Imagine President Trump being invited to speak at the funeral of a white singer whom he admired (say Ted Nugent, if he were to pass) and seeing that David Duke was on stage in a place of honor. Imagine the reaction of the media if President Trump actually gave a speech in the presence of David Duke. Well, President Clinton gave a speech in the presence of Louis Farrakhan. (Hillary Clinton was sitting off to the right, but did not speak.)
Why would President Clinton, a good man and a friend of the Jewish people, do this? There are several possible answers:
- (1) He was taken by surprise at Farrakhan's presence and didn't want to do anything that would disrupt the service. But the "shoe on the other foot" question remains: would he have acted similarly if it had been Duke rather than Farrakhan?
- (2) Clinton doesn't believe that refusing to sit alongside a bigot is the proper response to bigotry. Again the shoe on the other foot question: would he sit alongside Duke?
- (3) Clinton doesn't regard Farrakhan as comparable to Duke. But that is simply wrong: Farrakhan is a blatant anti-Semite with an enormous following.
- (4) Farrakhan's anti-Semitism is not as serious a problem as Duke's white supremacy. But without getting into comparative assessments of bigotry, anti-Semitism is surely a serious and growing problem.
Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. The minister with whom the Clintons shared the stage at Aretha Franklin's memorial service is at least as bigoted and anti-Semitic as white supremacist David Duke. Photo: Wikipedia.
Farrakhan is also a homophobe, claiming that "Jews [are] responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out turning men into women and women into men." In the past, Farrakhan delivered similar remarks claiming, "When you want something in this world, the Jew holds the door," and calling Hitler "a very great mean."
He is also a racist, claiming, "White people deserve to die."
Many younger people on the left may not know the extent of Farrakhan's bigotry, or they may condone it by claiming that he did a service to Black communities. For example, Tamika Mallory, co-founder of the Women's March, called Farrakhan "GOAT (greatest of all time)" and DNC deputy chair Keith Ellison also once called him "a role model for Black youth."
Earlier this year, a picture of Barack Obama smiling with Farrakhan emerged. (Although I supported Obama both in 2008 and 2012, I would not have campaigned as enthusiastically for him had I known then about this suppressed photograph.) Keith Ellison, who may become Minnesota's next attorney general, later distanced himself from Farrakhan but, like Mallory, claimed that Farrakhan's contribution to Black empowerment is "complex."
Would we accept this kind of complexity and nuance if a white singer's family had invited David Duke?
Liberals need to make unequivocally clear that the Democratic Party tent will never be big enough for anti-Semites and anti-Americans like Farrakhan (just as Republicans need to do the same with sympathizers of the so-called alt-right.) There are not "good people" on the side of anti-Semitism, any more than there are "good people" on the side of white supremacy. There is no place for a double standard when it comes to anti-Semitism. Black anti-Semitism should not get a pass on account of the oppression suffered by so many Black people; neither should "progressive" tolerance of anti-Semitism of the kind shown by Bernie Sanders' support for Jeremy Corbyn, the anti-Semite who heads the British Labour Party and may well become the next Prime Minister of America's closest ally.
Just contrast the Franklin memorial service with the current controversy surrounding the decision of The New Yorker to invite Stephen Bannon for what promised to be a critical conversation with the journalist David Remnick. After many prominent liberals, such as Judd Apatow, Jim Carrey and Patton Oswalt, announced that they would not attend lest they "normalize hatred," Bannon was disinvited. Chelsea Clinton tweeted: "For anyone who wonders what normalization of bigotry looks like, please look no further than Steve Bannon being invited by both @TheEconomist & @NewYorker to their respective events in #NYC a few weeks apart."
To that I would add, look no further than the Clintons sharing the stage with Farrakhan. I hope they will take this occasion to distance themselves from, and strongly condemn, Farrakhan's anti-Semitism.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law Emeritus at Harvard Law School and author of The Case Against Impeaching Trump, Skyhorse publishing, 2018.
A version of this first appeared in The Hill.