There’s a popular tweet going around shared by many in my Millennials generation by “The Conscious Kid” which is an organization dedicated to “parenting and education through a critical race lens.” With almost 2 million followers, it is highly influential to this generation’s activists dedicated to anti-racist education — a noble and important effort we must acknowledge if we care about a better future for every American. Anti-racism asks that people not merely be passively against racism but actively work against it.
The tweet going around social media states, “You can’t be anti-racist without also condemning anti-Semitism, which is also rooted in White Supremacy.” Now, there is much truth to this, obviously, and I very much appreciate that “The Conscious Kid” came out with it, in light of the ongoing anti-Semitic comments coming from a wide array of athletes to celebrities — but let’s pause a moment. Anti-Semitism goes so much deeper and if people are now willing to look inward at their biases, and hold others accountable, are Jews allowed to ask that society does the same for them? After the brutal killing of George Floyd, the Jewish community stood side by side with those demanding justice, recognizing the very real problem of racism in this country. We understood that the moment was not about us, and we respected that fully. But alas, as it always does, anti-Semitism reared its ugly head, not once, not twice, but enough that we cannot be silent.
The last few weeks we’ve witnessed an uptick in age-old anti-Semitic rhetoric on social media, mainly inspired by the rabid anti-Semite and homophobe, Louis Farrakhan who is deeply influential to the Black community among many celebrities, musicians and athletes with huge platforms and millions of followers. Many say he represents a minority, but he has a following that shares his anti-Semitic vitriol in musical artists like P. Diddy with 17.1 million social media followers, Ice Cube who has 17.8 million followers, Nick Cannon and Desean Jackson (who have both since apologized for their blatant anti-Semitic comments) with a combined 5.3 million followers. Even superstar Madonna with 15.3 million followers shared a clip of his which has so far garnered over 700,000 views.
If you take the time to read the comments on the apology written by Nick Cannon you will see dozens of his fans tell him not to apologize, stating: “you were right!” Comedian Chelsea Handler, shared a video of Farrakhan from 30 years ago on the topic of racial prejudice with her 3.9 million Instagram followers. Even in the face of intense criticism to remove it she said, “I wasn’t thinking about the anti-Semitic thing…I don’t want to take down the post because I felt the message was powerful and a lot of people did.” Handler, who is Jewish later did remove the video and issued an apology, but her casual apathy for the “anti-Semitic thing” speaks volumes. Tamika Mallory, an influential leader and former chair of The Women’s March has still not apologized for calling Farrakhan the G.O.A.T., Greatest Of All Time. We’ve witnessed the hashtag #Jewishprivilege circulate enough so that A-list Jewish celebrities like Sarah Silverman felt the need to respond to the absurdity of calling Jews privileged. I need not list the anti-Semitic comments, or violent attacks on the streets of Brooklyn; murder sprees in Monsey, New York, Pittsburgh and Jersey City, New Jersey from just the last few years — to convince you that anti-Semitism is alive and well in the United States. The question is, where is this coming from? The answer is a myriad of places, and the hard part for people is acknowledging that.
Anti-Semitism is not rooted in white supremacy – as we know it is the world’s oldest form of hate. Given that activists are currently asking society (calling on their friends, family, jobs, corporations, organizations, even hair accessory brands) to do this “inner work” confronting their racial biases, is it OK now for Jews to ask society to speak up against anti-Semitism and more importantly to learn about from where this vast conspiracy theory stems? It’s one thing for people to apologize and promise to do better. It’s another to learn about why what they said is not just hurtful but hateful and dangerous.
In her brilliant book, “How to Fight Anti-Semitism” former New York Times columnist Bari Weiss points out that anti-Semitism is, in fact, ancient and existed hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. In early Christianity however, Weiss points out the notorious line in book of Matthew, “’His blood is on us and our children,’ the Jews say a line so historically destructive that even the unrepentant anti-Semite Mel Gibson did not translate it in the English subtitles of his film the Passion of the Christ, though it is spoken in Aramaic.’“ She goes on to explain exactly why this is so important:
"My intent here is not to blame thousands of years of Christian doctrine—not at all—or to suggest that because Western civilization grew out of these roots, it is somehow fundamentally doomed. It is simply to point out that the historical and intellectual depth of the anti-Jewish conspiracy. If the Christian Bible is the most important book in Western civilization and Jesus is that civilization’s most important figure, the Jews’ rejection of him and his message means that anti-Semitism is baked into the very foundations of the world we inhabit."
