Multiculturalists and Anti-Semitism
Whatever else may have changed in the twentieth century as seen by Paul Berman, liberalism has remained as constant as the northern star, the unchanging revelation of political virtue and key to (ultimate) racial harmony, especially between blacks and Jews. Only such an unswerving faith in absolute and eternal truth could explain the reductio ad absurdum of his essay, the equation between the black Hitlerism of Farrakhan and his acolytes on the one side and “the growth of Jewish neoconservatism in the 1970 and 1980s” on the other. Even he is a little uneasy with the gross licentiousness of this equation; and so he adds that “the Jewish version of the downhill slide was not exactly parallel,” but it was just as malevolent because it “did urge the liberal Jews to give up their liberal sympathies” and thereby to become “black America’s political antagonists.”
Although black intellectuals, like Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, Stanley Crouch, Glenn C. Loury, Stephen L. Carter, and Walter Williams, and black political figures, like Alan Keyes and Clarence Thomas, have suggested that the liberal nostrums of the past half century, so far from being the panaceas that Berman supposes, have in fact contributed mightily to what he calls the “calamitous decline” of the black lower class, Berman doggedly insists that Jews who also raise questions about the perfections of liberalism automatically become “black America’s political antagonists.”
Whence derives Berman’s authority to decree that black thinkers who depart from liberal orthodoxy no longer belong to black America? A case in point: in August 1993, after a series of massive gunfire battles in the Robert Taylor Homes public housing development in Chicago, the black chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority, with the overwhelming support of the black residents of the housing project, ordered a police sweep for weapons, without warrant. But in April 1994 the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, led by Jewish liberals, got a court injunction barring the housing agency from conducting such warrantless building-wide searches. Two years earlier, the ACLU had sued to halt a photo-identification system like that in most federal office buildings and metal detectors to screen out gun-carrying gang members. Just a few days after the ACLU’s court victory over the representatives of the 144,000 residents of public housing in Chicago, there was a new outbreak of violence. Who, in this dispute, were “black America’s political antagonists”?
In his unswerving idolatry of liberalism, Berman takes no account of changes in its ideology or its leadership, whether among Jews or blacks. Does the replacement of the late Irving Howe, for example, by the egregious Michael Lerner (who in February 1994 told Time that he could not get “worked up” about Farrakhan because Jews at Commentary and The New Republic had opposed “affirmative action”) as spokesman for the Jewish left not tell us something about a “calamitous decline” in Jewish liberalism itself? Can the interaction between American Jews and American blacks be seriously discussed without taking note of the effects of Jewish liberal condescension to blacks, embodied in Lerner’s well-known statement (1969) that “Black anti-Semitism is a tremendous disgrace to Jews; for this is not an anti-Semitism rooted…in hatred of the Christ-killers but rather one rooted in the concrete fact of oppression by Jews of blacks in the ghetto… an earned anti-Semitism.”
A similar decline, also unnoticed by Berman, has taken place in the quality of black liberal leadership. We have descended from Martin Luther King, Jr. whose motto–“I have a dream”–and tragic fate had the biblical resonance of the Joseph story (“Behold, this dreamer cometh. … Let us slay him.”) to Jesse Jackson, the ambulance-chaser and shake-down artist whose motto, as the comic Mort Sahl recently observed, is “I have a scheme.” The NAACP’s executive director from 1955 to 1977 was Roy Wilkins, a man of courage and integrity who strongly opposed black nationalism and black anti-Semitism; now it is headed by the leftist militant Benjamin F. Chavis, who has eagerly sought a “covenant” with Farrakhan, whose second-in-command is a former Nation of Islam lawyer, and who in April of 1994 invited yet another anti-Semitic rabble rouser (who often warms up the audience at Farrakhan rallies before the tuxedoed messiah himself appears), Kwame Toure (formerly Stokely Carmichael), to increase his involvement with the NAACP.
One wonders too how Berman can declare that communism was a “project of emancipatory liberalism” and that its demise in 1989/91 was “liberalism’s greatest moment of triumph probably in all history.” According to this formulation, the Jewish liberals who supported or tolerated communism–this despite its policies of confiscation, repression, torture, enslavement, mass murder–are to be applauded for their idealism, and yet the overthrow of communism is a vindication of the very liberalism that once saw it as the road to “emancipation.”
