Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader, stands for almost everything the Women's March principles claim to deplore. How then did three of the four board members of the Women's March come to embrace Farrakhan and praise him? (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
It is well-known by some and wholly ignored by others that Islam has a long, sad history of antisemitism, a bigotry that originated in the seventh century CE (the first Islamic century) and has grown more vicious in the 21st. Combined with an almost universal anti-Zionism and bolstered by many on the political "left", it is today the most ubiquitous and deadliest form of Jew-hatred. It takes the form, not just of insults, boycotts, and lawfare, but of wars, terrorist attacks, and calls for the destruction of the Jewish state and the genocide of the Jews.
There are many forms of Islam, although its two great branches are Sunnism and Shi'ism, with numerous mystical Sufi orders that are mainly Sunni. Modern forms of Muslim extremism and terrorist outfits adhere closely to shari'a, the Qur'an, the Hadith and other norms of Islamic faith and practice. The Muslim Brotherhood, the Taliban, al-Qa'eda, al-Shabaab, Hamas and countless others regard themselves as regular Muslims of an orthodox variety, albeit with variations.
There is, however, one curious case of a movement that pledges allegiance to Islam, obeys the five pillars of the religion -- faith, prayer, fasting, charity, and the pilgrimage to Mecca -- while holding to some un-Islamic beliefs. It also happens to be the most anti-Semitic of all, if that is possible.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center:
Since its founding in 1930, the Nation of Islam (NOI) has grown into one of the wealthiest and best-known organizations in black America, offering numerous programs and events designed to uplift African Americans. Nonetheless, its bizarre theology of innate black superiority over whites — a belief system vehemently and consistently rejected by mainstream Muslims — and the deeply racist, antisemitic and anti-LGBT rhetoric of its leaders, including top minister Louis Farrakhan, have earned the NOI a prominent position in the ranks of organized hate.
If there were space, it would be fascinating to write a lengthy article about the Nation of Islam: its strange history, the sudden appearance in Detroit of its founder Warith D. Fard Muhammad (a man of uncertain identity) in 1930, his abrupt and never-explained disappearance in 1934; the control of the movement by Elijah Muhammad (d. 1975); the takeover in 1977 by Louis Farrakhan, still the leader today; the movement's cultish and, in Islamic terms, utterly heretical beliefs; its current involvement with the Church of Scientology via the study of Dianetics; its development of the idea of black supremacism; and more.
Despite its claim to be an Islamic sect, its belief that black people are God's chosen race is in utter contradiction to genuine Islamic principles, namely that it is belief, not ethnicity that matters to God, bringing all Muslims, white, black, brown or yellow together in a single world community, the umma.
Our interest here, however, lies in NOI's stunning antisemitism and its implications for some, but by no means all, on the political left. And alongside that its rabid hatred for LGBTQ people, in utter contradiction of left-wing and liberal values.
According to the Anti-Defamation League:
The Nation of Islam (NOI), the oldest Black nationalist organization in the U.S., has maintained a consistent record of anti-Semitism and racism since its founding in the 1930s.
Under Farrakhan, who has espoused and promoted anti-Semitism and racism throughout his 30-year tenure as NOI leader, the organization has used its programs, institutions, and media to disseminate its message of hate.
While Farrakhan often speaks about serious issues affecting the African-American community, including racism, police brutality, and economic disparities, he often blames Jews for these societal problems.
Regarding Louis Farrakhan, the Anti-Defamation League writes:
More than any other NOI leader, Louis Farrakhan has built a legacy of divisiveness as the leading anti-Semite in America....
In recent years, Farrakhan has embarked on a wide-ranging anti-Jewish campaign, which has featured some of the most hateful speeches of his career. He has repeatedly alleged that the Jewish people were responsible for the slave trade as well as the 9/11 attacks, and that they continue conspire to control the government, the media, Hollywood, and various Black individuals and organizations.
Farrakhan also frequently denies that Jews have a legitimate claim to their religion and to the land of Israel, claiming that Judaism is nothing more than a "deceptive lie" and a "theological error" promoted by Jews to further their control over America's economy and foreign and domestic policy.