If “anti-Semitism is baked into the very foundations of the world we inhabit” then activists asking society today to take a good hard look in the mirror must do the same for anti-Semitism. How many Americans know the origins of the “blood libel”? How many Christians are familiar with the history of their religion as it relates to Jews? How many Catholics know that it was not until 1965 that the Catholic Church officially denied the collective responsibility of Jews for killing Christ? Yes, 1965. How many pogroms and Jewish children were burned at the stake throughout history because of this idea? An untold number. Jewish history is wrought with one horrific account to the next of such brutality, and I’m not including the Holocaust.
We all know the threat of neo-Nazis and white supremacists and what their ideology states — and I’m not downplaying its seriousness — but when a superstar like P. Diddy with his over 17 million followers propagates anti-Semitism by promoting a message that states the Jews are “Satan,” in a world with only a few Holocaust survivors left to tell their stories, the dangers cannot be understated. This type of language must be clearly and unequivocally denounced, and yet some are even unapologetic. In a climate of cancel culture what does it say about the state of a society when figuresas popular as P. Diddy and Madonna can share that rhetoric and it goes unchallenged by the rest of stardom?
It is not only a Western phenomenon which is what makes anti-Semitism so unique and so dangerous. It is alive and well throughout the Muslim Arab world and has been for hundreds of years. How many people in this country know that? Just last summer on a popular Egyptian talk show, a professor revived the blood libel saying that Jews use human blood for ritualistic reasons but that today it is the work of only “extreme ultra-Orthodox Jews.” How many know that there is an onslaught of anti-Semitic hatred throughout the Muslim world — and from leadership in Turkey to Iran — that blames Jews for having invented the coronavirus? There are countless examples across the modern Muslim world of blatant centuries old anti-Semitism, not just the Arab world, to point to.
This is to say nothing of Israel’s annihilationist enemies or the far-left anti-Semitism we see in the form of anti-Zionism and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. It’s naïve to assume we can solve the problem of world-wide anti-Semitism, today, tomorrow or ever, and it is far too layered to explicate it in this short piece, but those of us who care about making sure we root out racism can and must educate ourselves and society writ-large on what exactly is anti-Semitism. As Weiss profoundly says: “anti-Semitism is baked into the very foundations of the world we inhabit.” Figuring out why that is, learning about the different roots and manifestations of the world’s oldest hate is an endeavor I implore my fellow Americans to attempt.
To learn more about anti-Semitism and the different manifestations it takes, see our new initiative: None Shall Be Afraid. Take our pledge and share with your friends. Anti-Semitism is everyone’s problem and we all have our part to play in combatting the oldest form of hate.
Rebecca Rose is Associate Director of Development & Special Projects at B’nai B’rith International. She holds an M.A. in Political Science in Security and Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University.
During the last decade, the LGBTQ community has made important strides in its effort to tear down the walls of discrimination in this country. The crowning achievement occurred when the Supreme Court declared that the right to marry extends to same sex couples. The court stated, “the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.” After the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2015, according to Gallup Daily tracking, about half of the people identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender indicated they were living with a same sex partner and married. These couples were finally able to enjoy the practical benefits of marriage associated with tax exemptions, health insurance, Medicare, inheritance rights and Social Security survivor benefits.
While older Americans in the LGBTQ community have made great advancements in equality, more work is still needed. There are about 1.1 million LGBTQ seniors in this country, who often face their own unique set of challenges. One of those hurdles is around affordable housing.