Berman also writes of the Jewish liberals’ allegedly staunch defense of Israel as if he had never noticed the growing abandonment of Israel by liberal Jews ever since the Arabs, after losing the military war they started in 1967, took control of the war of ideas by the shrewd policy (perfectly calculated to capture liberal sympathies) of inversion, as described by Ruth Wisse: “Having refused to admit a Jewish state in what they designate as their exclusive region, Arab countries accuse the Jews of refusing to accept an Arab state. Having launched against it successive wars, terrorist raids, and boycotts, Arab countries accuse Israel of aggression for defending its territory against attack. Most painfully of all, Jews are accused of racism for the resettling of refugees, including almost one million refugees from Arab lands.”
Although Berman labors diligently to make blacks like Jews, he takes it for granted that they are unlike almost everybody else, especially insofar as they respond to the clear, dangerous siren call of anti-Semitism. But why assume that black anti-Semites are almost entirely different in motive and character from white? Anti-Semitism has proved to be the most successful political ideology of the twentieth century, the only one that has made good on its chief promise–to destroy European Jewry and its civilization. Surely such success is a lure to black desperadoes as much as to their white counterparts.
Farrakhan and his friends have also surely noticed that anti-Semitism has in the past been practiced with impunity by numerous abused minorities in many countries and have found it both a useful political tool and a way of “assimilating” into the majority culture. We can also assume that he has drawn the obvious lessons from the fact that, in recent years, neither Gore Vidal, Alexander Cockburn, Patrick Buchanan, nor Jesse Jackson have suffered, in income or prestige in this country, from their plunge into the filth of anti-Semitism. American blacks must also have been impressed by the fact that outspoken and contentious Jew-hatred did not prevent Archbishop Desmond Tutu from winning the Nobel Peace Prize any more than it prevented the anti-Semitic Nelson Mandela from ascending to political leadership in his country and adoration in the international community.
Moreover, black demagogues are just as capable as their white counterparts of drawing conclusions from the fact that, for over a hundred years, disintegrating societies have been able to recrystallize ideologically around a possible massacre of their Jewish neighbors. It is utterly fanciful to locate the origins (as distinct from the rhetoric) of American black anti-Semitism in adherence to Third World ideology. The Jew-hatred was a cause, not an effect, of “Palestinianism.” Jesse Jackson was a full-fledged Jew-baiter long before he was even aware of the existence of Israel. As Julius Lester has remarked, “anyone who had followed Jackson’s career [before the “Hymietown” incident] knew that he was a walking repository of anti-Jewish clichés.” Anyone who has followed Jackson’s career also knows just how absurd is Berman’s sanguine discovery of “evolution” and “personal development” in Jackson’s view of Zionism.
As The New Republic noted in July 1984, “Jesse Jackson is a visceral anti-Semite, whose apologies, like an alcoholic’s vows of abstinence, are prelude to further indulgence.” Indeed, within a few weeks of Berman’s commendation of Jackson for “evolving” in his view of Israel, he flew to Israel to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of the PLO, to fan the fires of Palestinian “outrage” over the Hebron massacre, to condone Yasser Arafat’s refusal to denounce the Arab massacre of Jews in Afula, and to declare himself as having “been in some degree of intifada [which is to say, organized violence against Jews] all of my life.”
The rhetorical tactics of black anti-Semites, and especially the Black Muslims, do owe a great deal to the “Palestinian” movement, which for decades has based itself on appropriating the symbols of Jewish history and the core of Jewish identity. When the Nation of Islam tells the Jew, in Berman’s paraphrase, “I am you, and you are an impostor. Your history is mine,” he is emulating not only the imperial Christian myth of supersession but also such imaginative inventions as the United Palestine Appeal, the PLO “covenant,” the Palestinian “diaspora,” the PLO “Exodus” ship, the Arab “Holocaust,” and so on ad nauseam.
