Anti-Semitism Among Black Student Groups
Campus communities are every bit as complicated as those in outside
society. People relate to one another in many different ways,
as individuals and as groups. In the same way that relations between
individual students can vary so, too, do the relationships between
student groups. Much has been written in recent years about the
relationship between Black and Jewish student groups. These relations
vary from campus to campus, year to year. In most cases, Black
and Jewish students coexist in relative isolation from each other
and with limited meaningful contact. While there are many cases
of warm interpersonal relations among individuals, ongoing linkages
among organized groups are rare. The potential exists for misconceptions,
miscommunication, or campus polarization leading to flashpoints
Anti-Semitism among some segments of the Black community has been
a growing campus force since the early 1980s, largely paralleling
the increasing popularity of Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam.
NOI's acceptance on campus has been assisted by the increasing
trend in student life and academia toward the search for heightened
racial consciousness and identity. The organization's anti-Semitic
and anti-white message further reinforces and appeals to racial
separatism and militancy. The NOI and similarly minded demagogues
have dusted off easily accessible, widely known stereotypes and
injected them into public consciousness. This blatant anti-Semitism
masquerading as free expression has poisoned interethnic discourse
at several schools.
In the Classroom
Black academics such as Leonard Jeffries of the City University
of New York (CUNY), and Tony Martin of Wellesley College, have
invoked academic freedom as justification for espousing their
racist and anti-Semitic views in the classroom and in outside
lectures. They clamor for the right to express their opinions,
but will not brook any disagreement with their views. From behind
their lecterns at respected institutions of higher learning, under
the cover of pseudo-scholarship, they try to make bigotry sound
respectable. Lecture halls are transformed from places for pursuing
higher knowledge to breeding grounds for ethnic hatred. In the
process, these entrepreneurs of bigotry generate a significant
income from lucrative lecture fees.
Leonard Jeffries, the former head of the Black Studies Department
at the City College of CUNY, and a professor there since 1972,
has espoused racist and anti-Semitic views and theories since
at least the early 1980s, when his comments-made while he was
department head-began to attract public attention. In the spring
of 1988, a white student wrote an account in the student newspaper
of his experiences in Jeffries' class, Black Studies 101. The
student recounted numerous times when Jeffries constructed large
parts of his class around anti-white arguments.
The New York Times reported that in an April 1990 class
on African heritage, Jeffries said that "rich Jews who financed
the development of Europe also financed the slave trade,"
and that "the Jewish Holocaust is raised as the only Holocaust."
The Times also reported that Jeffries has taught students
in his classes that Blacks are "sun people," humanistic
and communal, and whites are "ice people," cold, unfeeling
Jeffries exploded onto the public scene in August 1991, when the
New York Post published an account of a vitriolic anti-Semitic
and racist speech he made on July 20 at the Empire State Black
Arts and Cultural Festival in Albany, New York. Jeffries asserted
that "rich Jews" controlled the Black slave trade, and
that Hollywood was the site of a Jewish-dominated conspiracy to
systematically denigrate Blacks. He called then--Assistant U.S.
Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch the "ultimate, supreme,
sophisticated, debonair racist" and a "Texas Jew."
On September, 19, 1991, after more than a month of widespread
media coverage of Jeffries' bigotry, the City University Faculty
Senate voted to condemn the remarks. On October 27, City College's
Board of Trustees voted 10-4 to give Jeffries a one-year extension
as chairman of the Black Studies Department rather than the standard
three years. On March 23, 1992, CUNY's Board of Trustees voted
to remove Jeffries as head of the department, replacing him with
Dr. Edmund W. Gordon, formerly chairman of the African-American
Studies Department at Yale University.
Jeffries challenged the decision in Federal District Court in
Manhattan, claiming CUNY violated his freedom of speech by penalizing
him for his statements. In 1993 the jury sided with Jeffries,
and he was awarded $360,000 in damages and reinstated as department
The University appealed the decision, arguing that Jeffries' statements
disrupted the school's operations, but the appeals court upheld
the verdict in April 1994. However, a month later, the U.S. Supreme
Court ruled in another case, Waters v. Churchill, that a government
agency may punish an employee for speech if the agency shows "reasonable
predictions of disruption." The New York State Attorney General
at the time, G. Oliver Koppell, used that ruling to appeal the
Jeffries case to the Supreme Court. In November 1994, the high
court ordered the court of appeals to reconsider its findings.
In April 1995, the appeals court reversed itself, upholding Jeffries'
dismissal as department head. When his term was over two months
later, the trustees did not reappoint Jeffries, but chose Professor
Moyibi Amoda to head the Black Studies Department. Jeffries appealed
the decision to the Supreme Court, which refused to hear his petition.
