Scapegoating Jews for the slave trade?

Submitted by AWL on 11 September, 2016 - 8:54 Author: Dan Katz

There was a lot of Jewish support for the US Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.

Martin Luther King spoke out against anti-Semitism:

“How could there be anti- Semitism among Negroes when our Jewish friends have demonstrated their commitment to the principle of tolerance and brotherhood…

“It would be impossible to record the contribution that the Jewish people have made toward the Negro’s struggle for freedom — it has been so great.” (1965)

That Black-Jewish unity broke down, partly because of the emergence of radical Black Nationalist organisations which identified with the Palestinians, especially after the Six Day War of 1967, and which were heavily influenced by a Stalinist Marxism which was comprehensively “anti-cosmopolitan”, “absolute anti-Zionist”, and anti-semitic.

By the 1990s, so US historian Henry Louis Gates argues, a new layer of Black intellectuals had emerged who were prepared to write and speak extensively against Jews.

The old anti-Semitism was “from below”. The new strand was promoted by Black leaders, from above.

In a 1992 article in the New York Times – Black Demagogues and Pseudo-scholars, for which he received death threats — Gates wrote: “[Older] anti-Semitism … common among African American urban communities in the 1930s and 40s, followed … a familiar pattern of clientelistic hostility toward the neighbourhood vendor or landlord.” Because of shifting class positions, “In American cities [in the 90s], hostility of this sort is now commonly directed toward Korean [and other minority] shop owners.” That hostility — against ethnically different small shop owners — amongst some poor Black Americans was seen very clearly in the LA riots of April 1992, a few months before Gates’ article appeared.

Christian anti-semitism had weight too, partly because of the great importance Christian churches had for very many Black Americans. But there has been something new in recent decades. Gates cites a 1978 book by Michael Bradley, The Iceman Inheritance, which suggested that white people are unpleasant and aggressive because — unlike the rest of humanity — they are descended from Neanderthals. The Jews, Bradley argued, were the worst of the Neanderthals, apparently explaining the “particularly odious nature” of Jewish culture.

Louis Farrakhan, leader of the right-wing reactionary sect, the Nation of Islam, remarked that “Hitler was a great man.” In 1985 ,the NoI had the KKK leader Tom Metzger at one of their rallies in Los Angeles, accepting a $100 donation from Metzger.

Elsewhere Farrakhan had called Judaism a “gutter religion”. And the NoI had circulated the notorious anti-semitic forgery, The Protocol of the Elders of Zion.

One major theme of the NoI’s anti-Semitism is the allegation that Jews organised, or financed, or at least were disproportionately involved in, the slave trade and slave-owning. The comments which Jackie Walker made on Facebook and led to her suspension from the Labour Party (now lifted) were fragmentary, but an exact fit with that theme.

Her comments included, "Millions more Africans were killed in the African holocaust and their oppression continues today in a way it doesn’t for the Jews… Many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which is why of course there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean…”

The NoI’s book, The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, runs to over 300 pages and 1,200 footnotes. It presents itself as a scholarly work which aims to convict the Jewish people using “their own words”. Gates calls this widely available book “sophisticated … hate literature.”

Gates comments, “[O]f all the African slaves imported into the New World, American Jewish merchants accounted for less than 2 percent, a finding sharply at odds with the NoI’s claim of Jewish ‘predominance’ in this traffic... in the domestic trade it appears that all of the Jewish slave traders combined bought and sold fewer slaves than the single gentile firm of Franklin and Armfield.”

The Secret Relationship has also been debunked by an Anti Defamation League publication, Ministry of Lies, by Harold Brackman. Brackman shows how many of the themes of the NoI’s anti-Semitism reflect the writings of Henry Ford, the motor manufacturer, union buster and notorious anti- Semite (“Judaism is a business masquerading as a religion”; “Jews are war-mongers motivated by greed”).

Brackman shows the NoI downplays the Arab involvement in the African slave trade. The Jews, heavily persecuted in Europe, were in many countries prohibited from participating in the slave trade. Brackman cites a survey from 1830 which states that there were 23 Jews (from 59,000 slave owners) who owned more than twenty slaves and four Jews (from 11,000 slave owners) who owned more than fifty slaves. 99.9% of the South’s big plantation owners were non-Jewish.

Brackman also offers an alternative explanation for synagogues in the Caribbean. In some period European Jews fleeing persecution could see parts of the Americas as a safe haven (although Jews were banned from Portuguese and Spanish colonies, and from the French West Indies in 1685); in addition some Jews were forced into European colonies (for example by the Portuguese King John II, who compelled many Jews to convert before shipping them to settle in Sao Tome).

Jews were expelled from France (1453), Netherlands (1440s, 1582), Italy (1492), Portugal (1496), Spain (1492) — and scores of other towns and states across the centuries. No leftist would describe the persecuted French Huguenots who formed a trading community in London in the 18th century as “of course” having come there only as super-exploiters.

Black Africans, forced into slavery in the Americas, suffered terribly over centuries. But it is reactionary nonsense to blame that on the also-persecuted Jewish people.