Berman’s attempt to establish moral equivalence between Jewish concern over the effects of “affirmative action” on a community so ridiculously small that it can hardly be represented in any profession or university without being “overrepresented” and black concern over the effect of Zionism on the Palestinian Arabs is hardly convincing: in what way are black Americans threatened by Zionism, or tied to the Palestinians? (There is, to be sure, a tie, a deadly one. between the black American community and Syria, since that country grows, processes, and exports 20 percent of the heroin sold on American city streets. This has not prevented Jesse Jackson from making himself the most enthusiastic promoter of Hafez Assad in the United States.) How many blacks really believe the absurdity that “Palestinian skin tone [is] darker than that of Israeli Jews,” whose citizenry happens to include the black Jews of Ethiopia, the only Africans ever transported from their continent to freedom rather than slavery?
Berman is correct in saying that many black Americans have been profoundly moved by the biblical story of redemption from slavery. In December 1976, I heard Bayard Rustin in London, speaking just after Yehudi Menuhin had made a more than usually fatuous speech about the “great Jews” of the New Testament, declare that for him the most immediate and meaningful part of the Bible had not been the Christian Testament at all but the story of the redemption of the Jews from bondage in Egypt. This did not mean, however, that he believed, as Berman puts it, that “African Americans are the Hebrews of the Bible” and that Farrakhan and his followers are merely carrying to extreme and radical form a traditional idea. Rustin would have been the very last person to make Jews into metaphors for other people, not to say outright impostors.
It is worth recalling just what Bayard Rustin did say about the embrace of the PLO by certain black leaders back in 1979. Some blacks, he said, thought they could be conciliators between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs; others wanted to flaunt their independence from official U.S. policy; still others wanted to strike back at Israel and the American Jewish community for their supposed involvement in bringing about Andrew Young’s resignation as United Nations ambassador. He identified the PLO as an essentially fascist organization committed in word and deed to “violence, hatred, and racism.” Blacks who embraced such a group would not merely rupture the black-Jewish alliance, but would “risk the forfeiture of our own moral prestige, which is based on a long and noble tradition of nonviolence.”
He also warned Jews not to forsake the normal expression of Jewish political interests out of liberal condescension to blacks: “On the question of the spewing of anti-Semitism; on the question of the PLO, which is out to destroy not only Israel but the Jewish people … the Jewish people have to make it very clear to all people, including blacks, that there is absolutely no compromise.” He warned, prophetically as we can now see, that if Jewish liberals failed to stand fast on this matter, blacks would succumb. He too offered a black/Jewish parallel, but it is hardly Berman’s. “If in 1930, when the Ku Klux Klan was riding high, a Jewish group had gone down to negotiate with them on its special behalf, leaving blacks to suffer on their own, there would have been a hue and cry. And Jews have every right now to expect the same support from blacks.” (Rustin was not so prescient as to anticipate that a black group–the Nation of Islam–would forge links with the Ku Klux Klan, and with neo-Nazi “revisionists.”)
Given the gloominess of the current situation, one appreciates Berman’s determined optimism in the last segment of his essay. Unfortunately, it finds little basis in fact. Thus he describes as “historic” the denunciation by some black political leaders of the Kean College speech by Khalid Abdul Muhammad and their attempt “to place a little distance between themselves and the Nation of Islam.” The truth of the matter, as Arch Puddington pointed out in Commentary (April 1994), is that [Representative Major] “Owens’ unequivocal rejection of an alliance with Farrakhan, though seconded by Congressmen Mel Reynolds of Chicago and John R. Lewis of Atlanta, appeared to be a minority position among black leaders.” Both Jesse Jackson and Benjamin Chavis commended Farrakhan and voiced satisfaction that by demoting Muhammad he had put the unpleasantness to rest.
