Cornel West and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., on black anti-Semitism: sagacity for the Left today

“It is strange to see things for which Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty have long been despised and abused, among much of the left, the kitsch left, now being brandished as weapons against the Corbyn Labour Party by our political enemies. Certainly “left-wing” antisemitism, expressed as “anti-Zionism”, is a malignant and powerful force on the left. […] Those who want the destruction of Israel and advocate, or would support, an Arab or Islamic war of extermination against it should not be members of any working-class or socialist party. It is necessary to educate and re-educate the left and the labour movement, to get the movement to see, reject, and fight their “left-wing” antisemitism. […] Blatant and persistent antisemites should be expelled from the Labour Party. But more than that is needed. Jeremy Corbyn should take the lead in initiating an educational campaign in the Labour Party and in the broader labour movement on the complex of questions involved, including Israel-Palestine.” Anti-Semitism is a real issue: criticise the “left”, oppose the right (2018)

“I’m sure you know, millions more Africans were killed in the African Holocaust and their oppression continues today on a global scale in a way it doesn’t for Jews… and many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which is of course why there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean. So who are victims and what does it mean? We are victims and perpetrators to some extent through choice. And having been a victim does not give you a right to be a perpetrator.” Jackie Walker (2016)

““Anti-Semitism is a crime. Anti-Zionism is a duty” read the banner in front of the stage at Jackie Walker’s performance of her one-person show “The Lynching” at the Edinburgh Fringe in early August. […] She describes her play as “the one-woman show about a real-life witch-hunt: an attempt to destroy Jeremy Corbyn and an entire political movement.” According to the play’s publicity, the play tells you “what they wouldn’t let Jackie Walker tell you.” Who “they” are is not defined. Nor is there any explanation of why “they” are letting Walker tell you something in a play which “they” do not let her tell you in any other way. Or maybe that’s the power of the performing arts? The play is part of an ongoing campaign by Walker, according to which the allegations of anti-semitism raised against her are totally unfounded and are really an attempt (presumably by “them”) to silence critics of Israel (and destroy Jeremy Corbyn, and destroy Momentum). […] The banner draped in front of the stage on which Walker performed her play is the banner of the Scottish Palestine Campaign (SPSC), which also organised a speaking tour of Scotland for Walker in March. In the week preceding Walker’s performance the SPSC had been a news item in its own right, following the publication of “Jew Hate and Holocaust Denial in Scotland” by Jewish Human Rights Watch. The report’s author, David Collier, had researched the personal social media accounts of Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) members and activists. The bulk of the 160-page report consists of screengrabs of some of the antisemitic material which he encountered: Holocaust denial and Holocaust revisionism; the antisemitic trope of Israel as a behind-the-scenes global superpower; other traditional antisemitic tropes (rich Jews, greedy Jews, cunning Jews, etc.).” Jackie Walker’s questionable allies (2017)

Insightful context to the high-profile case of the twice suspended Labour Party member and former Vice-Chair of Momentum, Jackie Walker, is the book Blacks and Jews: Alliances and Arguments edited by Paul Berman (published by Delta in 1994); in particular, two of its essays by Cornel West and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Below are extracts from each essay.

(Wikimedia Commons)

Cornel West: On Black-Jewish Relations

“Without a sympathetic understanding of the deep historic sources of Jewish fears and anxieties about group survival, blacks will not grasp the visceral attachment of most Jews to Israel. Similarly, without a candid acknowledgment of blacks’ status as permanent underdogs in American society, Jews will not comprehend what the symbolic predicament and literal plight of Palestinians in Israel means to blacks. […] The ascendance of the conservative Likud party in Israel in 1977 and the visibility of narrow black nationalist voices in the eighties helped solidify this impasse. When mainstream American Jewish organizations supported the inhumane policies of Begin and Shamir, they tipped their hats toward cold-hearted interest-group calculations. When black nationalist spokesmen like Farrakhan and Jeffries excessively targeted Jewish power as subordinating black and brown peoples they played the same mean-spirited game. In turning their heads from the ugly truth of Palestinian subjugation, and in refusing to admit the falsity of the alleged Jewish conspiracies, both sides failed to define the moral character of their Jewish and black identities.”

