When and how did it become acceptable to be an anti-Semite? When did it become okay to socialize with and even praise a Jew hater? I am referring, of course, to Louis Farrakhan, who spouts the most vile things about Jews yet retains the admiration of many on the left, including, notably, leaders of the Women’s March. They have now separated themselves from Farrakhan’s bigotry but not the man himself. He understands. They are doing what Jews want.
To an extent, they are. It has taken some pressure to get Women’s March co-chairs Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour and others to distance themselves from Farrakhan’s views. Yet Mallory, for one, will not condemn the man who holds these views. In this, she has plenty of company. On the stage with Farrakhan at Aretha Franklin’s funeral in September were Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Bill Clinton. Franklin, apparently untroubled by Farrakhan’s Jew hatred, had a friendly relationship with him, and he was at the funeral for that reason. Still, you could not imagine Jackson, Sharpton or Clinton sharing the stage with David Duke.
The Anti-Defamation League reports a surge in anti-Semitic incidents — up nearly 60 percent in 2017. But the numbers are more shocking than they are troubling. More troubling — if unmeasurable — are the casually anti-Semitic statements or associations of figures such as Mallory and Sarsour. In 2012, Sarsour, who is Palestinian American, tweeted: “Nothing is creepier than Zionism.” This might be understandable from a Palestinian point of view, but not her following sentence: “Challenge racism.” The slur that Zionism is racism must come as a surprise to the 135,000 Ethiopian Jews in Israel, roughly 25,000 of whom were airlifted between 1984 and 1991.
Farrakhan is lauded for the good work his Nation of Islam does in certain black communities and in jails. But his message is anti-white, anti-gay and anti-Semitic. The fact that he does some good is no reason to ignore or overlook the bad that is attached. When it comes to Jews, he has the lurid imagination of a 1930s-era Nazi. He blames the Jews for most everything, including Hollywood movies that are “turning men into women and women into men.” Mallory attended the rally where Farrakhan made that statement.
Eleven years ago, a writer for Harper’s wondered what would happen to Farrakhan if I ceased writing about him. I ceased, and Farrakhan seemed not to notice. In fact, his brand of anti-Semitism became, if not acceptable, then unremarkable. In her forthcoming book, “Antisemitism Here and Now,” the Holocaust historian Deborah E. Lipstadt gathers some of the more idiotic statements made by leftist Americans about Jews and, especially, about Israel. The country is routinely denounced as racist, colonialist, fascist and, of course, as segregated as South Africa in the apartheid era. None of this is true.
It is true, alas, that Israel persists in occupying the West Bank. But it is also true that many American Jews oppose this policy — as do many Israelis. As do I. But at the same time, I recognize that Israel is not the vilest among nations, that it is a democracy that accords full rights to its Palestinian citizens, that the Muslim gays of Tel Aviv would not last a day in the Arab world and that the proposal to have Israel absorb Palestinian refugees is simply untenable. It would doom Israel as a Jewish state. It is an invitation to obliteration.
I go back to Farrakhan. That Harper’s writer of years ago had a point: Farrakhan is not important. He leads a fringe sect that is as anathema to conventional Muslims as it is to Jews. It is not his anti-Semitism that worries me. More worrisome is the casual acceptance of his anti-Semitism by others that makes him somehow unremarkable — the unstated agreement that Jews are all-powerful, all-controlling and somehow blocking black progress. This stands history on its head and mocks the 1964 deaths in Mississippi of Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, who were among the many Jews who volunteered during the civil rights movement over the years.
In accepting Farrakhan, figures on the American left manage to combine anti-Semitism with racism — a belief that blacks are too weak to matter and Jews too powerful to care. It robs African Americans of their own agency by making their plight the work of evil Jews. As for Jews, it’s an echo of what they’ve heard before. The leaders of the Women’s March ought to study history to see that theirs are old ideas. They are marching in the wrong direction.
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