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 of anti-Semitism.
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.
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 oppressors.
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 chairman.
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 Man March.
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 Black progress.
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.
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.
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 to NOI.
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 rhetoric."
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.