The Black, the Blue and the Jews

With rising incitement against Jews globally, American Jews are feeling betrayed by former allies—those who are outspokenly antisemitic, and those who remain silent.
March 25, 2024
Rep. Jamaal Bowman (Michael M. Santiago/Getty); Candace Owens (Jason Davis/Getty); Kanye West (Ronald Martinez/Getty); Whoopi Goldberg (Dia Dipasupil/Getty); /Dave Chappelle (Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty); MLK March (Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty)

The tale I am about to tell started out as a feel-good movie of the week and ended up as a two-hanky tearjerker of bitterness and betrayal. From solidarity to the nearly unsalvageable, within a matter of decades.

I am talking about the once unshakable bond between Blacks and Jews, which is now about as solid as quicksand within a desert of separation—with some of the most recent enmity emanating around events in the Middle East.

But Israel’s war in Gaza is not the sole rift. Old antisemitic canards have been resurrected and shamefully adopted by some African-Americans.

Recently, Congressman Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) urged that a mural honoring notorious antisemite Louis Farrakhan should remain untouched. (Farrakhan has referred to Jews as “termites” and called Judaism “the synagogue of Satan.”) Just last month Farrakhan promised an adoring audience that Allah had told him, personally, that the genocide of the Jews is near.

Last week, African-American conservative provocateur Candace Owens was fired from the Daily Wire after a series of remarks accusing Israel of genocide, referring to a “sinister gang of Jews” who control Hollywood, and liking a tweet that referred to a rabbi as being “drunk on Christian blood.”

Bowman and Owens share nothing in common politically. They are simply African-Americans who hate Jews without ideology getting in the way.

Over the past several years, antisemitic sluices have surged, and influential African-Americans can’t stop libeling Jews. One of the four original organizers of the 2017 Women’s March, Tamika Mallory, caused the two Jewish co-founders to resign when she berated them for belonging to a people responsible for the slave trade.

In 2020, professional athletes DeShawn Jackson and Stephen Jackson took to Instagram to praise Adolf Hitler and Farrakhan. Actor Nick Cannon used his YouTube channel to accuse the Rothschild family of conspiring with Zionists to control world banking. Rapper Ice Cube promoted a cartoon of caricatured Jews playing Monopoly on the backs of Black men.

In 2022, rapper Kanye West released a torrent of antisemitic greatest hits that Spotify would have rejected. He praised Hitler and the Nazis, called Black Hebrew Israelites the true Jews, and threatened to go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.” Basketball star Kyrie Irving endorsed a film that denied the Holocaust and claimed that Jews are lying about their biblical origins—and he did this while playing for Brooklyn!

Also in 2022, Whoopi Goldberg used her platform on The View to educate America that the Holocaust was not racially motivated. Obviously she adopted a Jewish surname, but not a Jewish brain.

Back in 2019, Hasidic Jews living in Williamsburg, Crown Heights, Borough Park, and Monsey, New York, and Jersey City, New Jersey, became targets of African-American teenagers and Black Hebrew Israelites.

Stand-up comedian Dave Chappelle, in one of his recent shows, accused Israel of committing war crimes. There’s a history here. In 2019, on Netflix, he made a joke about “Space Jews” that was an allegory for either Jewish power or Zionist “colonialism.” A year later, while hosting Saturday Night Live, he defended West and Irving by stating that Jews shouldn’t blame Blacks for their past trauma. Who’s doing that? The blame is in promoting vile tropes and lies that foment antisemitic violence among young Black males.

How did things get so bad, and so fast? The political alliance was once obvious on paper. Today it is paper thin, a relationship best defined by mutual suspicion and grievance. The condition of African-American and Jewish relations in the United States today is no longer a matter of black and white—or even a noncommittal shade of gray. It is best described as black and blue.

It began with the best of intentions. Two peoples inexorably drawn together by a history of persecution—victims of different masters (although not in the case of the lynching of Leo Frank), but sharing a common belief that Blacks and Jews were subhuman.

Jews helped found both the NAACP and its Legal Defense Fund. When Thurgood Marshall, who directed the latter, was appointed to the federal bench, he anointed Jack Greenberg as his successor. A Jewish lawyer defended the Scottsboro Boys, pro bono. Half the Freedom Riders were white, and 50% of those were Jewish. Two of the three murdered civil rights workers in Mississippi were Jews. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel linked arms with Martin Luther King Jr. throughout the Deep South. One of King’s closest confidants was attorney Stanley Levison.

Not long after King’s assassination, African-Americans came to resent the perceived sanctimony of Jewish paternalism; Jews who had placed their bodies on the line sensed ingratitude.

Eventually, Black Power led to Jewish exclusion. Malcolm X shattered the moral foundations of King’s passive nonviolent resistance with high-octane militancy. A once peaceful movement morphed into urban riots.

Over the ensuing decades, Jewish economic success robbed Jews of their underdog, underclass status. African-Americans made great progress, too, but powerful forces found it politically expedient to remain stuck in the grievances of 1960s.

Meanwhile, Israel, and the memory of the Holocaust, became ethnic priorities for Jews that didn’t align with an African-American agenda. Palestinians were anointed as successors to the civil rights struggle, even though their methods, which depended on terrorism, had nothing in common with the marches and sit-ins perfected by King. And the Holocaust seemed like special pleading for a people who were doing just fine.

These tensions reached a crescendo with the death of George Floyd, the rise of Black Lives Matter and Israel’s war in Gaza. Suddenly, it became fashionably convenient to forget the Jewish contribution to civil rights—if it was remembered at all. Allegations of apartheid and genocide, inveighed against Israel, went unrebutted. African-Americans were color-blind to the Instagram postings of Ethiopian Israelis fighting for the IDF, or a Black former Miss Israel calling for the return of the hostages.

Nothing was allowed to exonerate the Jewish state.

That’s why so many within the Congressional Black Caucus and the Squad are in lockstep when it comes to condemning Israel. And it’s what makes African-American leaders who support Israel, like Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), House Speaker Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Rep. Richie Torres (D-NY), exceptional outliers.

With rising incitement against Jews globally, American Jews are feeling betrayed by former allies—those who are outspokenly antisemitic, and those who remain silent. Polarization of this magnitude has caused Jews to remain silent, too.

That’s understandable. The acronyms BLM, BDS, DEI and CRT are unassailable in this political culture. Faced with such a winning combination of race cards, Jews are likely to fold.

Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and Distinguished University Professor at Touro University, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. He is the legal analyst for CBS News Radio. His most recent book is titled “Saving Free Speech … From Itself.” 

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