Jeffries still teaches at City College as a tenured professor,
and still continues to speak at colleges and universities. He
was a speaker at the viciously anti-Semitic, anti-white Black
Holocaust Nationhood Conference held in Washington, D.C., October
14 and 15, 1995-the weekend before the Nation of Islam's Million
In the spring semester of 1993, Anthony Martin, a tenured history
professor in the Africana Studies department of Wellesley College
in Massachusetts, assigned as a primary textbook for a survey
course on African-American history The Secret Relationship
Between Blacks and Jews, Volume I. The book is an anonymously
written conspiracy theory of Jewish domination of the slave trade
published by the Nation of Islam, the Black Muslim group led by
Minister Louis Farrakhan. Three Jewish students-described later
by Martin as "Hillel representatives"-sat in on a lecture
at the beginning of the semester during the period when students
may attend a variety of classes to choose their courseload.
In response to student and faculty concern over the book, Martin
delivered a speech on March 4, 1993, to the Wellesley College
Academic Council titled, "An Answer to My Jewish Critics,"
which he printed in his self-published book, The Jewish Onslaught:
Despatches From the Wellesley Battlefront, published in December
of that year. In this speech, and another one within the same
month entitled "Broadside No. 1," Martin accused Jews
of controlling the African slave trade. In his second speech,
Martin also stated that Jews controlled the civil rights movement
to the detriment of African-Americans; that Jewish-owned publishing
companies had conspired with Jewish academics to control scholarship
on African-American history and culture; and that Jews today are
engaged in a conservative, racist "offensive" against
Martin has taught at Wellesley since 1973 and been tenured since
1975. In The Jewish Onslaught, Martin describes a "conspiracy"
against him at the school that includes the three Jewish students
who attended his class and ADL. Professor Selwyn Cudjoe, the director
of Africana Studies at Wellesley, has been one of Martin's most
outspoken critics; African Americans who disagree with Martin,
including Cudjoe, become characterized by him as "handkerchief
heads," "Uncle Tom house Negroes," "good Negroes"
and "unthinking Negro stooges."
The self-published book was barely on the market a week when the
president of Wellesley, Diana Chapman Walsh, wrote to 40,000 graduates,
parents and friends to denounce it. She wrote that the book "gratuitously
attacks individuals and groups at Wellesley College through innuendo
and the application of racial and religious stereotype."
More than half the faculty signed a statement repudiating the
book. However, the college did not censure Martin and his tenure
status was not affected.
Martin issued a typically paranoid-style response to Walsh's criticism,
claiming that the college administration had conspired against
him and was attempting to silence Black people. In the summer
of 1994, Wellesley president Walsh denied Martin a merit raise,
challenging his scholarship. The History Department, with which
Wellesley had cross-listed his courses, dropped his classes from
its offerings, so students would no longer receive history credit
for a Martin class.
Martin continues to teach and to spread his venomous views in
speaking engagements at universities throughout the country. He
was also a featured speaker at the NOI-linked "Black Holocaust"
conference preceding the Million Man March. Speakers such as Martin
and Leonard Jeffries are in demand-and paid handsomely-because
of the notoriety derived from their anti-Semitic and racist remarks.
Bigotry has become a lucrative career choice.
The prominence of pseudo-scholars such as Jeffries and Martin
shows that anti-Semitism and bigotry are no longer fringe activities
on some campuses, but occupy a growing place in the realm of academic
debate. The ivory tower has been breached at its core, and there
are undoubtedly students who take their cue from the ostensibly
respected professors entrusted with their academic development.
Instead of learning the skills of critical thinking and how to
work together, students of different ethnic backgrounds are pitted
against each other by such academic bigots in an ever-downward
spiral of suspicion and prejudice.
Outside the Classroom
Just as racism has infected some academic offerings, views such
as Jeffries' and Martin's have seeped from the classroom into
the activities of everyday campus life. In speeches and newspapers
on campus, Jews are portrayed by some Black activists-either students
or speakers invited by student groups-as bloodsuckers, architects
of the slave trade and controllers of finance and the media. And
it seems that the more provocative the racist speakers become,
the more they are hailed by such militant Black student groups.
While the numbers of such activists are small, they often set
the tone for discourse and poison intergroup relations for the
vast majority of their less-active fellow students.
Khalid Abdul Muhammad
For example, the virulently anti-Semitic, bigoted speech given
by Nation of Islam spokesman Khalid Abdul Muhammad at Kean College
in New Jersey on November 29, 1993, drew widespread attention
from the media and thrust NOI's campus activities into the national
spotlight. But rather than damaging his speaking career, the controversy
that surrounded the speech has elevated Muhammad's celebrity status
among radicalized Black students.
