Good news and bad news: Anti-Semitism's only stronghold in America

Machlokes / Controversy

Jewish World Review / Nov. 30,1998 / 13 Kislev, 5759

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan S. Tobin

Good news...
and bad news

Anti-Semitism's only stronghold in America

WHICH WOULD YOU RATHER HEAR FIRST, the good news or the bad news? Like the stereotypical Jewish telegram which states "Start worrying, details to follow," the latest Anti-Defamation League survey of anti-Semitism in America is deeply troubling despite its lead statistics.

So here's the good news first. The ADL reports that the number of Americans polled who are free from anti-Semitic views has risen to 53 percent. That's up from 39 percent in 1992 when the last such poll was taken. That means that fewer Americans over 18 think that American Jews have "too much control" of Wall Street or the media.

This study, which was conducted by the Boston firm of Marttila Communications/Kiley & Co., confirms what many of us have already concluded: Old anti-Jewish stereotypes which have been a part of mainstream American thought for over a century are fading. Where once anti-Semitism was the instinct of the majority of Americans, it has now retreated to the margins of society. It is no longer possible to assert that anti-Jewish attitudes pose a barrier to Jewish success or social acceptance.

Jews no longer have to abandon their Jewish identity to rise in America. Men like Sen. Joseph Lieberman have proved that open devotion to Jewish values and practice is not only no longer a burden to Jews but something non-Jews respect.

To that we all must be thankful.

But here's the bad news: The ADL survey's "index of anti-Semitic belief" shows that in one segment of American society, Jew-hatred is still strong is among African-Americans. 34 percent of black Americans fit into the ADL's category of most anti-Semitic. That is compared to only 9 percent of the general population.

Based on my own reporting, unfortunately the poll sounds right on target. In the course of covering the furor over whether the Hartford public schools should be closed in honor of the Nation of Islam's so-called "Million Man March" I heard a Jew being called a "Christ-Killer" by a Muslim to applause from a black audience. On another occasion during the course of my duties on the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, I was myself subjected to repeated abuse by African-Americans who claimed that "Jews are frauds" -- an echo of the weird ideology of the NOI which seeks to demonizes whites in general and Jews in particular.

Blacks are not the only anti-Semites in America --- we still have Pat Buchanan and the wackos of the militias and the Klan. But blacks are the only group where such sentiments seem so prominent.

The anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist attitudes of Jesse Jackson, the rise of the Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan, as well as the prominence of other Jew- haters such as Khalid Muhmmad and Leonard Jeffries have all pointed in the same direction. Though the majority of African-Americans do not support their ideas, the Farrakhans are not treated as members of the lunatic fringe.

Instead, they are feted as leaders of that community not only by blacks themselves but by the rest of America. Witness, the fact that Farrakhan, whose evil nuttiness was demonstrated on national television during his "Million Man March" is nonetheless accorded the status of national celebrity and worthy of appearances on programs like "Meet the Press."

If we needed any further proof of this trend, there was also the reaction to the death last month of another prominent African-American hater: Kwame Toure a.k.a. Stokley Carmichael. Toure, who died in Guinea, West Africa, was lauded around the country as a "seminal" thinker and black leader.

Temple University Professor Thaddeus P. Mathis wrote last week in the Philadelphia Inquirer that "the life of Kwame Toure, provides a standard by which to measure leadership...the clarity of his vision for a better America and his principled and dedicated leadership live on as criteria by which leaders over the ages can be judged." In that piece and elsewhere, little was said of his legacy of hate.

Considering the ADL survey results, when Mathis wrote that Toure set the tone for the last three decades of African-American intellectuals, I'd have to admit he was right.

Toure came to prominence in the 1960's as the head of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee or SNCC. SNCC was originally organized by white and black southern students who were followers of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But Toure had other ideas.

Starting in 1966, Toure won enormous media attention with violent statements including a call for racist warfare by blacks. In particular, Toure lashed out at the Jews and Israel. Even after he changed his name and moved to Africa, he gained steady applause on U.S. campus speaking tours with his refrain of "the only good Zionist is a dead Zionist." He claimed the black community was "controlled by an alien ethnic group." Who was that group: "The culture in our community is controlled by Zionist agents," he told an ABC news show.

Toure set the standard for a generation of anti-Semitic rap. The familiar litany included the following canards: that Jews controlled the African slave trade; that Jewish control of Hollywood had lent itself to the degradation of blacks; that Israel was a racist nation oppressing people of color, that American Jews subjugated and exploited African-Americans in America's inner cities; and that Jewish doctors were deliberately injecting the HIV virus which causes AIDS into black babies. Along with the rest of the pseudo- intellectual cant that masquerades as an intellectual discipline called "Afrocenterism," was the charge that the Jews of today were imposters since the Jews of the Bible were actually black!

That this awful stuff echos the worst propaganda of 19th and early 20th century European anti-Semites (who ironically also hated blacks) makes it all numbingly familiar. But what other studies have shown is that this sort of thinking is more prominent among educated African-Americans. They are a minority, but a significant one.

What do we do about it? The ADL's Abe Foxman has rightly called for a more "vigorous effort" to combat this virus of anti-Semitism. He's right and we have a solid base of the overwhelming majority Jews who are not racist and blacks who are not anti-Semitic to build on.

What we don't need is a chorus of American Jews crying ingratitude because of Jewish support for civil rights in the past. Blacks don't owe Jews anything. While a larger percentage of Jews stood up for civil rights than most Americans, most were still silent. But by the same token, Jews owe blacks no apologies for slavery or anything else. The myths about the so-called alliance of blacks and Jews has been exploited by both sides.

What we need is a fresh start and honesty. And also, perhaps a lowering of expectations. But so long as Jew-haters such as Kwame Toure and Louis Farrakhan are accorded a place of honor by African-American intellectuals, the future of dialogue on those terms is bleak.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Connecticut Jewish Ledger. He was the recipient of the American Jewish Press Association highest award: First Place in The Louis Rapoport Award for Excellence in Commentary and Editorial Writing. The Rapoport award is named for the longtime editor of the Jerusalem Post and was given to Mr. Tobin at the AJPA's 1997 Simon Rockower Awards dinner at Cleveland on June 18, 1998.


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©1998, Jonathan S. Tobin