Anti-Blackness In The Fight Against Anti-Jewishness

A red cancel symbol (circle with a diagonal slash) over a yellow Star of David which contains the outline of a Black Power fist which also has a cancel symbol over it representing anti-Blackness within the fight against anti-Jewishness

Editorial Disclaimers

  1. Across The Culture (ATC) opposes anti-Jewish bigotry, popularly considered anti-Semitism. ATC also opposes anti-Blackness.
  2. ATC opts to use the term “anti-Jewishness” to describe bigotry against Jewish people in the USA as opposed to “anti-Semitism” due to inconsistencies between the latter term’s history and the current social reality of Jewish Americans as explained in the section of this piece titled “Reviewing The Term ‘Semite’ In America’s Racial Math.”
  3. ATC publishes analysis and opinion on the social reality of Jewish Americans for the following reasons only: 1) to decrease fear and hatred of Jews in the USA through demystification, 2) to promote a careful, sociological understanding of race, 3) to protect Black Americans from disproportionate scrutiny regarding anti-Jewishness, and 4) to shift more accountability for anti-Jewishness onto large American institutions with minimally-challenged histories of anti-Jewishness.

If we are not outraged by the rampant anti-Jewishness of our federal government, a domestic media giant, or one of the world’s largest tech companies, whose anti-Jewishness, then, could enrage people enough to result in real consequences?

In theory, there’s nothing controversial about all of humanity standing against anti-Jewish hatred. In practice, a lot gets in the way. Some of the obstacles are more obvious — neo-Nazis and the Israel-Palestine conflict, for instance. But there are a couple of uniquely American social realities that go unacknowledged when discussing anti-Jewishness in the United States:

  • In the American social context, Jewish people are White
  • The accountability for anti-Jewishness disproportionately falls on visible Black people

It’s not that embattled Black figures like Ye or Claudine Gay are faultless. But the Associated Press literally ran propaganda for Hitler himself and it remains the golden standard of journalism — of truth-telling — in the United States more than 80 years later without the same repercussions. Volkswagen is Hitler’s brainchild, but Volkswagen USA has long rid itself of Nazi stench as seen in its 2024 Super Bowl ad.

No one sees a Beetle, or an A-series Audi, or a 3-series BMW, or a Porsche Cayenne, or a Ford F-150, or any IBM-powered technology and thinks “Nazis!” or “Jewish slave labor!” But all of these powerful entities directly profited from and/or contributed to the Holocaust (IBM’s involvement is particularly shocking). They all still do business in the United States. They’ve all remained well respected, even the ones that did not apologize. And in the case of Ford, IBM, and AP, they are as beloved and spiritually American as Taylor Swift and Tom Brady.

(Of the companies mentioned, Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, Porsche, and AP published internal investigations about their involvement in the Holocaust 51 to 72 years after the fact. Ford acknowledged but took no responsibility for its German subsidiary’s involvement in the Holocaust. IBM has yet to publicly acknowledge its essential role in the Holocaust.)

Plenty of US institutions are guilty of anti-Jewish activity even after WWII and right up to today.

The United States placed actual Nazis in leadership positions at NASA and the US Army post-WWII. Americans don’t seem mad enough to oust people in the White House who work hand in hand with anti-Jewish bigots. We don’t seem upset enough about one of the world’s largest media companies and its White billionaire owner co-signing anti-Jewish conspiracies. The United States does seem mad enough about Russia to continue funding Ukraine’s military, you know, the one with a known neo-Nazi faction in it.

If we are not outraged by the rampant anti-Jewishness of our federal government, a domestic media giant, or one of the world’s largest tech companies, whose anti-Jewishness, then, could enrage people enough to result in real consequences? A famous Black artist and designer who lost most of his wealth and esteem for an erratic run of comments and two elite university presidents, including a Black woman dithering about free speech when questioned by a US Congresswoman … known for pushing an anti-Jewish conspiracy.

Holocaust profiteers, employers of Nazis, funders of Nazis, and corporations aiding the growth of anti-Jewish groups and beliefs have not faced reputational, professional, and financial consequences nearly as dramatic as those of Ye and Claudine Gay.

This doesn’t mean other White Americans don’t get their toes blown off when stepping on an anti-Jewish landmine, but they tend to walk away in better shape. NBA player Meyers Leonard spent two years as a free agent after a 2021 video of him using an anti-Jewish slur gained attention (he has since apologized). Leonard claimed ignorance to the slur’s meaning, but he was still left untouched by the league until the Milwaukee Bucks gave his career a last gasp in 2023.

How Leonard’s career would have played out minus the controversy isn’t a big what-if: nerve damage in his right leg was likely the biggest culprit en route to what looks to be the end of his NBA tenure. Either way, his misstep didn’t make him the national face of anti-Jewishness à la Kyrie Irving (in part due to Irving’s greater and previously controversial status).