“Black anti-Semitism rests on three basic pillars. First, it is a species of anti-whitism. Jewish complicity in American racism – even though it is less extensive than the complicity of other white Americans – reinforces black perceptions that Jews are identical to any other group benefiting from white-skin privileges in racist America. This view denies the actual history and treatment of Jews. And the particular interactions of Jews and black people in the hierarchies of business and education cast Jews as the public face of oppression for the black community, and thus lend evidence to this mistaken view of Jews as any other white folk.

Second, black anti-Semitism is a result of higher expectations some black folk have of Jews. This perspective holds Jews to a moral standard different from that extended to other white ethnic groups, principally owing to the ugly history of anti-Semitism in the world, especially in Europe and the Middle East. Such double standards assume that Jews and blacks are “natural” allies, since both groups have suffered chronic degradation and oppression at the hands of racial and ethnic majorities. So when Jewish neoconservatism gains a high public profile at a time when black peoples are more and more vulnerable, the charge of “betrayal” surfaces among black folk who feel let down. Such utterances resonate strongly in a black Protestant culture that has inherited many stock Christian anti-Semitic narratives of Jews as Christ-killers. These infamous narratives historically have had less weight in the black community, in stark contrast to the more obdurate white Christian varieties of anti-Semitism. Yet in moments of desperation in the black community, they tend to reemerge, charged with the rhetoric of Jewish betrayal.

Third, black anti-Semitism is a form of underdog resentment and envy, directed at another underdog who has “made it” in American society. The remarkable upward mobility of American Jews – rooted chiefly in a history and culture that places a premium on higher education and self-organization – easily lends itself to myths of Jewish unity and homogeneity that have gained currency among other groups, especially among relatively unorganised groups like black Americans. The high visibility of Jews in the upper reaches of the academy, journalism, the entertainment industry, and the professions – though less so percentagewise in corporate America and national political office – is viewed less as a result of hard work and success fairly won, and more as a matter of favouritism and nepotism among Jews. Ironically, calls for black solidarity and achievement are often modeled on myths of Jewish unity – as both groups respond to American xenophobia and racism. But in times such as these, some blacks view Jews as obstacles rather than allies in the struggle for racial justice.

These three elements of black anti-Semitism – which also characterize the outlooks of some other ethnic groups in America – have a long history among black people. Yet the recent upsurge of black anti-Semitism exploits two other prominent features of the political landscape identified with the American Jewish establishment: the military status of Israel in the Middle East (especially in its enforcement of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza); and the visible conservative Jewish opposition to what is perceived to be a major means of black progress, namely, affirmative action. Of course, principled critiques of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, of Israeli denigration of Palestinians, or attacks on affirmative action transcend anti-Semitic sensibilities. Yet vulgar critiques do not – and often are shot through with such sensibilities, in white and black America alike. These vulgar critiques – usually based on sheer ignorance and a misinformed thirst for vengeance – add an aggressive edge to black anti-Semitism. And in the rhetoric of a Louis Farrakhan or a Leonard Jeffries, whose audiences rightly hunger for black self-respect and oppose black degradation, these critiques misdirect progressive black energies arrayed against unaccountable corporate power and antiblack racism, steering them instead toward Jewish elites and antiblack conspiracies in Jewish America. This displacement is disturbing not only because it is analytically and morally wrong; it also discourages any effective alliances across races.”

(Wikimedia Commons)

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: The Uses of Anti-Semitism

“As the African-American philosopher Cornel West has insisted, attention to black anti-Semitism is crucial, however discomforting, in no small part because the moral credibility of our struggle against racism hangs in the balance.”

“A book popular with some in the “Afrocentric” movement, The Iceman Inheritance: Prehistoric Sources of Western Man’s Racism, Sexism, and Aggression by Michael Bradley, argues that white people are so vicious because they, unlike the rest of mankind, are descended from the brutish Neanderthals. More to the point, it speculates that the Jews may have been the “‘purest’ and oldest Neanderthal-Caucasoids,” the iciest of the ice people: hence (he explains) the singularly odious character of ancient Jewish culture. Crackpot as it sounds, the book has lately been reissued with endorsements from two members of the Africana Studies department of City College, New York, as well as an introduction by a professor emeritus of Hunter College and paterfamilias of the Afrocentric movement.