Berman’s assumption that anti-Semitism lingers only in a few of the “less distinguished black-studies departments,” like his sanguine assertion that “the air went out of the Third Worldist revolutionary idea in a matter of months,” makes one wonder when he last set foot on an American campus. One reason why most polls show that better educated blacks tend to be more anti-Semitic than blacks with less education is that they are exposed to university programs of “multiculturalism” and “diversity training,” which breed anti-Semitism. One of the most flagrantly anti-Semitic rallies took place on February 23, 1994, at Howard University, perhaps the premier black academic institution in this country. Khalid Muhammad’s standard anti-Semitic rant was greeted with “applause and cheers and whoops of approval” by the largely college-age crowd that filled every seat of the auditorium. The event was followed by anti-Semitic vituperation in the Howard student paper. The Hilltop. The administration of Howard responded with the cowardice that on campuses is always complicit with barbarism: it cancelled a lecture by David Brion Davis, the (Jewish) Yale historian, on the topic of the slave uprising in Haiti in 1791. It was concerned that his views might conflict with those of the Nation of Islam. “We respect [Davis’s] work,” said Associate Dean Paul Logan, but at the present moment, the university “could not predict what this group of students [that is, Howard’s Nation of Islam followers] would do.” Meanwhile, Howard’s administrators had no problem in approving yet another rally by “the Unity Nation” featuring Khalid Muhammad, Leonard Jeffries, resident race theorist at the City College of New York, Tony Martin, author of a virulently anti-Semitic account of his troubles at Wellesley College, and Malik Zulu Shabazz, the Howard law student who led the anti-Jewish chanting at the earlier rally.
The students’ attitudes are partly fostered by their professors’ tenacious attachment to the putatively Marxist, Third-World view that “people of color” cannot be racists. It is no secret, surely, that a majority of the more assiduous practitioners of progressive race thinking at the our universities define themselves as Marxists. At first glance this may seem surprising, because Marxism traditionally sought to explain everything by the material motives of class and property, not biology. But Marxism, as Jacques Barzun and Gertrude Himmelfarb have pointed out, is itself essentially racist in form and effect. Marxists in this country may have given up their ambition to take over the government, but they have been working diligently and successfully to take over the English departments and the black studies programs. With a little retraining, yesterday’s economic determinist becomes today’s race (and “gender”) determinist, seeking in physical origin and genes the key to mind.
I can offer some personal impressions of how black anti-Semitism is nurtured on campuses by the multi-culturalist campaign. Prior to May of 1991, advocates of multiculturalism and diversity at the University of Washington had encountered the “Jewish question” but once, and had not answered it very adroitly. In spring of 1990 the university’s faculty-student Task Force on Ethnicity met to put the finishing touches on a proposal that would compel every student at the university to devote one-quarter of the humanities and social science credits required for a bachelor’s degree to ethnic studies courses. The stated purpose of such courses and of the ethnic studies requirement (ESR) would be to “sensitize” the majority toward this country’s minority groups and in this way combat racism. The Task Force had already denied most-favored minority status to such “white” candidates as Italian and Irish Americans; now it was the turn of the Jews to be measured.
Although someone unschooled in the ways of diversity training might suppose that such questions whether the Jews are a minority in this country and whether anti-Semitism is a form of racism are hardly intricate, they aroused intense debate. All minority student groups present–African American, Native American, Asian American, and Chicano/Latino–vigorously opposed the inclusion of Jews and anti-Semitism in the ethnic studies curriculum because Jews are not “people of color.” The students seemed genuinely bemused by the idea that people not in their political party should have the temerity to invade their turf and poach on the (very considerable) spoils of their anticipated victory.
Their recommended solution–eventually approved by the committee–was to substitute the term “people of color” (linguistically analogous to “jeans of blue”) for the term “minorities” wherever it appeared in committee documents. The prize for semantic juggling was won not by the students, however, but by the two professorial representatives of the ethnic studies program itself, both of whom had also presided over Afro-American studies. One professor, Joseph Scott, said that he could not assent to the inclusion of Jews and anti-Semitism in the proposed scheme of courses unless other “Semitic” peoples, most particularly the Palestinian Arabs, were also included. Another professor, Johnella Butler, opposed inclusion of Jews because Jewish persons are not necessarily of “Semitic descent” and “anti-Semitism is not institutionalized in this country.”
These remarks brought a raising of the collective eyebrow and even some tittering. For it appeared that of the 37,000 who teach and learn at the University of Washington, virtually the only ones ignorant of the fact that anti-Semites hate Jews and not “Semites” were the professors of ethnic studies, the officially designated historians and exorcists of racism and promoters of multiculturalism. Some observers, uncharitably to be sure, suspected that if you touched the delicate, exotic fruit of this professorial ignorance, it would quickly lose its bloom and turn out to be not so much ignorance of the history as guilt of the sin of racism. Could the spiteful introduction of Palestinian Arabs into a discussion of American minorities be innocent? Could the assertion by a grown-up and heavily degreed woman that institutional anti-Semitism (as if that were the only kind) is absent from this country be indicative less of a susceptibility to balderdash than of a desire to make up for that absence?