Unfortunately, there are senior housing facilities which have been hostile to LGBTQ older Americans. The Equal Right Center studied housing discrimination facing LGBTQ seniors in 10 states and reported that 48 percent of same sex couples were victims of discrimination during the application process. Sadly, discrimination does not stop once LGBTQ older Americans move into a building. Often, they are victims of verbal and physical abuse by their fellow residents. Look no further than Marsha Wetzel who moved into a low-income senior building in Chicago, Illinois. When her fellow residents learned she is gay, she was emotionally and physically abused. Consequently, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit against her building, Glen St. Andrew Living Community, claiming the defendant did not adequately protect Wetzel from the harassment, discrimination and violence that she encountered from other residents due to her sexual orientation. The federal appeals court further ruled that a landlord could be liable when he or she is aware of tenant-on-tenant harassment based on a protected class and didn’t take reasonable steps to stop the behavior.
Unfortunately, many LGBTQ seniors who want to age in place, don’t seek out assistance for fear of being treated poorly. Making life more complicated is that according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, this group is not as likely to have children, or a partner to help with caregiving.
Fortunately, cities around the country are taking positive steps to create affordable housing welcoming to LGBTQ seniors. These buildings advertise themselves as being LGBTQ friendly and often coordinate meetings and support groups that benefit this particular aging community. In addition, like many senior buildings, they go out of their way to create common areas that foster a sense of community and provide a space for educational programing and reduced cost meals. Carla Harrigan, a resident of Town Hall Apartments in Chicago told AARP, “Here, there's a sense of camaraderie. We have all lived through the difficult times of being gay or bi or trans, and now that we're seniors, we look out for one another.”
Funding for these communities has originated from local, state and federal resources and in some cases developers have been able to secure rental subsidies from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. These rental subsidies ensure that residents of the building are only obligated to pay 30 percent of their income on rent. Given the fact in 2016, 80 percent of residents at Town Hall Apartments had incomes below $15,000 a year, clearly these rental subsidies are badly needed.
Currently, 2.7 million adults 50 and over are part of the LGBTQ community, with that number expected to double by 2060. Everyone should be able to participate in society free of discrimination, especially in their home. We should applaud cities and nonprofit developers across America for creating housing that meets the needs of LGBTQ seniors. Hopefully, by fostering a sense of tolerance, LGBTQ older Americans will be better able to thrive in their homes and community.
Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Legislative Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services. He holds a B.A. from American University in political science and a J.D. from New York Law School. Prior to joining B’nai B’rith International he worked in the Office of Presidential Correspondence for the Obama White House, practiced as an attorney at Covington and Burling, LLP, worked as an aide for New York City Council Member Tony Avella and interned for Congressman Gary Ackerman’s office. Click here to read more from Evan Carmen.
Meet Grant Napear. The basketball broadcaster was fired after tweeting “All Lives Matter” following the killing of George Floyd.
Meet James Bennet, the former New York Times editorial page editor. Bennet was forced to resign after publishing an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton calling for military force in response to rioters.
Meet Louis Farrakhan. The head of the Nation of Islam has referred to Jews as “termites” and castigated them for their “Satanic influence.” Chelsea Handler and other celebrities tweeted their praise for his “really powerful” message about racism. Fox Soul TV scheduled a broadcast of his planned July 4 address before deciding instead to air excerpts of speeches by multiple Black leaders. Two Philadelphia Eagles teammates subsequently promoted Farrakhan on their Instagram pages. TV host Nick Cannon has used his YouTube talk show to praise Farrakhan, invoke anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and challenge the authenticity of the Jewish people.
Meet Al Sharpton, an activist who has referred to the Jewish community as “diamond merchants” and “bloodsucking Jews” and in 1991 instigated violence with his anti-Semitic demagoguery during the Crown Heights riots. Sharpton, who has not publicly apologized for his past behavior, hosts a daily program on MSNBC and will lead a march on Washington this summer.
The cases of Napear and Bennet are symptomatic of a cancel culture that exhibits minimal tolerance for an individual who has expressed or shared a controversial opinion. Napear’s “All Lives Matter” comment is considered by some to be a racist response to the Black Lives Matter movement. In Bennet’s situation, dozens of New York Times journalists tweeted their contention that his decision to run the Cotton op-ed endangered the lives of both Blacks and the newspaper’s staffers. The pressure to remove both Napear and Bennet was immediate and decisive.
