TERRA INCOGNITA: Where antisemitism and racism intersect

In January 2005 a photo of Obama with Farrakhan emerged. Taken by Askia Muhammed at a gathering of the Congressional Black Caucus, the photo was buried for 13 years.

NATION OF Islam leader Louis Farrakhan speaks on the steps of the US Capitol at a rally in 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS)
NATION OF Islam leader Louis Farrakhan speaks on the steps of the US Capitol at a rally in 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘If your leader does not have the same enemies as Jesus, they may not be THE leader,” wrote Women’s March co-founder Tamika Mallory on Twitter on March 1. Her bizarre tweet came as she was under fire for attending a speech by Louis Farrakhan at the Saviour’s Day convention in Chicago. The ADL has condemned Mallory for attending and noted she received a special shout-out from Farrakhan. Now everyone is piling on Mallory and the Women’s March to denounce antisemitism.
“Memo to the Left: Denounce antisemite Louis Farrakhan,” wrote Elad Nehorai at The Forward.
Large numbers of people seem to agree that Mallory is in the wrong for her silence about antisemitism and for attending these kinds of events. But the focus on Mallory misses the forest for the trees. Mallory is just one person.
Her views of Farrakhan are shared by large numbers of people – including former US president Barack Obama.
In January 2005 a photo of Obama with Farrakhan emerged. Taken by Askia Muhammed at a gathering of the Congressional Black Caucus, the photo was buried for 13 years. An article by Vinson Cunningham at The New Yorker notes that “after some pressure from one of the caucus’s staffers, Muhammad agreed to bury it.” He writes that “Farrakhan is the author of vile, uncountable, unreconstructed, cause-derailing antisemitic slurs, but his Million Man March made him and the Nation a stubborn unignorable feature of the political landscape for black would-be public servants who came of age in the 1990s.” This includes Keith Ellison, the rising Democrat.
Connect the dots and what you get is not just one passionate Women’s March leader, but a whole forest of people who have hung out with Farrakhan. And it’s not really about Farrakhan. He’s just one person. It’s about his ideas, his words and the fact that people didn’t feel ashamed to be associated with him.
American political history and, in a wider view, political history in general is about deciding what is acceptable and what is not. The KKK was once not only a powerful organization with millions of members, but an acceptable organization. In 1925 more than 25,000 of its members paraded in Washington. They didn’t cover their faces but walked proudly and openly. Robert Byrd, a US senator from 1959 to 2010, was a former KKK member. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, who served from 1937 to 1971, was a former KKK member. Like Byrd, he was a Democrat.
So it was not so long ago that being a member of the KKK and even ostensibly a progressive one might have been acceptable. Today that is no longer acceptable and we hear about the KKK most often in allegations about the radical Right or “alt-right” in America.
We tend to know right-wing racism when we hear or see it. This is mostly because we are used to the clichés of such racism. “Angry white men” is the most clear stereotype of what constitutes the racism of the Right. Those who are “left behind by globalization and multi-culturalism.” In the West these angry racist right-wing voices are seen to be behind the rise of President Donald Trump in the US and Brexit in the UK, as well as right-wing politics throughout the EU. The notion is that they are out of step with our liberal world order.
The problem with the liberal world order, however, is that while it fights right-wing racism with one hand it often grasps at left-wing racism with the other. This is because voices that claim to be on the Left have also embraced forms of far-right racism, religious fanaticism and bigotry. There is no shortage of discussion of this online, whether it is the Women’s March and its unwillingness to distance itself from antisemitism or the antisemites who have come to roost in the UK’s Labor Party.
On the Left the major racism embraced tends to be antisemitism, because numerous groups, whether it is far-right Islamists or the far-right types around Farrakhan embrace antisemitism while claiming to oppose “racism.”
What unites these groups is antisemitism. The values of “intersectionality,” where one left-wing cause partners with another and that one partners with another, has led to a bifurcation of antisemitism and racism. This pattern of antisemitic comments keeps tripping up some of those who are ostensibly members of the “Left” and this especially includes some Muslim women.
Amena Khan stepped down from an advertising campaign due to comments, as did singer Mennel Ibtissem.
There is also Amani al-Khatahtbeh, who edited a website that once accused Israel of organ harvesting, according to Tablet. There was also the case of Samira Ibahim, who was supposed to receive a State Department award but whose offensive tweets calling the bombing of Israelis in Bulgaria “sweet,” came to light. These numerous cases reveal a pattern. Many people who campaign against racism have crossed the line into their own form of racism, directed at Jews, often under the guise of opposing Israel.
How was antisemitism removed from the anti-racism agenda that should be normative across the Left? Emily Shire at The Forward pointed out that Linda Sarsour also waded into this bifurcation of racism from antisemitism in a video for Jewish Voice for Peace. “I want to make the distinction that while antisemitism is something that impacts Jewish Americans,” she said, “it’s different than anti-black racism or Islamophobia because it’s not systematic.”
Sarsour makes a very clear statement here and acknowledges what too many on the Left actually believe. They think that antisemitism is something different than racism. Sarsour has been very smart here as well, roping Islamophobia into the anti-racism tent while excluding antisemitism.
Once antisemitism emerges on the Left it is usually “denounced” in a very public kind of show trial where the person who once embraced antisemitism or smiled and laughed with antisemites “denounces” the antisemitism and then gets a new ticket into polite society. Articles about antisemitism on the Left always revolve around the need to “denounce” it. It’s never really about getting rid of it.
It’s like having former members of the radical Right come forward and “denounce” racism, but not really change. Our society likes public displays, but doesn’t really know how to put the genie of antisemitism back in the bottle. That’s why so many antisemitic comments go unnoticed until someone becomes important. Consider the case of the academic at Oberlin who posted the most vile anti-Jewish comments, blaming the Rothschilds for creating AIDS and other nonsense. There was no pushback among her thousands of friends on social media until her views were exposed nationally. Even to this day it’s not clear she has repented.
It’s really not important if people like her or Mallory acknowledge the problem. Because the problem is much greater. The problem is that a conscious – and largely successful – attempt has been made to make antisemitism acceptable on the Left and Right, while fighting racism at the same time.
Behind that is the nature of intersectionality, which predicates its view that numerous social justice causes are all part of a popular front. No need to get into the details of the fact that when some people say “social justice” they mean genocide and when others say it they mean a state run by religious law, like Iran. The leaders of these movements know that if they tried to ban antisemitism or educate it out of the movement they’d have to ditch sections of the movement that have merely attached themselves to the Left as a vehicle to political power.
The real intersection in intersectionality is between the radical Right and Left: it has allowed far-right racist and religious extremist views to escape the cordon sanitaire that the West tried to put around them and allowed them to run over to the Left, put on a new mask and say “we’re leftists now, being leftist, being good.” That’s how you get a room full of “leftists” listening to someone shout “if you’re leader does not have the same enemies as Jesus, they may not be THE leader.” That sounds kind of like radical Right religious intolerance, doesn’t it?
Follow the author @Sfrantzman.