The peerless Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has recorded numerous videos of antisemitic speeches made by Farrakhan and other NOI officials. Also speaking at the well-attended annual Saviors' Day Convention in Chicago on February 17, 2019, Farrakhan's "scholarly aide", Wesley Muhammad also made bizarre allegations. MEMRI summed them up as follows:
He said that it is Jewish genius that is responsible for the "scientific production of homosexuality and transgenderism among black people" and the "weaponizing" of marijuana to "feminize" the black American male. Muhammad said that Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam are preventing the total "demasculinization" of black men in the United States. He added that the "true Semites" are "black Semites" and that a certain party from among the Jews are the real anti-Semites.
This deluded combination of unrelated bigotries, ethnic distortion (black people are not Semites), and a gratuitous nastiness about Jews amounts to a level of antisemitic hate speech of impressive immorality. But in the Nation of Islam, it was not hard to surpass even that.
On the same day, at the same convention, NOI leader Farrakhan went even further than his aide. Again MEMRI provided a transcript and précis of his four-hour speech:
Farrakhan said that certain people who call themselves Jews to hide their true identity are the "synagogue of Satan." He claimed that Jews don't let blacks use the term "holocaust" to describe the slave trade and he criticized Jews for believing that "the suffering of six million Jews is worth 7 billion human beings." He explained that Moses taught the Jews "tricknology," that the Jewish scholars came up with the Talmud, and that "Talmudic Jews" are culprits who see themselves as gods. He claimed that sharecropping and the enslavement of blacks are justified by the Talmud and that the Jews have exploited the American people through predatory lending practices because the Talmud permits Jews to cheat non-Jews. In addition, Farrakhan said that the Federal Reserve is a "family of rich Jewish people" and that things such as pedophilia, sexual perversion, rape culture, casting couches, gay marriage, abortion, sex trafficking, prostitution, anal sex, and certain sexual practices that he said are common in Hollywood can all be traced to the satanic influence of the Talmudic Jews. He added: "The Talmud [and its] influence on the Supreme Court and the laws of this land must ultimately be challenged."
Ironically, this association of Jews with mastery of the Transatlantic slave trade (Jewish participation in it was, in fact, "negligible") ignores the fact that the Arab Muslim slave trade from Africa across the Sahara desert was far wider and longer-lasting than the European trade. It was, in fact, white Europeans who abolished all slave trading.
Farrakhan's vacuous attempt to blame all the things he despises, including major crimes, on Jews echoes the continuing accusation from the political left and the United Nations that Israel is the worst country in the world -- the only country to be singled out for repeated condemnation without evidence, despite the existence of so many other countries with appalling human rights and military abuses (for instance, here, here and here).
This partisan hatred of Israel possibly explains a bizarre alliance between some liberals and the Nation of Islam. The Women's Marches of January 21, 2017 were strongly left-wing, aimed, it seemed, at protesting the new US administration under President Donald J. Trump. However, many of policies they embraced were very much part of broad American values, matters already legislated for and accepted in many instances by a majority of US citizens. Under the movement's Unity Principles, for example, the founders stated:
We must create a society in which women - including Black women, Indigenous women, poor women, immigrant women, disabled women, Jewish women, Muslim women, Latinx women, Asian and Pacific Islander women, lesbian, bi, queer, and trans women - are free and able to care for and nurture their families, however they are formed, in safe and healthy environments free from structural impediments.
The United States has always been in the forefront of social movements, notably reforms for the rights of women. The other elements of the March's principles include other American values: an end to violence against women, reproductive rights, civil rights, disability rights, immigrant rights (for what has always been a nation of immigrants), LGBT and similar rights (as enshrined in the 2015 Supreme Court ruling permitting same-sex marriage).
Given that most of the values are those on which most liberals and conservatives agree, one might ask how three of the four board members of the Women's March came to embrace Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, praise him, and even attend his 2018 Saviors' Day rally. These three were Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and Carmen Perez. The fourth board member and co-president, Bob Bland, took a very different position and strongly condemned Farrakhan.
Mallory, who is black, tried to justify her relationship with Farrakhan by saying:
"As a leader, as a black leader in a country that is still dealing with some very serious unresolved issues as it relates to the black experience in this country, I go into a lot of difficult spaces," Mallory told "The View." "Wherever my people are, there that's where I must also be."