Muhammad was brought to campus by a Black student organization
and was paid $2,600 in student funds. All members of the audience
were frisked by Nation of Islam guards before entering. For three
and a half hours Muhammad treated his audience of 150 to a rambling
diatribe against Jews and whites:
Who are the slumlords in the Black community? The so-called Jew
. . . Who is it sucking our blood in the Black community? A white
imposter Arab and a white imposter Jew. Right in the Black community,
sucking our blood on a daily and consistent basis . . . You see
everybody always talk about Hitler exterminating 6 million Jews.
That's right. But don't nobody ever ask what did they do to Hitler?
What did they do to them folks? They went in there, in Germany,
the way they do everywhere they go, and they supplanted, they
usurped, they turned around and a German, in his own country,
would almost have to go to a Jew to get money . . .
We don't owe [the whites] nothing in South Africa . . . we give
him 24 hours to get out of town, by sundown. That's all. If he
won't get out of town by sundown, we kill everything white that
ain't right (inaudible) in South Africa. We kill the women, we
kill the children, we kill the babies. We kill the blind, we kill
the crippled (inaudible), we kill 'em all. We kill the faggot,
we kill the lesbian, we kill them all.
Kean claimed that only 25 to 50 members of the cheering audience
were students. Nevertheless, the college's response was too little,
too late. Eleven days after the speech, following media criticism
for her silence, Kean then-president Elsa Gomez issued a statement
that did not mention Muhammad by name or address anti-Semitism:
We each have the moral responsibility to ensure an environment
of mutual respect . . . Kean College has supported and will continue
to support freedom of speech and freedom of dissent . . . I find
the verbal abuse contained in a recent speech on this campus reprehensible.
It stretches the limits of free speech into the area of intolerable.
College presidents often view it as their duty to balance the
conflicting interests at hand, frequently leading to indirect
or weak responses to incidents such as this one. They also largely
see such events in terms of the school's public image. But Gomez's
vagueness in specifically condemning Muhammad sent a message that
the supporters of such raw bigotry had won, and that the school
was willing to tolerate their message. She also drew media critics
who were not placated by her late statement. Inadequate administration
responses to campus anti-Semitism leads to more finger-pointing
and to a cycle of suspicion, as voiced by the December 24, 1993,
editorial in The Jewish Standard of Teaneck, New Jersey:
Would the response have been so slow and weak had another group-other
than Jews, that is-been so affronted? If a Jewish speaker had
vilified Blacks . . . would the college have immediately repudiated
the speaker and his/her forum?. . . Jews are often thought of
as fair game, while other groups are protected.
In the absence of an immediate, direct response, Gomez silently
signaled that such naked bigotry was not an urgent priority. And
those who may have heard the signal the loudest were Kean's students.
Kean College was not Muhammad's first campus appearance-he had
been speaking at colleges and universities since February 1990.
Nor would it be his last. But following media criticism of Muhammad's
comments, condemnation from numerous Black leaders and a full-page
ADL newspaper advertisement in February 1994 that printed excerpts
from the speech, NOI leader Louis Farrakhan temporarily removed
Muhammad from his position as a minister and the organization's
national spokesman (he was reinstated as a NOI minister in July
1995). But Muhammad was invited to speak at Howard University-the
nation's pre-eminent Black university-on February 23, 1994, by
a small student organization called Unity Nation that has ties
At that event, even before Muhammad launched into his anti-white
tirade, law student and Unity Nation leader Malik Zulu Shabazz
warmed up the enthusiastic crowd of 1,000-half of which were students-by
leading an anti-Jewish chant:
Shabazz: "Who caught Nat Turner and killed Nat Turner?"
"Who is it that controls the Federal Reserve? Who?"
"Who is it that set up the Hon. Marcus Garvey and the Justice
Department and the judges that sent him to prison?"
Though Muhammad avoided anti-Semitism that night, Shabazz's Nazi-like
rally turned the nation's attention to Howard and generated much
negative publicity for the school. Though many students and faculty
publicly stated that Shabazz and the rally did not represent the
university community, the school found itself the focus of unwelcome
attention from the media and Congress.
On March 7, 1994, The Washington Post printed an Op-Ed
piece by Howard president Franklyn Jenifer entitled "Decrying
anti-Semitism." But though Jenifer's piece was longer and
stronger than that of Kean's president, he, too, did not mention
Muhammad by name and he, too, insisted that hatemongers should
be allowed to speak on campus under the rubric of free speech:
Recent events in this nation and on our campus have shown us that
bias does not just come in one flavor. It is my belief and the
overwhelming belief of all others in the Howard community that
all forms of ethnic bias, especially anti-Semitism, violate the
principles on which our institution was founded . . . At the same
time, we must remember that the right of free speech is inviolate,
no matter how outrageous or offensive the message.
