Russell Simmons’ Blind Spot For Bigotry
Tue, 03/13/2012
Special To The Jewish Week
Abraham H. Foxman
Abraham H. Foxman

In the battle against racism and anti-Semitism in America, there have always been well-meaning people who, while willing to stand up against hatred and prejudice when they see it directed against others, nonetheless seem to have a blind spot when hatred emanates from within their own community.

This has been the case recently with two high-profile public figures, the conservative commentator Pat Buchanan and the African-American minister Louis Farrakhan. Despite their well-documented track records of indulging in blatant anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry, Buchanan and Farrakhan continue to get a pass from many in their communities.

Make no mistake: These are not passive or erstwhile bigots.  Buchanan and Farrakhan, each in their own ways, have established themselves as leading purveyors of anti-Semitism and racism. Their rhetoric is well documented, and their reputations as serial racists well deserved.

And yet Buchanan, despite his history of playing with anti-Semitism and the despicable anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric of his most recent book, continues to enjoy the support and encouragement of many conservative white Americans who will tell you that he is no racist. It was only until recently, when the racism of his new book provoked enough of a popular backlash, that his tenure as a political commentator at MSNBC came to an abrupt end.

Farrakhan, the anti-Semitic and racist leader of the Nation of Islam, who has been spreading anti-Jewish invective for more than two decades and who in the past few years has turned his ministry into one of the leading disseminators of religion-based anti-Semitism in America, is likewise warmly embraced by many in the African-American community who will tell you in no uncertain terms he is a hero, not a bigot.

It is frustrating, to say the least, that Farrakhan continues to fill stadiums where thousands of his followers cheer him on as he tells them that Jews control Wall Street, Hollywood and government and are responsible for their community’s economic and social failures. And it is equally frustrating that so many well-meaning leaders in the African-American community remain silent in the face of his hatred.

One can only speculate as to why there are so few African-American leaders today who are willing to stand up and reject Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic and racist rhetoric. Perhaps it stems from a “circle the wagons” mentality of protecting your own from those outsiders who would disparage them, or from an instinct that criticism outside of a community from those who cannot closely identify with its experiences, is somehow illegitimate or unacceptable.

Remarkably, there are some leaders who even go so far as to hold themselves up as standard bearers against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and racism and yet are unable to deal with it when it is manifested in their own communities.

Take Russell Simmons, the recording industry mogul who, through his leadership at the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, takes pride in “strengthening relations between ethnic communities.” Simmons, who is appearing this week in a program at the JCC in Manhattan along with Rabbi Marc Schneier in a discussion on Islamophobia moderated by Chelsea Clinton, has described Farrakhan as “a great hero of mine” and an inspirational figure who deserves to be noticed by all African-Americans.

On the one hand, Simmons has done laudable work speaking out against anti-Semitism. On the other hand, his embrace of one of the leading anti-Semites and racists in America is not only counterintuitive, but terribly hypocritical, sad, and ultimately damaging.

“I know him well, I’ve heard his heart and know how beautiful his higher intention is,” Simmons said of Farrakhan in a 2011 interview.  “I understand that not everyone feels that way about him, but I hope that one day they’ll appreciate him the way that I do.”

In 2009, Simmons wrote an article praising Farrakhan and referring to him as his “second dad” and the “man who helped hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of black people to love themselves.” And two years earlier, in 2007, Simmons played a supporting role in the Nation of Islam’s annual Saviours’ Day event in Detroit, spearing on stage with Farrakhan during his keynote address and making what organizers later described as “a significant charitable donation in honor of the event.”

It’s not as if Simmons has no idea what Farrakhan has been up to with his Jew-baiting and racism. Over the years I have told him about our concerns and shared with him numerous examples of Farrakhan’s hateful rhetoric. But Simmons has pretty much ignored these concerns or brushed them aside.

And so the blind spot continues.

To be sure, we as a Jewish community have not been immune, either, to this blind spot to prejudice. At times we have been unable to stand up as we should when there were bigots among us. There are many Jews, for example, who hold up Pamela Geller of “Stop Islamization of America” and others like her as truth-tellers, when in fact they are in many ways no better than Farrakhan or Buchanan.

If we are truly interested in building a better society, it is time for those who have a blind spot to bigotry to understand that we cannot win the war against racism and anti-Semitism until we are courageous enough to take off the blinders and to stand up and reject the bigots in our midst.

Abraham H. Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League and author, most recently, of “Jews & Money: The Story of a Stereotype.”

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.

Comments

I recall an audio recording of Rev. Al Sharpton addressing a church in Brooklyn during the Crown Heights Pogrom. He wanted charges pressed against the driver of the car that killed Gavin Cato. This "crusader of civil rights" was so eloquent in how he called for "justice". The words he used? "WE WANT THE JEW AND WE WANT THE JEW NOW!". Not a peep about this from the ADL, not a word about this on the liberal NY media. The ADL, like all liberal Jewish organizations, will always retreat to the safety of condemning only those whom public opinion has already made acceptable. Farrakhan, neo-Nazis, Klansmen, etc. are fair game. But don't rock the boat with someone who is popular. Sharpton is a bigot, a Jew-hating, rabble rousing thug, and no one has challenged him.

