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The New Anti-Semitism


At a barbershop on Kingston Avenue in Crown Heights, there is no disagreement about the troubles. "Them Jews want to control everything," says a Jamaican man while two people get their hair cut and the television blasts The Price Is Right. "[The government] gives them too much say-so. . . ."

Though the shop is only several hundred yards from Lubavitcher headquarters, across the wide expanse of Eastern Parkway—where a huge white banner proclaiming MOSHIACH IS ON THE WAY flaps in the wind over four lanes of traffic—another man points out that since Rosenbaum's murder, Jews no longer patronize the shop. "Black people support them Jews anyway—they buy everything from them," the man says. "But they don't give us no business. They're just like the Chinese—I mean, the Koreans. They don't give black people no business, either."

It's a bitterly cold December morning, and as the men speak, a handful of blacks and Jews move quickly past the shop's window, rushing to escape the frigid air, hands shoved deep inside their pockets, shoulders pushed up against the chill, their breath a steady, retractable stream of smoke.

"Whenever them Jews act up, nobody bothers them," says a man who speaks without looking up from his Daily News. "They raise plenty of hell, and nobody say nothing. That's not fair. If black people did that, there'd be plenty of trouble. Look what happened the first time justice was served for a black man [Lemrick Nelson's acquittal]. They screamed, 'Jewish blood ain't cheap.' Well, ain't nobody talking 'bout that little boy who got killed. What them Jews really want is to buy everything and push black people out of this neighborhood."

Most alarming is that the young black rioters in Crown Heights were running through the streets screaming, "Heil Hitler"—unaware, perhaps, that along with Gypsies, blacks were probably the only group for which Hitler had as much contempt as for the Jews. Recent surveys show that blacks are twice as likely as the rest of the population to hold anti-Semitic views, a finding that is particularly troubling to Jewish leaders. "The truth is that Jews do feel differently vis-à-vis the black community," says the ADL's Foxman. "There is a history, there is a kinship, and it goes beyond the rhetoric. Look, there's never gonna be a crisis in Irish-black relations or Italian-black relations, because they have no relations. But we do."

Lately, that relationship, which dates to the founding of the NAACP in New York in 1909, has been riven by expressions of anti-Semitism from some black leaders. The ugly discourse ranges from time-honored theories about worldwide Jewish conspiracies and traits like greediness and sneakiness to far more innovative accusations by the Afro-centrists—everything from blaming Jews for the slave trade and Jewish doctors for creating the AIDS virus to the charge that Jews are responsible for destroying the ozone layer.

Though it would be convenient to dismiss much of this as the ridiculous ravings of crackpots and over-the-top racists, the charges often come from people who are respected in parts of the black community and, in the case of someone like Leonard Jeffries, have legitimate academic credentials. It hasn't helped matters that mainstream black leaders have been woefully negligent in denouncing the demagogues.

"We must begin by recognizing what is new about the new anti-Semitism," wrote Henry Louis Gates Jr., an English professor and the chairman of the Afro-American Studies department at Harvard, in an op-ed piece in the New York Times last summer. "Make no mistake: this is anti-Semitism from the top down, engineered and promoted by leaders who affect to be speaking for a larger resentment. Unfortunately," he went on to say, "the old paradigms will not serve to explain the new bigotry and its role in black America. For one thing, its preferred currency is not the mumbled epithet or curse but the densely argued treatise; it belongs as much to the repertory of campus lecturers as community activists." Gates got death threats and received virtually no public support from other black leaders.

Gates is convinced that anti-Semitism can only damage the ability of blacks to make progress. Speaking at a seminar at Brandeis University several weeks ago, the professor made perhaps the most effective argument against hate—a practical one. "Black anti-Semitism hurts black people first and foremost. In part, because it compromises the moral credibility of our struggle. But equally as important, because it leads us to the politics of distraction, the politics of distortion. . . . Anti-Semitism is not going to help us in the struggle against injustice, poverty, AIDS, and violence. So why make excuses for it?"

At the Abyssinian Baptist Church on 138th Street, the Reverend Calvin Butts sees things another way. "Leonard Jeffries and Louis Farrakhan [the Nation of Islam leader who called Judaism "a gutter religion"] do not speak for the broad sweep of the African-American community. I have truly never felt in this community a strong anti-Semitic sentiment," the minister says in dulcet tones. "The fight against anti-Semitism should not be focused on African-American people—that's not where it is. It is with Pat Buchanan—it is very deep in a kind of poor, ignorant, white America that is being led by very slick, bright, brilliant racists who hate Jews and blacks. I think it is to our advantage as blacks and Jews to sit down—and not where we're going to talk about black-Jewish relations publicly—but sit down and take a look at what the real matter is. Because the people catching hell are blacks and Jews."


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