Elon Musk’s vocal support of anti-Jewish conspiracies and, worse, his global platforming (page 4 in the hyperlinked PDF) of such conspiracies and the hate groups who push them has only resulted in Twitter’s (i.e. X’s) value going from a lot of billions to fewer billions. Musk hasn’t been deplatformed because, well, he owns an enormous platform that still stands tall. And because he hasn’t had his status or possessions taken from him, he also doesn’t have to accept being exploited while being condemned the way Ye has to watch Adidas make another billion dollars off of him for old time’s sake.

UPDATE 4/29/2024: Edited for layout and to add financial impact of Musk’s anti-Jewish activity on Twitter, add context to Irving’s ostracization, and further compare the plights of Ye and Musk.

Meanwhile Ye spouting off in interviews with no record or plans of systematic anti-Jewishness was enough to strip and bury him for all of 2023. Like Irving, Ye’s “on-court” performance (the success of Vultures 1) is the only thing buoying his reputation.

Data from a 2023 online content study done by CyberWell shows Elon Musk’s X hosts almost half (47.3 percent) of all anti-Jewish content across the 5 largest social media platforms and rarely takes such content down. Purposeful actions taken by Musk have been proven responsible for this trend. Elon Musk’s social standing and net worth remain unaffected by this.

While any public activity interpreted as anti-Jewish receives knee-jerk outrage and consequences in the USA, the burden of representing this most recent anti-Jewish flare-up has fallen on visible Black figures. The ease with which large corporations duck questions about their anti-Jewish actions and most White anti-Jewish bigots find shelter within institutions is alarming. This leaves famous Black Americans to take the fall for comparatively inconsequential actions.

Reviewing The Term “Semite” In America’s Racial Math

“Anti-Semitism” was coined to defend Jews from White supremacy, and now Jews are the only Semitic group that can comfortably claim Whiteness in the USA

Famous Black Americans are quickly dismissed and often mocked for suggesting they are Semitic. It is viewed as a malicious, lazy, and ahistorical attempt at avoiding the label “anti-Semite.” Black figures who have made such claims — most recently Ye and Kyrie Irving — are treated as threats to our national sense of reality.

“Semitic” is a term created by German scholar August Ludwig von Schlözer in 1781 that captures a group of Afro-Asiatic languages and the people who speak them. The term is derived from the name Shem, the son of Noah and an ancestral figure in Christian, Muslim, and Jewish lore. Nearly a century later, Austrian Jewish scholar Moritz Steinschneider coined “anti-Semitism” to describe the anti-Semitic and White supremacist beliefs of French philosopher Ernest Renan. Soon after, the term was politicized by the “father of anti-Semitism” Wilhelm Marr.

Along with Jewish people (including Yiddish speakers, though Yiddish is not a Semitic language), Arabs are also considered Semites. The Amhara of Ethiopia are also considered Semites. Tegaru/Tigrayan people of Northern Ethiopia are also considered Semites. A number of Semitic groups are genetically baked into today’s Egyptians. (Visit the “Discussion” section of the hyperlinked source for mention of Levantine peoples and Canaanites playing a role in Egypt’s demographics.)

A neutral, scholarly understanding of the term “Semite” clashes with daily American use of the term. Arabs are generally viewed as natural enemies of Jewish people and are often dubbed “anti-Semitic” despite being Semites themselves. Amhara and Tegaru (collectively “Habesha”) people are African meaning “Black” in an American context, but never would this group of roughly 25 million Black people be thought of as “Semites” in an American social context.

Leading up to the Holocaust, Nazis fully leaned into the term “anti-Semitism” as a pseudoscientific reason to justify racial — not religious — hatred of Jews. Nazi propaganda suggested Jews were a different and inferior “race” of people, setting up Ashkenazi Jews for confusion upon immigrating to the United States and encountering a different concept of race. This is only further complicated by differences between ethnic Jews of no religion, non-ethnic Jews of religion (i.e. converts), and Jews with non-White racial identities (8 percent of Jewish Americans, including roughly 150,000 Black Jews who make up 2 percent of Jewish Americans).

In today’s America, most Jewish Americans can claim their persecuted racial identity while being accepted, for once in their history, into the dominant racial identity. When threatened, Jewish Americans are “Semitic” according to other White people. In times of peace, Jewish Americans are hardly thought of beyond the term “White.” “Anti-Semitism” was coined to defend Jews from White supremacy, and now Jews are the only Semitic group that can comfortably claim Whiteness in the USA.