Mallory did not stint in her praise of Farrakhan. She posted on Instagram a picture of herself with him after a rally, calling him the "GOAT" -- the "greatest of all time".
She has been severely criticized for this relationship. Adam Serwer in a 2018 article for The Atlantic, argued that "To those outside the black community, the Nation of Islam's persistent appeal, despite its bigotry, can seem incomprehensible."
Teresa Shook, the Founder of the Woman's March, demanded that all four of the board members stand down, "for allowing 'anti-Semitism, anti- LBGTQIA sentiment and hateful, racist rhetoric' to become a part of the platform."
This echoed a Twitter comment by Bland:
"Throughout the years, Minister Louis Farrakhan has made statements that are anti-semitic, misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic that I don't support or condone."
Bland may have condemned Farrakhan, but has herself re-tweeted anti-Israel statements.
In truth, Farrakhan stands for almost everything the Women's March Principles claim to deplore. He is a misogynist who wants to keep women in their traditional roles, he hates all LGBT people in an exceptionally vicious way, he is a black separatist, unlike the marchers, who call for unity between races, and he has shown close support for a number of dictators, notably the late Libyan president Mu'ammar Ghadhafi, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, and Cuba's Commadante Fidel Castro (and here) -- even though the Women's March progressives seek reform through democratic means achieved through working hand-in-hand as free people.
In an important article published on March 19 this year in the magazine Tablet, James Kirchick, a fellow of the Brookings Institution, explores the bizarre link between the Nation of Islam and the Women's March and expands on how antisemitism on the left has morphed into something denatured. For all the other perplexing compromises made by the March leaders, the antisemitism seems the worst.
Even as Women's March chapters throughout the country rejected what they saw as the clear anti-Semitism of the movement's leadership—canceling marches, condemning the group's ties with Farrakhan, and otherwise dissociating themselves from the national organization — the phrase "white Jews" quickly passed into common usage among those on the left eager to exculpate Mallory, Perez, and Sarsour.
He goes further to discuss the way Jewish "whiteness" undermines legitimate claims as an oppressed minority:
Echoing Mallory's charge that Jews, as a group, are implicated in the oppression of nonwhites, contributors to a recent online symposium asserted that "white Jews benefit from and participate in white supremacy" and that anti-Semitism is not an "exceptional form of oppression, but part of a larger framework that uses various forms of oppression to reinforce one another." Women's March deputy head of communications, Sophie Ellman-Golan, insisted that "white Jews, like all white people, uphold white supremacy." A writer named Malcolm Harris demanded that critics of such notions "show me statistics where the situation of white Jews can be meaningfully distinguished from other white Americans."
Lest the meaning of this be lost, he continues:
Last year in New York City, there were four times as many bias crimes against Jews then there were against blacks — though there are twice as many blacks than Jews living in the city — and 20 times as many bias crimes against Jews as against transgender people. The main targets of these crimes were not Jews with dark skin but Jews of any race who were readily identifiable as Jews.
A few paragraphs later, he doubles down on this argument:
After the 2017 Charlottesville riot, where a group of white supremacists and Nazis chanting "Jews will not replace us" unleashed terror against a multiracial assortment of counterprotesters, the Israeli-American writer Gershom Gorenberg observed that, "Because race is the most pervasive reason that some Americans believe they can discriminate against and despise others, a reflexive response to hatred of Jews is to try to fit it into the categories of race." But this is an historically inaccurate impulse. As Gorenberg put it elsewhere: "When it's good to be white, we're not. When it's bad to be white, we are. When it's good to be European, we're Levantines. When Europeans are colonialists, we're colonialists. When they hate immigration, we brought immigrants. When they hate capitalists, we're capitalists."
Readers should consult Kirchick's piece; but let me end with one short quotation from it: "Rank, vile, open, gutter-level anti-Semitism is apparently a pleasure that the progressive left is unwilling or unable to abstain from. Why?"
Dr. Denis MacEoin is a non-Jewish scholar of Middle Eastern affairs, the chair of North-East Friends of Israel in the UK, and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.