Almost exactly a year later, the leaders of the campus campaign against racism were afforded a splendid opportunity to practice what they preach. On May 22, 1991, one Abdul Alim Musa, speaking under the auspices of the Associated Students of the University of Washington (ASUW), the Black Students Commission, International Muslim Student Association, and another Muslim organization mysteriously labelled CHAM, delivered a vituperatively anti-Semitic speech that lasted nearly two hours. In it he alleged that America is “controlled by an influential Jewish community, determined to keep minorities repressed and powerless,” that Jews, “instead of Americans,” exercise “control of American domestic policy,” and that “the Yahuds are the enemy of humanity.”
He also gleefully predicted a second holocaust in this country, in which Jews would be slaughtered in a popular uprising. A few letters to the student paper questioned the appropriateness and legality of using mandatory student fees to sponsor a racist agitator whose views most students must deplore. But the sponsors of the speech were entirely unrepentant, and this despite the fact that two of them, the Black Students Commission and the ASUW, had been among the most intrepid supporters of the Ethnic Studies Requirement antidote to racism described above.
The silence from other devotees of diversity at this institution, whose general catalogue cover during these years was adorned by a picture of members of the “major” minorities as well as the political symbols of sexual minorities, was equally impressive. For years. President William Gerberding, as well as assorted deans, had assured this university that morality was advancing on a broad and invincible front, slaying the dragons of racism, sexism, classism, looksism, and every other affliction capable of causing outbreaks of ismitis among aspirants to victimhood. It did not require a very refined sensibility, much less diversity and sensitivity training, to recognize Musa’s speech as a racist screed of the most flagrant kind. Yet not a single one of the entrepreneurs in the diversity industry seemed capable of recognizing the racist beast when it stared them in the face. The officially designated battlers against racism had nothing to say. The aforementioned professors of ethnic studies, it appeared, were better at training people to keep a sharp eye out for the touch of racism that can be detected in a casual opinion or slip of the tongue than in recognizing the thing itself.
And what of the administration? When the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Stephen Nord was asked for his reaction to the Musa affair by physics professor Edward Stem, he made light of the matter, saying that “only a few Jews” were concerned about it. Despite its moral squalor, the view that only Jews should be disturbed by Jew-hatred is widespread, and would hardly be worthy of comment if it did not come, as it did in this instance, from the very man whose office–Student Affairs–carries the multiculturalist banner to every corner of the university in the form of posters and advertisements proclaiming that the University of Washington “Values Diversity,” and arranges sensitivity-training workshops.
Indeed, one of the better-publicized projects of the Student Affairs office was a specially designed sensitivity-training course for the president of the university himself. In May of 1990, he had been guilty of what could fairly be called a racial slur–thoughtless rather than malicious, but a slur nevertheless–against a Hispanic student at an awards dinner. Although he apologized repeatedly, once in front of a howling mob, for the offense, Gerberding’s penance was deemed incomplete until he had agreed to submit to a regimen of sensitivity training that would teach the racism out of him.
It therefore seemed appropriate, in the aftermath of Musa’s widely publicized speech, to expect some response from our newly sensitized president on the undesirability of Jew-hatred. In an open letter to Gerberding published on June 5, my colleague Alexander Pettit and I asked: “Will you … as a beneficiary of the latest designer methods in diversity training, give us a little guidance in this matter, preferably in the form of an unequivocal condemnation of Musa’s speech and of its unrepentant sponsors?” Neither then nor at any other time since then was there a response from President Gerberding, either to our letter or to private requests from other faculty that he use the moral authority inherent in his position to criticize the anti-Semitic speech of Musa and the granting of university support to racist agitators.
