Harold Brackman co-auhored this article.
The crescendo of recent attacks on Jews in New York and New Jersey was carried out—not by neo-Nazi, white supremacists—but by African Americans. A fourth of the population of New York City, African Americans were responsible for a third of anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York in 2019 according to the NYPD.
Whatever the statistics, political and religious leaders, Jewish and non-Jewish, have had their assumptions about how minorities interact shaken to the core. What’s the source of vicious hate in our society, especially among African Americans who themselves are still the #1 target of racist hate crimes?
A brief, if painful, retrospective is in order:
Early last month, the Hasidic community in Jersey City was devastated by a gunman and his girlfriend acting out the anti-Semitism of the Hebrew Israelite sect and of Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam.
This began December’s regional epidemic of violent Jew-hatred.
The irony is that the Hasids who fled Brooklyn are now being victimized by the same ideology that often poisoned African American-Jewish relations in New York over the last century. During the Depression of the 1930s, Jews were accused of overcharging ghetto customers and tenants, and exploiting African American maids and store clerks.
Such charges were overblown, but protests convinced Jewish-owned department stores on Harlem’s 125th Street like Blumstein’s to commit to hire and promote more African American sales people.
In the 1960s — after the proportion of Jewish merchants and landlords in Harlem had plummeted — these same charges were resurrected by Black Nationalists like Malcolm X.
One purpose: to force Jews out of leadership of the civil rights movement.
At the same time, Jewish teachers and school administrators in the New York City public school system were slandered as “Zionist exploiters”of African American parents and children.
This downward spiral continued into the 1990s when Brooklyn’s Crown Heights erupted in an anti-Semitic riot during which an Orthodox Jewish student from Australia was stabbed to death.
Over the last few years, as many as 100 struggling Hasidic families moved to Jersey City in search of affordable housing in a safe neighborhood. Among them were the husband and wife who owned the kosher market that was attacked. Now, Hasids are being vilified as masterminds of a plot to “gentrify” a poor African American neighborhood — an update of the old stereotype of Jews as rapacious landlords.
As with past surges in Jew-hatred, conspiracy theories about “satanic Jews” have been fused with economic complaints, in this case that the Hasids have bought out African American real estate and forced out African American owners of grocery and retail stores.
To make matters worse, they have been luridly accused of trafficking in body parts, as Israel’s military was falsely accused of doing.
This lie is an updated version of the medieval blood libel.
How did any African American come to believe such malicious charges?
A decade ago, a handful of Jewish businessmen were convicted of bank fraud and political corruption. There were also rumors about marketing in human kidneys bought from willing Israeli donors. The corrupt ring included five rabbis and Jersey City politicians, but took place well before the Satmar Hasids moved from Brooklyn.
Anti-Semitism within the African American community has always ranged from the articulate to the incoherent. Grafton Thomas, who wounded five with a machete in suburban Monsey, N.Y., kept handwritten journals full of “Black Hebrew Israelite” ideology pillorying “false Jews.”
As in the past, the actual criminals who employ knives or guns are abetted by anti-Semitic rabble rousers who incite first with words, then rationalize the resulting crimes.
Back in the 1960s, it was opportunists like Rody McCoy who used the slogan “community control” to promote a Black Power takeover of New York’s public-school system.
Striking teachers, many Jewish, faced down death threats to defeat McCoy.
Even before the bodies in Jersey City were cold, Board of Education member, Joan Terrell-Paige, in a Facebook post, accused “brutes of the Jewish community . . . [who] brazenly came on the property of . . . Black homeowners and waved bags of money.”
She then mentioned rabbis “selling body parts.”
Finally, she asked if anyone is “brave enough” to follow the path of Jersey City’s messenger of murder.
Yesteryear’s bigots never of heard of the Internet.
But in 2020, social media provides an unmatched tool for rebottling old hatreds in new bottles. We must act in concert with of our many friends and allies in the African American community to debunk the teachings of hate.
There is strength in unity but weakness in division.
The assumption that anti-Semitism in the black community — fueled by Farrakhan and his ilk— is inconsequential was a comforting myth. The facts on the ground prove otherwise.
It’s time to tell the truth and take corrective action built on the legacy of an American leader who urged us all to work together towards a color-blind society — The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., of blessed memory.