When Louis Farrakhan participates in the National Leadership Conference of the NAACP in Baltimore on Sunday, many Jews and others sensitive to anti-Semitism will be demonstrating outside.
Farrakhan's anti-Semitism and homophobia are well documented. They are not matters of the distant past, a time when he was talking about Judaism as a "gutter religion." Although he flirted briefly with lowering his anti-Semitic profile and tried to dissociate from the worst excesses of his lieutenant, Khallid Abdul Muhammad, during a recent television call-in show in California Farrakhan reverted his old hateful ways, suggesting that Jews had set up the Federal Reserve system and retained control over its money.
Imagine how black people would feel if a prominent Jewish leader were going around the country and drawing large Jewish crowds to hear him denounce "black crime." There are indeed a disproportionate number of black people who are arrested for crimes of violence, but there is nothing that makes their crimes black crimes. To talk about black crime suggests that there is something in the racial group that is the problem, and such a suggestion is false and racist.
Similarly, there are Jews who have economic power, but they are not exercising that power for the sake of their community, under the auspices of the Jewish community or by virtue of being representatives of the Jewish community. To point to their Jewishness is to try to stir up resentments by others who have less economic power, and to suggest that it is "the Jews" who run things. This is false and racist.
It's false because it ignores the many Jews who are poor, the many Jews who are working-class, the many Jews who are struggling professionals and business people, and it falsely suggests that affluent Jews function in some corporate way, as Jews, to exercise disproportionate economic power, which they don't. In short, it falls into the old Nazi stereotype.
Anti-Semitic stereotypes were never publicly confronted and exposed as falsehoods in the United States in the way that sexism or anti-black racism were confronted in the past few decades. Anti-Semitism was prevalent in the 1930s, then became unfashionable when the United States entered the war with Germany.
Perhaps because a full confrontation of anti-Semitic ideas would require a deep challenge to anti-Semitic depictions of Jews in the Gospel of John and some other sections of the New Testament, "polite society" has resisted doing more than keeping silent about the subject. When a small group of German and Polish theologians suggested recently that the Catholic Church might have to take some public responsibility for its role in creating the conditions that led to the Holocaust, they were quickly disavowed. So these ideas have continued to flourish, particularly at the economic margins.
Many African Americans have legitimate reasons to be angry about an economic system that has a structured rate of unemployment that guarantees that at least 8% of the population won't get a job, and then concentrates that unemployment in a vastly disproportionate way on the black community. But instead of focusing anger at the real economic and political elites, Farrakhan and other demagogues encourage black people to express that anger against Jews.
Not that there isn't real reason for black people to be angry at some Jews. Many of the mainstream Jewish organizations and publications have, over the course of the past 25 years, defected from the social-justice agenda, adopted neoconservative politics and prominently opposed programs that would alleviate the worst suffering visited on the African American community. Journals like Commentary and the New Republic can hardly contain their glee at the prospect of throwing young black mothers off welfare and young black men into prison. When Jewish intellectuals seek to blame poverty on "the culture of poverty," conveniently forgetting how just 100 years ago Jewish poverty was similarly attributed to Jewish pathologies, they participate in a racism that legitimately earns the ire of black people.