It's Time to Talk About Antisemitism in the Black Community | Opinion

There is no more dangerous third rail in American politics and journalism than antisemitism in the black community. It is an issue that has mostly simmered in obscurity for decades for the very simple reason that it can be ugly to talk about. But we have to talk about it. With rapper Kanye West's recent anti-Jewish rantings, with basketball star Kyrie Irving sharing antisemitic movie trailers, and, most importantly, with Haredi Jews now routinely assaulted in places like Brooklyn, New York, silence is no longer an option.

The question is how to best combat the antisemitism that has lurked, not so secretly, within hate-spewing figures such as Louis Farrakhan and noxious organizations such as the Black Hebrew Israelites. Sometimes, such as in the Al Sharpton-incited 1991 Crown Heights pogrom that killed Yankel Rosenbaum, this antisemitism bursts out into the open and has lethal consequences.

Kanye's horrific recent tirades have not come out of nowhere. He didn't learn his bizarre conspiracies in a vacuum. These are vile lies that—and here is the painful part to say—have far too much purchase in certain segments of the American black community. Political correctness cannot stop us, though. These lies must be aggressively attacked, and there must be a concerted outreach effort to replace the lies with the truth.

Thus far, our collective answer has been to ban Kanye West from a host of platforms—to blunt, if not silence, the ancient and dangerous conspiracy theories he continues to virulently espouse. It isn't working. Just last weekend, at a college football game in Jacksonville, the message "Kanye was right about the Jews" was projected by unknown individuals for thousands to see. West's huge influence cannot simply be swept away by mere condemnation. Those who believe him, and those who follow him, need a better option. It is incumbent upon the rest of us to provide that option.

To make matters worse, rightly or wrongly, the censorship of Kanye gives him a potent argument. It allows Kanye to say, "see, I must be telling the truth, and that's why they silence me." And like Farrakhan before him, Kanye has found dark, fertile ground for his conspiracies in the empirical reality that there are a high number of American Jews prominently positioned in certain key industries, such as entertainment, finance, and law. But instead of rationally explaining why this is the case, and why it is not at all nefarious, too many of those who fight antisemitism refuse to address the "disproportionate" argument on the merits. That's a dangerous mistake.

When Kanye says that most black celebrities he knows have some form of Jewish representation, it is possible that he is not exaggerating by a lot. And if you tell his followers that he is lying, they will not believe you. This is the warning that some black conservatives who have defended Kanye, such as Candace Owens and Jason Whitlock, have been sounding.

Kanye West aka Ye is seen on
Kanye West aka Ye is seen on October 28, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. MEGA/GC Images

The best disinfectant for antisemitism is truth and education, and we are failing on those scores—especially in the black community.

Many Jews and those adjacent to Jews badly overestimate how well those who are not Jewish understand the Jewish historical experience. Most churched American Christians learn some ancient basics from the Old Testament, but then the next thing many learn about Jewish history is the Holocaust. This 2,000-year gap, from the Middle Ages through the Industrial Revolution, is precisely where many of the roots of Jewish success in certain segments of the modern economy emerged.

And why did that success emerge? Precisely because of persecution.

In this period in Europe, Jews were very often not allowed to buy land. They were also very often kicked out of their homes and regions at the drop of a dime. This naturally created incentives to pursue more liquid forms of wealth and income that could travel easily. That meant banking, that meant music, that meant the law—and so forth. When we leave out that crucial part of the story, the Farrakhan/Kanye-addled mind is much more likely to succumb to conspiracy. True, the only people responsible for those pernicious theories are those who spread them, but that's cold comfort to the Haredi Jews being assaulted in Brooklyn. It doesn't make them any safer.

New York City has twice as many Jews as any other city in the world. There is simply no excuse for any public school student—black, white, Asian, whatever—not to learn the story of this population, just as we learn about and celebrate so many other ethnic groups. Will this solve the problem, on its own? Of course not. But could it make some young people less susceptible to crackpot conspiracy theories? Yes. When we fill students' hearts and minds with the truth, we leave less room for vile hatred to take root.

In addition to outreach in the schools, cities such as New York, where most of the anti-Orthodox violence occurs, need more programming to bring the Jewish and black communities together. This is not unprecedented—blacks and Jews worked hand in hand during the Civil Rights Era, and there is no reason that cannot happen again.

This is a conversation that nobody wants to have, but that's just too bad. Avoiding this is not an option anymore. It was the great Jewish philosopher Maimonides who wrote, "Truth does not become more true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, nor less so even if the whole world disagrees with it." That is to say that it is not virtue or mere opinion that makes antisememitc conspiracies theories untrue—it is the truth that does that. It is time for truthful conversations. Without them, nothing will change.

David Marcus is a columnist living in New York City and the author of Charade: The Covid Lies That Crushed A Nation.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.