Farrakhan’s critics, including several public figures, prompted Fox to scrap his TV appearance. And Chelsea Handler, after initially doubling down, ultimately deleted her tweet and apologized for it. But Farrakhan has met personally with at least seven members of Congress and continues to speak before large crowds, often using those occasions to spew anti-Semitic polemics.
Sharpton has faced his own share of detractors, although he maintains his perch at MSNBC and continues to absorb praise from highly prominent public officials who have hailed him as a civil rights champion. His August 28 address in Washington, scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, is expected to draw about 100,000 participants.
What is notable about Farrakhan and Sharpton is not just that they have survived criticism for their anti-Semitic pronouncements, but that they have never acknowledged or repented for their anti-Semitism. The plaudits they win from public figures and loyal followers not only burnishes the legitimacy they claim; it affirms their sense that they can blunt or simply dismiss any criticism that comes their way. “You only repent when you mean it, and I have done nothing wrong,” Sharpton has said.
A nationwide spike in anti-Semitic hate crimes in the past year has increased the concern of American Jews for their own safety. According to a report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernadino, Jews were the most highly targeted group in 2019 in the country’s three largest cities: New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. The killing of four people in a Jersey City, New Jersey kosher supermarket on Dec. 11 and an attack on Hasidic Jews at the home of a rabbi in Monsey, New York two weeks later illustrated the stark brutality of the threat facing the Jewish community.
As heightened awareness of the racism and injustice suffered by African-Americans has shortened the national fuse on racial issues and understandably fostered an atmosphere of zero tolerance for racial bigotry, Jews and other opponents of hatred could reasonably ask: Where is the commensurate outrage over anti-Semitism? Why does cancel culture fast-forward past the hatred of Jews?
Racial justice and the sacredness of Black lives deserve the full recognition owed by American society. But as long as the threats to Jewish safety and dignity persist, we have to demand that those perils also be taken seriously. This means that longtime purveyors of anti-Semitism should not be mainstreamed, their offenses deemed negligible or otherwise rationalized and contextualized. Jewish individuals deserve no less.
Eric Fusfield, Esq. has been B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs since 2003 and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University in history; an M.St. in modern Jewish studies from Oxford University; and a J.D./M.A. from American University in law and international affairs. Click here to read more from Eric Fusfield.
(July 8, 2020 / JNS) No ethnic group has stood stronger with the black community in America than the Jews have. From the early days of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, Jews supported black civil-rights organizations before the civil-rights movement crystallized and beyond. Jewish civil-rights attorneys numbered prominently among lawyers who opposed the Ku Klux Klan in Arkansas and throughout the South. They also battled Jim Crow laws in Mississippi in 1964.
Everyone who dismissed or minimized their roles might appreciate some glimpses of how Jews have interfaced with just a few legendary black Americans who themselves have made an indelible mark on not only the United States, but the world.
Albert Einstein, soon after he arrived at Princeton University from Germany in 1933, ahead of the Holocaust, immediately related the Jewish experience of the seething hate in Germany to the hate and discrimination against blacks in the United States. The famous professor quickly became friends with actor Paul Robeson. He opened his home to Marian Anderson when the famed opera singer was denied hospitality at a Princeton hotel. Einstein was close friends with W.E.B. DuBois, a co-founder of the NAACP. It was even rumored that Einstein became a member of the NAACP in 1933.
In 1946, before the civil-rights movement, Einstein was invited to Lincoln University to offer a commencement speech. He took advantage of his visit to give a presentation in a classroom to a dozen or so black students. Einstein wanted to inspire young minds of his brilliant world of relativity and, in general, his scientific world of physics. Many colleagues reportedly criticized the gathering and the mainstream press chose not to cover the event.
