against a Euro-American reversion to European anti-Jewish activity.”

Of course, we could dismiss the ravings of Farrakhan and his acolytes if it were clear that their extremism and bigotry were rejected by the target audience of black students. Yet the evidence collected by journalists who have covered the controversies over black anti-Semitism on campus suggests that many black students are more than willing to give the most absurd and hate-driven views the benefit of the doubt.

This was certainly the case at Kean College. To one black student, Muhammad’s speech represented “racial pride.” Another said the speech was “not hate,” but rather “just culture,” and added that, “They come down on everyone who tells the truth.” Another student asserted that it would be “wrong for me to tell him to change his thoughts because someone else might be offended by what he says.”

These reactions echoed remarks made by black students on other colleges who became acquainted with Muhammad’s world view. Muhammad “has a message that speaks to the black youth,” commented a student at Morgan State University. A law student at Howard University called Muhammad a “freedom fighter, a staunch role model, besides being exciting, charismatic, and appealing intellectually.” Similarly, a Barnard undergraduate found Muhammad’s opinions “very enlightening, thought-provoking, and above all true.”

Such “enlightening” and “true” opinions have not been restricted to exhortations about black pride. In an incident which took place this past February, it was students at Howard University, one of black America’s proudest institutions, who took the lead in an anti-Jewish demonstration which, if press accounts are to be believed, resembled a Nazi-party rally. On this occasion, for a change, Khalid Muhammad himself, as the featured speaker, delivered a prudently restrained talk. But a student leader, Malik Zulu Shabazz, warmed up the crowd with a scathing attack on Jewish cultural and economic domination. Although his arguments paralleled those often expressed by Farrakhan, Muhammad, et al., the presentation, as described by the Washington Post, reflected an alarming tactic of actively stimulating anti-Jewish hatred:

Each time Shabazz noted one of those [areas of Jewish control], he paused to ask the crowd who controlled it, and the crowd shouted back: “Jews.” At one point, after what he thought was a tepid response, Shabazz asked the crowd, “Are you afraid to say it?” The crowd then shouted louder: “Jews, Jews.”

Shabazz, it should be noted, was only one of several speakers that evening who gave voice to anti-Jewish passions: another declared that the motto for black people should no longer be, “We Shall Overcome,” but rather, “We Shall Not Sell Out to the Jews.”

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Following upon Muhammad’s speech there, Kean College officials have placed much of the blame on the growing pains of multiculturalism and diversity. To be sure, Kean College is a diverse campus, with over one-quarter of the student body black or Hispanic. By citing diversity and multiculturalism, however, college administrators were not referring to the racial or ethnic proportions within the student body, but to a broader, and much more politically-loaded concept. Elsa Gomez, the college’s president, alluded to this when she said that Kean was “paying the painful price of our commitment to diversity and the challenge to empower students, who often come from a disadvantaged background, to achieve their full potential.”

The key word here is “empower.” On campus after campus, the idea of diversity has been advanced to justify not simply extending a measure of authority to students as students—as was the case during the campus wars of the 60’s—but to give authority to students as members of certain preferred groups: blacks, Latinos, homosexuals, Asians.

Each group is permitted, or, more precisely, expected, to establish its own lobbying entity and publications. On many campuses, blacks and other minority students segregate themselves in exclusive dormitories. Often, space is set aside in the official campus newspaper for the different groups to air their views, where they usually lament their victimization. Student-activity funds are divided among the various ethnic and gender lobbies, and this money is used to pay guest speakers, who are invited without interference from the school administration. Hence the many speaking engagements for Farrakhan, Khalid Muhammad, Professor Griff, and their ilk.

One of the great myths disseminated by the multiculturalists is that their policies represent a way to bring harmony to institutions troubled by the problems associated with interracial student bodies. As one Kean official told a reporter, with unintended irony: “When you’re a diverse, multicultural institution, you’re continually working to bring people together—that’s what diversity and multiculturalism are all about.”

