Series: Contemporary Tensions Between Blacks and Jews in America (Introductory Post – ‘July Fireworks and Why They Matters’)

Recent Black celebrity anti-Semitism in America isn’t reflective of an anomaly, and scholars deserve to evaluate how increasing Black-Jewish tensions nuance the study of the radical right in America.

Source: Twitter

“Hitler said, ‘Because the white Jews knows that the Negroes are the real Children of Israel and to keep Americas secret the Jews will blackmail America. They will extort America, their plan for world domination won’t work if the Negroes know who they were. The white citizens of America will be terrified to know that all this time they’ve been mistreating and discriminating and lynching the Children of Israel.’”Posted by DeSean Jackson on Instagram, July 2020.

Over the July 4 2020 weekend, current Philadelphia Eagles wide-receiver and former Pro Bowl National Football League (NFL) player, DeSean Jackson, posted the above quote on his Instagram to his 1.4 million followers. 24 hours later, the social media outrage over the post had reached critical mass, resulting in several apologies from DeSean Jackson and the removal of the posts from his Instagram feed. In part thanks to the failed defense of DeSean Jackson’s post as “speaking the truth” by other athletes, particularly former National Basketball Association (NBA) player and Black Lives Matter Activist Stephen Jackson, the story had grown legs and ‘gone viral’.

The incident and its defense by other athletes made the rounds on major cable sport networks (such as ESPN and Fox Sports). However, it quickly entered the mainstream news media spotlight, with a wide range of reports covering the story from the Washington Post to the New York Post, climaxing with a Stephen Jackson interview on CNN’s Don Lemon Show. Stephen A. of ESPN, arguably one of the most (if not the most) influential sports commentator in America, described the interview as “sad” and “ridiculous” as Stephen Jackson failed to show any remorse for this anti-Semitic comment. “The Jews are the Richest. You know who the Rothschilds are? … They control all the banks. They own all the banks,” Jackson commented on Instagram.

Defenses of DeSean and Stephen Jackson continued to trickle in from a number of Black celebrities and activists, including Ice Cube and Nick Cannon, who were then accused of engaging in anti-Semitism themselves. Specifically, Ice Cube (already with a checkered past pertaining to anti-Semitic messages), posted a number of conspiratorial anti-Semitic statements and images. On his podcast, Nick Cannon, referenced a widely circulated but debunked claim (that was also underlying DeSean Jackson’s initial post) that contemporary Jews have stolen Black people’s identity as the ‘true Hebrews’.

These events initially sparked a number of important conversations within the Jewish community assessing how strained Black-Jewish relations had become in the United States. In some cases, it also generated engagement between the Black celebrities accused of anti-Semitism and the Jewish community. This would later result in seemingly sincere apologies from DeSean Jackson, who, among other commitments to learn about the Jewish community, has accepted an invitation to visit Auschwitz from a survivor, and has documented remorse from Stephen Jackson and Nick Cannon.

Nearly two months have passed since DeSean Jackson’s initial post, and the sports world is once again squarely (and justifiably) focused on the Black Lives Matter with games and potentially even seasons being postponed or cancelled over continued incidents of police violence targeting African Americans. However, as a scholar of contemporary prejudice, this episode with DeSean and Stephen Jackson should not be dismissed as an anomalous blip in the history of Black and Jewish relations.

I argue that this series of incidents highlights an uncomfortable and growing tension between America’s Black and Jewish communities, rooted partially in historical urban tensions, black separatist ideology legitimized under the guise of religion, and more contemporary progressive criticism of Israel that has been manifested as anti-Semitism by some notable activists. This tension has been further exacerbated by the susceptibility of millions to low quality information and conspiracy across the Internet and social media platforms, including the spread of prejudice by people sometimes wholly unaware of their role in its propagation.

Beyond the need to fill a clear scholarly gap in explaining increasing hostility between America’s Black and Jewish communities, I contend such an exploration has the potential to build considerable nuance within the research areas scholars of the radical right are most concerned with, including: racial separatism, interracial tension, conspiracy theories, and hate crimes. Over the next several months, I will be devoting space to three blog posts dedicated to how tensions between the Black and Jewish communities in the United States inform our work at the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). I briefly outline these below:

Part 1 – When and Why Black Separatism Should Be Classified as Radical Right Activity

While considerable debate exists surrounding the “horseshoe effect” in political science and popular discourse, it is undeniable that the same Jewish conspiracies frequently echoed by white nationalists and neo-Nazis on the radical right are being openly perpetuated by a significant number of Black (and white) activists claiming a progressive mantle. As scholars, we are obligated to provide a better explanation for why self-identified liberals are invoking anti-Semitic conspiracies that can be traced directly from The Protocols of Zion. In this upcoming post, I argue that there are cases of Black Separatism, such as the mission of the Nation of Islam and the pervasive anti-Semitism of Louis Farrakhan, that should be classified as radical right activity. I also explore how American progressives find themselves more open to a red-green alliance that, as a consequence, is beginning to mainstream and legitimize anti-Semitic rhetoric and discourse.

Part 2 – Do Recent Anti-Semitic Incidents Perpetrated by Blacks Constitute an Outsized Threat? An Empirical Analysis of American Hate Crime

Black-Jewish relations in America are frequently romanticized by the outsized role that Jews played in the Civil-Rights movement. However, tension between these communities, especially in urban areas, has resulted in infamous violent incidents. Perhaps, the most well-known example of this is the Crown Heights riots in Brooklyn, New York of 1991, which resulted in two fatalities. Questions related to the propensity of Blacks to perpetrate anti-Semitic hate crime in America has again entered mainstream discourse following a series of well-covered anti-Semitic assaults in Brooklyn in 2019, as well as a 2019 Jersey City shooting at a Kosher market that resulted in the deaths of three civilians and a 2019 stabbing attack in Monsey, New York that resulted in a fatality and multiple injuries, all of which were perpetrated by Black Americans with a documented history of anti-Semitism. In this upcoming post, I break down perpetrator data from the FBI’s UCR hate crime reports, to show that Black Americans are not more likely to perpetrate an anti-Semitic hate crime than other races, and how attempts suggesting otherwise perpetuate interracial tensions.

Part 3 – Conceptualizing Steps to Repair the Black-Jewish Alliance

 Black and Jewish Americans have long been the target of radical right white nationalist movements from the Ku Klux Klan to the Alt-Right. Although Jews have comparatively suffered considerably less, both groups have been victims of systematic discrimination across much of the United States. This personal appreciation of prejudice and violence combined with shared enemies led to a Black-Jewish alliance during the Civil Rights movement. Even today, Black and Jewish Americans tend to share partisan and policy alignment. Nonetheless, tensions between these two communities is measurable, including survey results that strongly suggest that Blacks are considerably more likely to hold anti-Semitic attitudes and beliefs compared to other Americans. I contend that the best way to repair the Black-Jewish alliance is through a combination of education and outreach efforts. Additionally, scholars and practitioners alike must vehemently make the case to Black Americans that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be primarily (and even peripherally) defined by race and racism. I close by explaining how attempts to undermine the historical Black-Jewish alliance only help to empower today’s radical right.

Dr Ayal Feinberg is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Assistant Professor of Political Science at Texas A&M University-Commerce. See full profile here.

© Ayal Feinberg. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).