Jenifer's calm words belied the ugly atmosphere at Howard, which
was revealed by one incident more telling than all the denunciations
of bigotry. A Jewish Yale University history professor and recognized
expert on slavery, David Biron Davis, had been slated to lecture
on slavery at Howard on April 4. Apprehension over how some students
might react to a Jewish speaker, as well as concern for Davis's
well-being, prompted an associate dean to tell Davis that "this
was not the best of times" for him to visit Howard. Davis
reportedly expressed relief at the postponement, but the incident
served as an indicator of the mood on campus at the time.
Muhammad returned to Howard on April 19, 1994, again at the invitation
of Unity Nation, as one of four speakers for "Documenting
the Black Holocaust." Anticipating the evening of hatred
that lay ahead, President Jenifer and Howard professors issued
statements that day condemning the event. On behalf of the board
of trustees, Jenifer wrote of "our deepest concern that the
Unity Nation organization has chosen to provide a platform on
our campus for individuals who are associated with blatantly anti-Semitic
The president's fears of a hatefest were not unfounded. Most members
of the enthusiastic crowd of 2,000 were not Howard students but
the event nevertheless further tarnished the school's reputation.
Muhammad, the last speaker, brought the cheering crowd to its
feet several times. He repeatedly compared American slavery to
the Holocaust, calling Jews, "no-good, dirty, low-down bastards!"
Of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., Muhammad
said, "they had piles of shoes, as if I was supposed to be
impressed . . . we didn't even have shoes." The fiery speech
also included an admiring reference to Long Island Railroad gunman
Colin Ferguson, who killed six white people on a commuter train
in December 1993; Muhammad called him "Brother Colin"
and said God had directed Ferguson to kill the white victims.
Also featured that evening were Tony Martin, Leonard Jeffries
and law student Shabazz, all of whom delivered hateful remarks
that served to further divide the Howard community. Despite Howard's
public soul-searching in the two months between Muhammad's two
appearances, the April 19 event injected a fresh dose of vitriol
into the discussions.
Muhammad once again made headlines when he came to speak at York
College, a branch of the City University of New York in the impoverished
neighborhood of South Jamaica, Queens with a student body that
is more than 60 percent Black. The date was November 7, 1995,
the college's annual Black Solidarity Day, and the school-under
pressure from the CUNY administration to bar Muhammad from campus-had
denied a student group's request to bring the NOI speaker to York,
citing incomplete information about the event and lack of time
to make proper security arrangements. That morning, York's administration
stationed about 120 New York City police and CUNY officers at
the school's three gates. Dressed in riot gear, they were instructed
to keep out everyone except faculty and students.
But when Muhammad arrived at campus, dozens of students massed
at the front gate began shouting and jostling. After about an
hour of the protest and one arrest, York acting president Thomas
Minter, worried that the demonstration would escalate into violence,
allowed Muhammad to come onto campus. The Nation of Islam spokesman
then proceeded to launch into his usual anti-Semitic, racist themes,
using new examples drawn from recent headlines.
Referring to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak
Rabin three days earlier, Muhammad said to the crowd of 200 to
300 students, "I cannot be sad when my enemy is struck down."
Touching on the trial of O.J. Simpson for the murder of his ex-wife,
Muhammad said, "I want to tell the Black woman, 'Stop running
around with a blonde wig on your head.' If you believe that blondes
have more fun, ask Nicole Brown Simpson."
Muhammad also referred to the day's protest, calling acting president
Minter and Ronald Brown, acting vice president of student development,
who are both Black, "plantation Negroes that the master had
sent to the gate."
Muhammad's appearance at York, aside from allowing him yet another
platform from which to spout his hatred, sent a regrettable message
to campuses across the country. It permitted the supporters of
the Nation of Islam to bully their way around established school
procedures and signaled the triumph of intimidation. However,
though York capitulated, the administration and students had agreed
by the end of that day to review and change the procedures that
led to the debacle.
An article in the November 9 New York Times about the incident,
based on interviews with York students, stated "most [students]
revealed more sympathy with [Muhammad's] often vituperative declarations
than they seemed to realize." Some students said that while
they didn't always agree with the broad generalizations about
white people, they did believe that Jews have a disproportionate
amount of control over society. But they also said Muhammad touched
their raw feelings about discrimination they believed they would
face in the job market. A member of York's student government
was quoted saying, "He speaks to us." A year later,
in November 1996, Muhammad was again invited to York College (although
he did not appear).
Source: Schooled in Hate: Anti-Semitism On Campus, ADL, 1997. Copyright Anti-Defamation League
(ADL). All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.