No one should toil over why African Americans tolerate the hate he spews. He helps the communities and he brings people together peacefully. He is one of our few influential leaders. He doesn't need us to rally around him because he too is Black; he is needed by the community. He speaks up in our defense, he teaches us how to embrace one another, etc. There all some who hang off his every word and there are others who can only agree with half of what he says; yet we embrace him the same. Don't be boggled because it is simple.

What was Foxman's point here? Was he writing about Simmons's blind spot? Was he talking about Jewish bigots and our blindness to that?

There is no question of the horrible anti-Semitism of Louis Farrakan, evidenced by many videos in which he makes outrageous and ugly claims against the Jewish people which are completely false and insane. There is no question that he gets a pass from the Black community largely because anti-Semitism is rampant in the that community. There's no blind spot for Simmons, it's a political calculation to keep his mouth shut about Farrakan.

But what was the point in gratuitously attacking the Jewish community for bigotry and not offering any actual evidence of it? I'm not aware of any Jew who gets up and attacks any other group. It's not something preached in any temple or synagogue ever.

Worse yet, why attack someone like Pamela Geller? Is it just because she is well known for her strong opinions about the ideology behind Islamic terrorism? Is that the extent of Foxman's case that Geller is a bigot? She never attacks all Muslims, so how is she a bigot, Mr. Foxman?

Seems like he is either lazy or very misinformed and he can't find a real bigot, or he doesn't want to, so he's chosen to pick on her. The fact is the Jewish community doesn't have serious bigots like Farrakan or Buchannan. It's not in our nature and I am repulsed by Foxman's need to create a fictional scapegoat or lay a guilt trip on Jews.

Foxman aught to do his homework and not smear someone without reason or if he really believes what he says, back it up with actual facts.

I agree with you. It appears that Mr. Foxman cannot differentiate between racism and realism. When anyone, Jewish or otherwise, dares to discuss publicly the reams of documented facts exposing the Islamic jihadist agenda, the immediate, "politically correct" response is to label him or her a bigot or racist. Islam is a political and religious ideology, not a race. Ms. Geller works integrally with many people of diverse nationalities, ethnicities and religious affiliations. Mr. Foxman, is it antithetical to work for harmonious relations with all peoples, yet warn the public of threats to peace? If not, you owe Ms. Geller an apology.

I agree with Foxman's assertion that Pat Buchanan is anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant and a racist. However, I depart company with Foxman when he states Buchanan "continues to enjoy the support and encouragement of many conservative white Americans who will tell you that he is no racist."

Foxman would like readers to believe that "conservative white Americans" are generally supportive of Buchanan. The opposite is true. The late William F. Buckley, Jr., the guru of modern conservatism, branded Buchanan as anti-Semitic. Other conservatives, such as George Will and Charles Krauthammer have pointed out Buchanan's bigotry. Curiously, liberals Michael Kinsley, Jack Germond, Al Hunt and Mark Shields defended Buchanan from charges of anti-Semitism.

In 2000, Buchanan ran for President on the Reform Party ticket. Before selecting Ezola Foster as his running mate, it was reported that Buchanan first offered the spot to Congressman James Trafficant, Democrat anti-Semite, later imprisoned for misappropriation of campaign funds.

I think Foxman has his own bigotry problem when it comes to conservatives.

I have seen Russell Simmons on tv several times and I don't remember ever hearing him say a good word about Jews. I'm not saying Simmons is a bad man, just that I don't think of him as concerned about Jews or Israel. Since anti-semitism is a central force of Farakhan, I don't see how it is possible to both respect and praise Farakhan and reject anti-semitism. At a deeper level, Simmons tolerates anti-semitism.

People take the wrong approach with the Right Honorable Minister Farrakhan. Instead of moaning about his prejudice, discover the idiocy of his religious beliefs, whence emanates the foulness. It is actually quite simple to do. Merely take one of his longer addresses & begin to go through it, asking for proof of things. An example is this just shy of 2.5 hour talk (after you discard the opening), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jA-NnuBzvgQ&feature=related

Now go to 36:09. Then ask those people what evidence they have that Elijah Mohammed was any more divine than you or me. They have no proof of a single miracle. Not one. No record of God speaking down from the sky. It's patently absurd.

Now go to 49:00. He compliments the Qu'ran for having an entire chapter devoted to women in general as well as an entire chapter devoted to Mary, the Mother of Christ. This he claims renders the Qu'ran better than the bible. One might at this point ask how the bible, which has an entire book devoted to Ruth and an entire book devoted to Esther is inferior in that respect. Also, asking what chapters of the bible, apart from the Psalms, are titled might be quite informative.

i'm a jewish person and i have done history on this and farrakhan is right its in our nations documents and history we cannot hate a man for telling the truth that is not the way of the torah!u no i and i no it my great great grandfather was in germany during the Holocaust

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.