Jewish Americans live two parallel truths: a constant risk of persecution and quiet complicity in America’s racism like any other White people. The racist harm caused by Jewish Americans merely staying out of the way is captured well by Beverly Daniel Tatum’s moving walkway concept. Despite a history of Jewish Americans fighting anti-Blackness alongside Black people, plenty of other White Jewish Americans were and are happy to not be involved, actively discourage such involvement, or are actively racist toward Black Americans (including Black Jews).

Continued use of the terms “anti-Semite” and “anti-Semitic” implies Semites can only be Jewish. It also implies that Jewish people in the United States are a mutually exclusive racial group when more than 90 percent of American Jews identify as “White.”

While there is scattered talk among Jewish Americans about distancing their identity from “White” in the Census, it is nothing like the collective push from Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Arab Americans to no longer be in the “White” category by the 2030 Census. The lack of a unified front against the “White” label among Jewish Americans suggests, at minimum, a passive acceptance of the “White” identity. As a multicultural, multiracial demographic (which includes Black people) with distinct parallels to the Black American experience, what would a Jewish American rejection of Whiteness do? What would be risked? What would be gained?

Expectations of Black Americans Regarding Anti-Jewishness

What is one to do if they know they’re being lied to about where they come from?

When Kendrick Lamar mutedly claimed “I’m an Israelite, don’t call me Black no mo / That word is only a color, it ain’t facts no mo” in 2017’s “YAH.,” little was made of it en route to Lamar winning a Pulitzer Prize for DAMN. Coming from the NYT-approved Black genius of the moment at a time when Israel was not waging full-blown war on Palestine, it wasn’t quite as controversial for a Black person to offer up this alternative understanding of self and ethnic origin.

The default setting for a Black American’s knowledge of self has a starting point no earlier than the year 1619. An entire existence of racialized trauma is the Black American self-understanding if they grow up asking no questions. It takes an intentional break from such programming to even acknowledge the Black American connection to the African continent, let alone all the different ethnic and cultural identities other so-called Black people had and have, including a Jewish identity.

Thinking compassionately, what is wrong about a people who are fed a painful and manipulated origin story exploring their connections to “God’s chosen people”? Thinking critically, what is threatening about Black people trying to tell their own origin story? Why did Kyrie Irving posting a link to a publicly-available documentary almost cost him his career? Why is it so much easier to punish Nick Cannon, Ye, and Claudine Gay than it is to punish Elon Musk, Donald Trump, or Elise Stefanik?

As long as corporations, White billionaires, and high-ranking politicians deal in large scale anti-Jewishness, treating Ye like the world’s premier Jew hater is lazy and irresponsible. We let America’s most potent anti-Jewish entities off the hook because it’s just so much easier to tear at Black individuals than to hold feds, global companies, and titans of industry accountable for anything.

Black Americans can and should be criticized for spreading fear and misinformation about Jewish Americans. Black Americans can and should be criticized for not being explicitly against hatred of Jews. Black Americans should also be allowed to question the collective place of Jewish Americans on the US social pyramid and its effect on the collective place of Black Americans. This means having empathy for mistakes in learning the precolonial histories of both groups and the finer points of racial and ethnic identity. Ultimately, the question here is, “Does America want Black people doing any of that?”

The Jewish role in American society isn’t as simple as “honorary White people.” But the fact Jewish Americans are indeed honorary White people rarely makes it into mainstream conversation about anti-Jewishness. It complicates the idea of Jewish Americans as “marginalized” despite being a small group targeted for hatred because Jewish Americans are, in fact, well represented. Socially, economically, and politically, Jewish Americans are actually overrepresented. This is something some Jewish Americans are actively trying to understand for themselves.

We can achieve nuance in the fight against anti-Jewish hatred. We can be furious with Israel for obliterating Gaza and have compassion for murdered Israeli civilians. We can call out Black individuals for anti-Jewishness without pretending it is totally invalid and heinous. We can protect Jewish Americans from conspiracy-fueled hate crimes and rethink their social position.

Further Reading

Suggested perspectives on Jewish Americans, Black Americans, and anti-Jewishness:

Editor’s Note: in a bit of dark humor I simply cannot ignore, here is a 2023 piece from AP about IBM, among other companies, pulling their ads from Twitter due to the rampant anti-Jewishness of the platform and owner Elon Musk which IBM has “zero tolerance for.” Despite publishing IBM’s statement on Twitter’s anti-Jewishness, AP did not offer relevant contextual information about IBM’s role in the Holocaust and the company’s continued refusal to acknowledge and apologize for its past.

For the third time in this piece, here is a link to a 2021 sponsored guest post in Jewish News Syndicate (JNS) about IBM’s role in engineering the Holocaust written by Edwin Black, author of IBM and the Holocaust. It summarizes his book and criticizes IBM for its continued refusal to acknowledge the claims in Black’s book — claims IBM has never disputed.

UPDATE 4/29/2024: Edited for syntax and typo


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here