College speakers and publications have also had a role to play in legitimating the new creed. Last year, UCLA’s black newspaper Nommo defended the importance of the notorious czarist canard, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. (Those who took issue were rebuked with an article headlined: “Anti-Semitic? Ridiculous – Chill.”) Speaking at Harvard University earlier this year, Conrad L. Muhammad, national youth representative of the Nation of Islam, neatly annexed environmentalism to anti-Semitism when he blamed the Jews for despoiling the environment and destroying the ozone layer.

But the bible of the new anti-Semitism is The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, an official publication of the Nation of Islam that boasts 1,275 footnotes in the course of 334 pages. […] The book, one of the most sophisticated instances of hate literature yet compiled, was prepared by the historical research department of the Nation of Islam. It charges that the Jews were in fact “key operatives” in the historic crime of slavery, playing an “inordinate” and “disproportionate” role and “carv[ing] out for themselves a monumental culpability in slavery – and the black holocaust.” And among significant sectors of the black community, this brief has become a credo of a new philosophy of black self-affirmation.

To be sure, the book massively misrepresents the historical record, largely through a process of cunningly selective quotations of often reputable sources. But its authors could be confident that few of its readers would go to the trouble of actually hunting down the works cited. For if readers actually did so, 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 2 percent, a finding sharply at odds with the Nation’s claim of Jewish “predominance” in this traffic. They might find out that, in the domestic trade, it appears that all of the Jewish slave traders combined bought and sold fewer slaves than the single gentile firm of Franklin and Armfield. In short, they might learn what the historian Harold Brackman has documented at length: that the book’s repeated insistence that the Jews dominated the slave trade depends on unscrupulous distortion of the historic record. But the most ominous words in the book are found on the cover: “volume one.” More have been promised, carrying on the saga of Jewish iniquity to the present day.

However shoddy the scholarship of works like The Secret Relationship, underlying it is something even more troubling: the tacit conviction that culpability is heritable. For it suggests a doctrine of racial continuity, in which the racial evil of a people is merely manifest (rather than constituted) by their historical misdeeds. The reported misdeeds are thus the signs of an essential nature that is evil.”

“These are times that try the spirit of liberal outreach. In fact, Minister Farrakhan himself explained the real agenda behind his campaign, speaking before an audience of fifteen thousand at the University of Illinois last fall. The purpose of The Secret Relationship, he said, was to “rearrange a relationship” that “has been detrimental to us.” “Rearrange” is a curiously elliptical term here: if a relation with another group has been detrimental, it only makes sense to sever it as quickly and unequivocally as possible. In short, by “rearrange,” he means to convert a relation of friendship, alliance, and uplift into one of enmity, distrust, and hatred. But why target the Jews? Using the same historical methodology, after all, the researchers of the book could have produced a damning treatise on the involvement of left-handers in the “black holocaust.” The answer requires us to go beyond the usual shibboleths about bigotry and view the matter, from the demagogue’s perspective, strategically: as the bid of one black elite to supplant another. It requires me, in short, to see anti-Semitism 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. The strategy of the apostles of hate, I believe, is best understood as ethnic isolationism – they know that the more isolated black America becomes, the greater their power. 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.”

“In short, for the tacticians of the new anti-Semitism, the original sin of American Jews was their involvement – truly “inordinate,” truly “disproportionate” – not in slavery, but in the front ranks of the civil rights struggle.”

“Cornel West aptly describes black anti-Semitism as “the bitter fruit of a profound self-destructive impulse, nurtured on the vines of hopelessness and concealed by empty gestures of black unity.””

“Still, why should we be so preoccupied by ethnic scapegoating among people who are themselves ethnic scapegoats and relatively disempowered? Whom does it really hurt? Fair question. The answer: first and foremost, it hurts black people, through the politics of distraction and distortion. Getting the sources of our problems wrong is an obstacle to solving them. Objectively speaking, black anti-Semitism isn’t primarily a Jewish problem, it’s a black problem. In the words of the formidable critic and activist Barbara Smith, “We don’t oppose anti-Semitism because we owe something to Jewish people, but because we owe something very basic to ourselves.””

See also my blog post: Demystifying left anti-Semitism

One thought on “Cornel West and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., on black anti-Semitism: sagacity for the Left today

  1. Pingback: Cornel West and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., on black anti-Semitism: sagacity for the Left today — Anaemic On A Bike | RevolutionaryEye

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s