Reviving Jewish Race Science at Columbia U Conference

The population of Jews in the US is three percent … but [their ‘genius’] leads to their controlling so much power that even presidents are scared [of them]. Whether [President Barack] Obama will be able to escape the notion that three percent of the country is so powerful that the top gentile in the land cannot criticize Israel is not clear.

The above statement was made not by a Hamas or KKK leader, but by Ali al-Amin Mazrui, director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at SUNY Binghamton. He was addressing the Ifriqiyya Colloquium Conference, held on the top floor of Columbia University’s International Affairs Building, on Thursday, May 6. Mazrui is a darling of the far left, appearing prominently in venues such as Democracy Now, as well as at Islamist forums like the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Columbia Professor Mahmood Mamdani and Barnard College Professor Nadia Abu El-Haj also sat on the panel, the former serving as moderator. Mamdani introduced the speaker, telling the audience that the Ifriqiyya Colloquium was about “gain[ing] some depth to the study of Africa.” It may require a Ph.D. to appreciate how Mazrui’s anti-Semitic diatribe relates to that mission statement.

Mazrui’s lecture was entitled “Euro-Jews and Afro-Arabs: The Semitic Divergence in History,” but he spent most of his time discussing the development of Jewish “genius” and “cultural impurity” in a European context. Ostensibly, Mazrui was comparing the impact of Jews on Europe to the impact of Arabs on Africa. However, he was more interested in why “Arabs lagged behind Jews in manifest genius.” After admitting he knew little about Arab history and even less about Jews, Mazrui proceeded to spend his allotted time talking about the history of both peoples.

Mazrui did not flinch in asking rhetorical such questions such as “What aspects of Marxism are taken from Judaism?” He made the nuanced argument that since Karl Marx was ethnically Jewish, he clearly made “the Chosen People [into] the proletariat.” Mazrui’s lecture was also peppered with statements like “Jews have been at their best when they were Europeanized…almost as if you needed a mixture of Jewishness and Europeanness [for Jewish genius].”

He also claimed that Jews as a people are insular and racist. “Arabs are far less race-conscious and ethnic-conscious than Jews are,” he said. “Acceptance of race mixture was more developed in Arab culture than in Jewish culture.”

In case anyone thought he was referring to ancient history, Mazrui made it clear that his observation applied to the modern period. He told his audience that Kuwait formerly had a black prime minister, which was not widely reported in the media, but if Israel had one, “that definitely would make world news.” He neglected to mention that Kuwait’s Prime Minister is not elected, so the fact that a Kuwaiti Prime Minister was black tells us little about Kuwaiti society. Israel, on the other hand, is a multi-ethnic democracy with Arabs and Jews of every color serving in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

Abu El-Haj took the stage after Mazrui and attempted to give the conference a more academic tone. She spoke articulately about Mazrui’s research and largely succeeded in obfuscating the issue of Mazrui’s flirtation with race science. Abu El-Haj brings plenty of baggage to the debate: She has drawn criticism for working on a book claiming Ashkenazi Jews are not genetically related to the ancient Israelites, although she is not a geneticist and there is definitive scientific evidence to the contrary. Her controversial book, Facts on the Ground, argues that Israeli archaeologists have distorted the country’s material record in the service of nation-building. It was subjected to harsh reviews.

Yet even Abu El-Haj was taken aback by Mazrui’s research: “I don’t fully understand what you’re doing [in the section of his paper discussing ‘Jewish Genius’],” she exclaimed.

Mazrui clarified that Jews had “a certain kind of impurity” that led them to be “like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” but now they have “landed with Mr. Hyde’s evil identity.”

This statement was too much even for Mamdani, a vociferous critic of the Jewish state, who said, “I’m not comfortable with the direction this conversation is going in.” Abu El-Haj then made the astute observation that the conversation had “racial-genetic undertones” and that “it’s dangerous to talk about the biology of any group.”

Mazrui was offended, apparently unaware that he had said anything that could be construed as racist. He clarified that he was talking about “cultural,” not “racial,” “impurity.” He then went off on a political tangent.

This digression led him to the above statement about the “control” exercised by “three percent of the population” over the “highest gentile in the land,” determining American ties with Israel. Mazrui must have missed the fact that Americans support Israel over its adversaries at a ratio of over four to one, making the 2.2 percent of the U.S. population that is Jewish relatively trivial in the president’s calculations of Middle Eastern policy. Mazrui continued with this theme anyway, saying toward the end of his speech that “[the Nobel Committee] gave [Egyptian President] Anwar Sadat the Nobel Peace Prize for being a good boy toward the Jews.”

The conference ended at the completion of Mazrui’s diatribe. It was a surreal experience to bear witness to a professor of Mazrui’s professional stature dispensing with the usual fig leaf of “anti-Zionism” to espouse classic anti-Semitism. Academia ostensibly supports a world without prejudice, but professors like Mazrui now provide a legitimate façade for Jewish racial stereotypes. This is rank hypocrisy, and it’s time we call it what it is.

Brendan Goldman is a senior at New York University majoring in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies and an intern at the Middle East Forum. This essay was sponsored by Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.