In practice, however, the diversity agenda has deepened racial, sexual, and ethnic tensions at universities all across the country. In fact, the accentuation of difference is what diversity is “all about,” as the movement’s more candid advocates will readily acknowledge. Diversity gurus reject the very notion of universal values which unite Americans as Americans, and they are using multiculturalism as a siege weapon aimed at what turns out to be America’s most vulnerable institution, the university. On the ground, where the battles are fought, the diversity agenda works not to bridge differences, but to stimulate a sense of minority grievance and to enable racial minorities, homosexuals, and feminists to acquire and protect turf, secure jobs and resources, dilute standards, and reshape curriculum.

A by-product of the diversity movement is the symbiotic relationship that has developed among black student unions and the black-studies departments and affirmative-action bureaucracies at many universities. Certainly there are excellent black-studies departments where scholars conduct research, teach effectively, and are conscientious about counseling black students. Yet all too often, black-studies departments have dismal records of academic accomplishment and function mainly as a base of operations for racial rabble-rousers like Leonard Jeffries.

Inevitably, the diversity advocates come into conflict with Jewish academics. Jews are “over-represented” on the faculty at many colleges and tend to be among the strongest defenders of the standards and qualifications which multiculturalists identify as impediments to their advancement. James Conyers, assistant dean of Kean’s Africana Studies Department, touched on this theme when, in the midst of the furor over the Khalid Muhammad speech, he charged that Jewish professors were part of a “white power structure on campus that operates in a covert fashion covered up by the jargon of academia.”

Meanwhile, college officials have made it clear that they are powerless to prevent a repetition of the Kean College incident. Administrators who not so long ago were busily formulating elaborate hate-speech codes, subjecting violators to sensitivity-training sessions, and persecuting a Pennsylvania University student for calling a group of noisy black sorority girls “water buffaloes,” now contend they are helpless to deal with genuine examples of hate speech when voiced by outside speakers or even faculty members. Instead, college officials counsel more seminars and teach-ins about tolerance and encourage dialogue between the aggrieved parties. Thus Trenton State College decided to “balance” an appearance by Khalid Muhammad, who had been invited to speak prior to the Kean College incident, by sponsoring a talk by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a black scholar from Harvard who has been pilloried by the Nation of Islam for his criticism of anti-Semitism.

The very idea of a distinguished academic like Gates being used to “balance” the ravings of a fringe demagogue like Muhammad is vivid, if sickening, testimony to the deterioration in intellectual and civic standards that has occurred at many institutions of higher learning. The same can be said of the proposition that black and Jewish students can engage in a “dialogue” over ideas which, not so long ago, would have been dismissed as unworthy of discussion.

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If anything at all positive were to emerge from this whole appalling episode, it would be the rethinking of certain assumptions about American political life and our institutions of higher learning.

To begin with, we need a thorough reassessment of the black-Jewish relationship. Many Jews, and most Jewish organizations, still hope that their traditional alliance with blacks can be repaired and maintained. But the brutal truth is that in black anti-Semitism we are faced with a phenomenon that is not about to go away and that is no longer confined entirely to the lunatic fringe.

Nor, as the reaction of Jesse Jackson and Benjamin Chavis demonstrates, is there much chance that mainstream black leadership will break decisively with those who brazenly encourage the spread of anti-Semitism. Ironically, the continued Jewish belief in a special relationship only serves to embolden Farrakhan and his followers to make ever more outrageous statements in the knowledge that Jews, unlike other whites, will react not simply with anger, but with wounded innocence and appeals for “dialogue” and “healing.” Abandoning the fiction of the special relationship might thus have the paradoxical effect of contributing to a reduction of racial tensions.

If this kind of reevaluation is warranted with regard to black-Jewish relations, a similar process is essential where higher education is concerned. The diversity program, which grows stronger even as the list of atrocity stories grows longer, has become the single most virulent source of anti-Semitism in America today. This problem will not be resolved by fretting over speech regulations, First Amendment rights, or balancing hate speech with reason and common sense. The root cause, to borrow a once-popular term, is multiculturalism itself. Unless that reality is confronted, our colleges and universities will deteriorate still further, and anti-Semitism, already dangerously widespread among blacks, will spread among them even more, with what consequences no one can foretell.

About the Author

Arch Puddington is director of research at Freedom House and the author, most recently, of Lane Kirkland: Champion of American Labor.




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