The other day I learned that the British Zionist pressure group Campaign Against Antisemitsm, an organisation that cares about bigotry against one people only, has launched a new short course. They teach their supporters “how to build bridges with natural allies” so they can fight antisemitsm together. Someone should explain to these ultra Zionist campaigners that ‘natural allies’ do not need bridges to be built. Bridges are only required when is a need to span noticeable obstacles.
CAA’s unusual interpretation of the notion of ‘bridge building’ will help us to grasp today’s topic: Zionism and Africa or more precisely Jews and Blacks.
Jews often brag about their contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. According to some Jewish historians, a large amount of the funds for the NAACP came from Jewish sources – some experts estimate as much as 80%. Dr. King himself is regarded by many Zionists as their historic ally. Jewish sources often quote this defence of Zionism attributed to Dr. King. “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism!”
Howard Sachar begins his article Jews in the Civil Rights movement, by claiming that “nowhere did Jews identify themselves more forthrightly with the liberal avant-garde than in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. At the height of the anti-integration effort, in 1957, Rabbi Ira Sanders of Little Rock testified before the Arkansas Senate against pending segregationist bills.”
This would seem a positive moment in Jewish history until we remember that Judaism has sustained ‘segregation bills’ for two millennia. What are kosher dietary rules if not ‘segregation bills?’ I guess that we have all heard the Judaic and the Zionist attitude toward mixed marriage. Even within the Palestinian solidarity movement, many Jews choose to march within segregated racially oriented political cells (JVP, IJAN etc.)
I guess that CAA’s references to ‘bridge building with natural allies’ may help us to grasp the Jewish attitude to the Civil Rights Movement and solidarity movements. From a Jewish perspective the Blacks of the south were, to a certain extent, a ‘natural ally.’
Seemingly, some of the greatest voicws of the Civil Rights Movement were Jews. Sachar writes “Jewish participation in the Civil Rights movement far transcended institutional associations. One black leader in Mississippi estimated that, in the 1960s, the critical decade of the voter-registration drives, ‘as many as 90 percent of the civil rights lawyers in Mississippi were Jewish.’… They worked around the clock analysing welfare standards, the bail system, arrest procedures, justice-of-the-peace rulings.”
Probably among the most famous Civil Rights heroes were the three young voter registration workers, Jewish New Yorkers, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman co worker, and James Chaney a Black man from Mississippi. The three were abducted and murdered by Klansmen and local law enforcement officers. This tragic event increased the nation’s awareness of the human crisis in the South.
But I am afraid that this is where the good story ends. Historically the Jewish attitude towards Blacks has been nothing short of a disaster. It is difficult to decide how to enter this colossal minefield.
In Jewish culture the word shvartze (Black, Yiddish) is an offensive term referring to a low being, specifically a Black person (“She’s dating a shvartze. Her grandmother is probably rolling over in her grave”). The reference to shvartze chaya is a direct reference to ‘black beast,’ meaning the lowest of the low. Shvartze chaya is also how Ashkenazi Jews often refer to Arab and Sephardi Jews. I guess that at least culturally some Ashkenazi Jews find it hard to deal with the colour black, especially when it comes on people. It is therefore slightly peculiar to witness white Ashkenazi Jews complain about white supremacy. If they are genuinely interested in combating white exceptionalism, maybe they should first uproot those vile symptoms from their own culture. I guess that kicking the racist ball into the goyim’s court is much easier.
We witness an anomaly — the same people who played a fundamental role in the civil rights movement, are themselves instrumental in an historic racist segregation project. The same people who supported the rights of Black Americans are implicated in deep cultural racism.
In order to grasp the Jewish institutional attitude toward Blacks we will review the ADL’s attitude to the Nation of Islam (NOI) in general and Louis Farrakhan in particular. The ADL claims that Farakhan is one of “America’s Leading Anti-Semite.(s)”
NOI according to the ADL, has “maintained a consistent record of anti-Semitism and racism since its founding in the 1930s.” The ADL’s site states that “under Louis Farrakhan, who has espoused and promoted anti-Semitism and racism throughout his 30-year tenure as NOI leader, the organization has used its programs, institutions, and media to disseminate its message of hate.”
“He (Farakhan) has repeatedly alleged that the Jewish people were responsible for the slave trade as well as the 9/11 attacks, and that they continue to conspire to control the government, the media, Hollywood, and various Black individuals and organiaations.”
The question we want to ask at this stage is whether Farakhan’s criticism targets ‘The Jews’ as a people, race or ethnicity or does he actually target elements and sectors within the Jewish universe? A quick study of Farakhan’s cherry picked quotes provided by the ADL reveals that Farakhan doesn’t really refer to ‘the Jews’ as people. In most cases he refers to segments within the Jewish elite that are indeed politically dominant (AIPAC) and culturally corrosive or at least problematic.
But the question goes further. If the Jews do empathise with Blacks and their suffering why can’t they take a bit of criticism from the likes of Farakhan? If Jews care for the Other, as we are asked to believe, how come all this caring disappears once Farakhan appears on the scene? Unfortunately, the Jewish supporters of Palestine can operate like the ADL in this regard, occasionally acting as a thought police suppressing any reference to Jewishness as the driving force in Jewish history and Israeli criminality in particular.
Maybe the CAA’s peculiar understanding of the notion of bridge building is an accurate description of the Jewish political apparatus. What we see is a search for ‘natural allies’ that serve the Jewish cause rather than a humane empathic course towards peace, harmony and a better world. Jewish New Yorker Philip Weiss expressed this sentiment brilliantly in an interview with me. “I believe all people act out of self-interest. And Jews who define themselves at some level as Jews — like myself for instance — are concerned with a Jewish self-interest. Which in my case is: an end to Zionism.” Weiss supports Palestine because he believes it is good for the Jews. For him the Palestinians are natural allies. Similarly, Rabbi Joachim Prinz, who as a young German Zionist rabbi sought a potential collaboration with Nazi Germany, ended up as a leading Civil Rights figure marching alongside Dr. King supporting human rights. For the late Rabbi Prinz, Dr. King and the civil rights movement were natural allies, they were good for the Jews.
As you surely noticed, I have not mentioned the role of Jews in slavery. This horrendous chapter in human history is not within my field of study.* But I do see, like the rest of you, how the Jewish State treats Black refugees. I do see how Israel locks up Blacks for being Black. I grew up in a country that looked down at people with dark skin. When I left Israel in the 1990s, Ethiopian Jews couldn’t donate blood. Jews are probably split on their attitude to Blacks and this is good. But Jewish culture and politics have a lot of ground to cover before they can be considered ethical, universal or even empathic.