This episode at Washington follows a pattern well-established at our universities. The multiculturalists do not recognize anti-Semitism as a form of racism. As noted above, their wise men have decreed that only “people of color” can be the targets of racism and that these same “people of color” are, no matter how consumed with hatred they may be, protected, by virtue of their pigmentation, from being racists themselves. This wonderfully convenient and self-serving doctrine may, along with all the traditional political attractions of anti-Semitism, help to account for the special obsession with the Jews that besets so many of the laborers in the diversity vineyard.
What is it that attracts the multiculturalists to anti-Semitism? After a more than usually gross and flagrant display of anti-Semitic tooth-baring and excrement-flinging by blacks at UCLA who had become enraptured with The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a short and ready answer was supplied by a local sage named Janet Hadda, professor of Yiddish and head of the Jewish Studies Program. “You’re dealing with something they [blacks] use to organize their view of themselves and the world. It’s not simply a matter of hating–it’s a belief structure.”
To which one might reply that if anti-Semitism is indeed “a belief structure” then the sooner it is tom down the better. Tearing it down, however, would require heavy blows from what multiculturalists disparagingly refer to as “the information-dominant approach,” that is, that old-fashioned disinterested pursuit of the truth that, according to multiculturalist theory, “fails as a vehicle for multicultural education.”
If the Jewish speck blots out the truth and also the glory of the world in the eye of the multiculturalist, the reasons for his distortion in vision may be even less flattering to him than Hadda’s liberal condescension (perhaps learned in the school of Michael Lerner) suggests. Afrocentrists understand, just as well as the cynical University of Washington administrator, that “only a few Jews” will protest anti-Semitism.
Impoverished minorities, therefore, connect themselves with the soundest philistine impulses of the comfortable majority when they attack the Jews. As Ruth Wisse has written, “The aggression of anti-Semitism against an absurdly small minority ensures that it cannot be countered by opposition in kind, and its focus on a particular group–the Jews–makes it irrelevant to those who are not Jews.” The multiculturalist hostility to Jews expresses too the ancient tendency of majorities to bully minorities, especially minorities unlikely to hit back. If this sounds paradoxical, it should be noted that the Sobol report urging greater curricular attention to non-white cultures in the New York State educational system actually repudiates the once-cherished label of “minority,” arguing that what appear to be minorities in the United States are really majorities in the world. But this can hardly be said of the Jews.
Since 997 out of every 1000 people in the world are not Jews, they may be left as the only American minority, subject to the whims, jealousies, and frenzies of the new union of minorities for whose human and civil rights they fought, whether disinterestedly or in the expectation, now proved mistaken, that this support would be reciprocated.
Let me conclude with a peculiar detail of the life of Charles Dickens that has long intrigued and puzzled Victorian scholars, and which seems to me relevant to the saga of spurned love and generosity that is at the core of the black-Jewish dilemma in this country. Fagin, the satanic Jew of Oliver Twist, was named by Dickens after one Bob Fagin, whom the young Dickens had known in the blacking factory where he spent the most wretched period of his life. He was bullied and beaten and mocked by all the boys there, with the exception of Bob Fagin, who protected him and even nursed him when he was ill. Why then did Dickens repay Fagin’s kindness in so very peculiar a way as to attach his name to the embodiment of evil?
There are at least two possible answers. One is that the young Dickens, knowing he was destined by his talent for better things, was so passionate in his desire for the station in life to which he felt entitled, that he came to hate the real Fagin precisely for the virtue that he, Dickens, could not bear to accept or recognize in the oppressive world of the factory to which he had been unjustly condemned. The boys who abused him at least confirmed him in his sense that he did not belong among them, whereas Fagin’s kindness would have inured him to the routine of a wage slave.
Therefore, in the novel, what had been the kindness of the real Bob Fagin becomes the seductive villainy of the fiendish Jew who tries to make Oliver feel at home in the world of criminals and outcasts. The second possible explanation of Dickens’ transformation of Fagin into an evil being may be found in an old law of moral thermodynamics, as once formulated by Milton Himmelfarb: “If you don’t want people to dislike you, don’t do them favors.”
These things, as another Victorian novelist once said, are a parable, one which Jewish Americans might do well to ponder in contemplating their future relations with black Americans, who are better served by being viewed as citizens with equal rights and responsibilities than as claimants upon obligations owing from (bogus) brotherhood.