CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE

In 2017, white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia put American anti-Semitism in full view. Again. Murders followed at synagogues in Pittsburgh (2018) and near San Diego (2019). But whites aren’t the nation’s only anti-Semites.

Ten days ago, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson—African-American—posted on Instagram a quote falsely attributed to Adolf Hitler: “Because the white Jews knows [sic] that the Negroes are the real Children of Israel and to keep Americas [sic] secret the Jews will blackmail America.”

Jackson also posted a clip from a July 4 speech by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, the notorious anti-Semite banned by Facebook last year. Read “Farrakhan’s Influence Remains a Problem” by Jonathan S. Tobin (7/14) in the National Review.

Former NBA player Stephen Jackson joined in regarding the Rothschild banking family while citing Farrakhan. The entertainer Nick Cannon launched anti-Semitic and anti-white rhetoric on a podcast causing ViacomCBS to cut ties.

How can African-Americans, victims of racism, give voice to anti-Semitism? Because it’s there. Long has been.

Hitler didn’t introduce anti-Semitism to Germany. Martin Duberman points this out in Jews, Queers, Germans, a history-cum-novel spanning the 1890s to 1930. Count Harry Kessler, a non-Jew, states succinctly to the Jew-turned-Lutheran editor Max Harden, “I tell you anti-Semitism is engraved in all of us. And not just in Germany, though it surely flourishes here.”

Europe today displays strong strains of far-right and Muslim anti-Semitism. In Britain, the leftwing Labour Party under Jeremy Corbin kept anti-Semitism alive and well.

Anti-Semitism in American politics? Some progressives, including representatives Alexandra Octavio-Cortez (D.-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D.–Minn.) have used anti-Jewish tropes before disowning them. Many on the left also don’t just disapprove of Israel’s policies but deny the Jewish state’s right to exist.

In difficult times, people often turn to scapegoating. Given contemporary economic and cultural pressures, those of all ethnicities have much opportunity to pick up on hatred because it’s in the air, fostered by generations of writings, speeches and, most damaging, everyday remarks passed off as common wisdom.

DeSean Jackson, facing a firestorm of criticism, apologized. “My intention was to uplift, unite and encourage our culture with positivity and light. Unfortunately, that did not happen . . . I unintentionally hurt the Jewish community in the process and for that I am sorry!”

Uplift? Unite? Encourage? Unintentionally hurt? Do we speak the same language?

An African-American issuing anti-Semitic slurs can no more be excused than a Jew making anti-Black statements. And some Jews do.

Education can hinder the anti-Semitic and racist virus—when people are willing to learn. Hopefully Jackson is. Ignorance establishes a culture in which the virus thrives.

Important: African-Americans like NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar spoke out against Jackson’s remarks. Decency bridges racial and ethnic divides.

A plea to American Jews: Don’t let the nation’s DeSean Jacksons turn you away from the battle for Black rights. At the same time, don’t turn a blind eye to anti-Semitism from people of color and others on the left. Victimhood does not confer entitlement to hate.

As the quest for civil rights rightfully marches forward, American Jews face the danger of being caught in the middle, attacked by right and left. A small group, we make a big target. Calling racism and anti-Semitism to task makes an even bigger statement.

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

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8 Comments


  1. Julie Lekach House
    Jul 17, 2020

    Thank you, David, for broaching difficult realities. I will continue listening and reading to improve my understanding and to promote action. To


    • David
      Jul 17, 2020

      Difficult indeed, Julie. There’s the old law of thermodynamics (#3 I believe) that for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. Groups that have been the victim of hatred often demonstrate that law by hating others, as if this makes things right. Such hatred damages the quest for equal rights and respect for all human beings. Sweeping these matters under the rug undermines the efforts of all those who seek to bring us together.


  2. Susan E Shapiro
    Jul 17, 2020

    Thank you for this, David. You’re last paragraph is especially instructive and I appreciate it.


    • David
      Jul 17, 2020

      You’re welcome, Susan. And I’m appreciative to all the African-Americans who’ve spoken up and said anti-Semitism is flat-out wrong.


  3. Claudia Long
    Jul 17, 2020

    Good article on a tough subject. In some circles you’d be pilloried! It is amazing that it takes so much courage to call out anti-Semitism. I love the last paragraph.


    • David
      Jul 17, 2020

      Pilloried by the far left, Claudia? Probably. When the far left—pan-racial—and the far right—vastly white—march in opposite directions, they run into each other.


  4. Sandy Lipkowitz
    Jul 17, 2020

    Unfortunately racism exists in all societies and has for centuries/millennia. There is always the less fortunate minority being blamed for the woes of the more fortunate or fear of the stranger. I don’t know if it’s a throwback to some preservation instinct or what. That said there is no necessity for it in our lives. We have to use education, integration and information. The more we know someone, the less frightening they are and the more human they become. I’m hoping our Gen Z’ers will lead the way to a lasting change. The Generations before them have done a miserable job.


    • David
      Jul 17, 2020

      Agreed, Sandy. Until the day comes, it’s important for Jews not to be blindsided and for all groups to respect each other.

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