In the arts, Louis Armstrong, who arguably blasted a trumpet with the strength and passion unlike any other jazzist, lovingly wrote about a Jewish family in New Orleans that adopted him as a youth in 1907. The immigrant parents sang to him, recognized and nurtured his love for music, and supplied his first instrument. The young and eager Armstrong even learned Yiddish from his family from Lithuania, people who escaped pogroms. Armstrong found refuge from his own broken family—and that’s putting it kindly. To honor his adoptive parents, Armstrong wore a Star of David around his neck and proclaimed that the Karnofsky family taught him “how to live real life and (with) determination.” By the way, Armstrong’s famous nickname “Satchmo” is Yiddish for “Big Cheeks.”
In August 1963, B’nai B’rith headquarters served as one of the staging grounds for the historic March on Washington. Standing before hundreds of thousands of people at the March, prior to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Rabbi Joachim Prinz made remarks; Rabbi Uri Miller gave the opening prayer. Sixteen prominent rabbis from around the country accepted Dr. King’s invitation to join him in St. Augustine, Fla., in 1964 for a peaceful demonstration. All were arrested for engaging in civil disobedience.
In June 1964, three civil-rights workers, James Chaney (a black man) and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner (both white Jewish men) were brutally murdered by white supremacists in Neshoba County, Miss. The crime later became known as the “Mississippi Burning” murders.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with civil-rights leaders from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., on March 21, 1965, joining King, John Lewis, Ralph Abernathy, Ralph Bunche and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Beyond this seminal moment in civil-rights history, rabbis also participated in lunch counter sit-ins and “Freedom Rides.”
While there’s no denying that some Southern rabbis were reluctant to take as high a posture with civil rights in the 1950s and early 1960s—and some Southern Jews were part of the South’s practice of slavery—Southern rabbis did participate in the movement, as noted in “The Quiet Voices: Southern Rabbis and Black Civil Rights 1880s to 1990s.” For their support of the movement, many Southern synagogues were bombed, notably Atlanta’s Hebrew Benevolent Congregation.
Over the years, B’nai B’rith International has saluted and honored civil-rights leaders, including the establishment of a Heschel-King Award—in memory of two giants of the struggle for civil and human rights—for those who have contributed to join black-Jewish efforts in the fight for equal justice and racial comity.
Fast-forward to 2020: B’nai B’rith International’s executive committee, speaking for Jews throughout the world, issued a strong resolution on June 7 expressing outrage in the brutal killing of a 46-year-old George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. B’nai B’rith pledged to use its extensive contacts in the civil-rights community, as well as the intercommunal and interreligious fields, “to strengthen relations between Jews, black people, and other minorities and increase mutual understanding about issues of shared concern.”
The resolution cherished the right to assembly and peaceful protest and also condemned “senseless destruction of businesses,” particularly noting those owned by people of color and immigrants. It also expressed appreciation and the importance of having committed police personnel to protect communities and other individuals, human and civil rights.
In 2016, a coalition of more than 50 organizations known as the Movement for Black Lives released a policy platform, titled “Vision 4 Black Lives,” drew sharp criticism from the Jewish community. The platform condemned the U.S.-Israel relationship; referenced the “genocide taking place against the Palestinian people”; branded Israel an “apartheid state”; and endorsed the anti-Israel BDS movement.
Hate groups, from white supremacists on the right and leftist extremist organizations, generally operate from a foundation of bigoted ignorance. While the extent to which those in the Black Lives Matter movement and some of its followers have embraced the “Vision 4 Black Lives” platform is unclear, it’s disheartening to observe some Americans ignore the long history of successful cooperation between blacks and Jews on civil rights and turn instead to vitriol. History is laced with endless examples of Jewish ties and empathy with the black community. Identifying with the Jewish people, Robeson richly sang “Go Down Moses” to acknowledge Jewish bondage in Egypt and those who suffered from excommunication, racism, pogroms and extermination attempts. Certainly, Jews and blacks are undeserving of hatred, even if it emanates from within marginal movements in this country.
Today, again, blacks and Jews should embrace the current social atmosphere of openness and change and rekindle the spirit of black-Jewish cooperation that animated the civil-rights movement in the 1960s … and can once again.
Read Charles' expert analysis in JNS.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
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