Jews responsible for slavery, antisemitic flyers at US university claim

The watchdog organization StopAntisemitism wrote on Twitter, "this is the EXACT hateful rhetoric that Kyrie Irving helped spread."

 Tennessee state flag (photo credit: Thomas R Machnitzki/Wikimedia Commons)
Tennessee state flag
(photo credit: Thomas R Machnitzki/Wikimedia Commons)

"At the height of American slavery, 78% of slave owners were ethnic Jews [sic]," reads one of several flyers posted across the University of Tennessee Chattanooga campus overnight on Friday.

The watchdog organization StopAntisemitism wrote on Twitter, "this is the EXACT hateful rhetoric that Kyrie Irving helped spread when promoting the film 'Hebrew to Negros: Wake up Black America.'" Both NBA star Kyrie Irving and rapper Kanye West have recently taken to the Internet to spread antisemitic rhetoric. Irving, however, did issue an apology; West has yet to do so. 

Chattanooga and the Jewish community 

The town of Chattanooga, Tennessee, also came under scrutiny in February when a Bible class teacher in a public school told students that they could "torture a Jew" by making them say the transliteration of God's name out loud. 

Juniper Russo, a parent of a Jewish student in the class, in a post that was reposted on her wife's page after Facebook deleted the original post for "hate speech," wrote that she had been hesitant to enroll her daughter in the "Bible in the Schools" elective program, although it was meant to teach the bible from an unbiased and non-sectarian viewpoint as a literary document.

 The Bible (credit: PIXABAY) The Bible (credit: PIXABAY)

The teacher "wrote an English transliteration of the Hebrew name of God on the whiteboard," wrote Russo. "This name is traditionally not spoken out loud and is traditionally only written in the Torah. She then told her students, 'If you want to know how to torture a Jew, make them say this out loud.'”

Are the flyers telling the truth?

The information on the UT Chattanooga flyers, which also claim that "40% of the jewish [sic] population were slave owners, while only 0.35% of white Americans owned slaves," is demonstrably false. 

A quick Google search - "Jewish-American slave owners" -  will bring internet users to a review of a 1998 book published in 2000 by George Mason University. The book is entitled Jews, Slaves, and the Slave Trade: Setting the Record Straight, an excerpt of which reads: "To the extent that they owned slaves they tended to own fewer slaves on average than their non-Jewish peers. A dozen or so participated in some aspect of the Atlantic slave trade to 1800, with only about half a dozen being serious traders, and even this group moved a very tiny fraction of the total Africans brought to America."

Searchers may also find a Haaretz article from 2021 entitled The Uncomfortable Truths of Jewish Life in the US South, all about Jewish American slave owners, which says: "Southern Jews owned slaves in comparable numbers to their white non-Jewish neighbors; a few, likewise, were active slave traders. Such facts have been used – and widely exaggerated – by antisemites, but are among the uncomfortable truths of Southern Jewish history."

Internet users may also click on a Washington Post opinion article from 1993 which explains how deeply Jews were, in fact, involved in the slave trade. Even there, the role played by Jews in the American slave trade is referred to as "small but significant."

According to all available records, the majority of American slave owners were not "ethnic Jews."

Tzvi Joffre contributed to this report.