In the last few weeks, there have been a number of prominent people who have outed themselves as, at worst, anti-Semitic bigots or, at best, subscribing to some historically anti-Semitic tropes. We’ve seen rappers Ice Cube and Sean “P Diddy” Combs. We’ve seen pro athletes DeSean Jackson and Stephen Jackson (and to a much lesser extent, Dwayne Wade). And perhaps most prominently, we have seen television personality Nick Cannon. Before we get into this story, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the voices that have come out against these sentiments, especially in the sports world. Last week, I mentioned the NFL players who spoke out against DeSean Jackson; but since then, we have seen commentator Stephen A. Smith as well as NBA Hall-of-Famers Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Charles Barkley all condemn the anti-Semitic comments made by the offenders listed above. Barkley even went so far as to call out the individuals by name.
Despite the support from such prominent figures, the fact remains that there seems to be a percolating thought in segments of American society that allows anti-Semitic views to rise, and even make it into the mainstream. And it’s not the fault of the celebrities I mentioned earlier. These individuals are entertainers; they are athletes, musicians, and comedians. And while they have a platform that allows their opinions to be shared to an enormous audience, nobody is looking to them as the thought leaders of today. Cannon may be the host of some of the most popular shows on television, and Ice Cube may be one of the most successful rap artists of all time, but they aren’t the ones who are creating the anti-Semitic tropes. This doesn’t mean they are innocent. It just means that they are symptoms of the larger problem: Louis Farrakhan.
If you look at the statements of Jackson, Ice Cube, and Cannon, you will see that they come directly from the playbook of the nation’s top anti-Semite. Well, not the top, but certainly one of the top three. In whichever order you want to place them, the top three are former Grand Wizard of the KKK David Duke, neo-Nazi and leader of the “Alt-right” movement Richard Spencer, and of course, Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. All three of these individuals are notable for their insane racist views; but while Duke and Spencer agree with little that Farrakhan spews, they all agree when it comes to the Jews. As a matter of fact, I could print a random quote from any of the three, and you wouldn’t be able to tell me which one said it. Here, try this: “In 100 years, they control movies, television, recording, publishing, commerce, radio, they own it all. Magazines. Why do you want all, everything?” You don’t know which one said it. Here’s another one: “Jewish power is ubiquitous. Every politician is so aware of it that he knows he cannot dare mention it! Jewish organizations, Jewish media, and Jewish political agents ruthlessly seek their perceived interests without remorse and without introspection.” I will tell you that Farrakhan said only one of these.
However, the problem is that the three leading anti-Semites in America are not treated similarly – not by a long shot. You can start by Googling each one. The results of a Google search will show the start of their Wikipedia pages. Spencer and Duke each receive the headline they richly deserve.
“Richard Bertrand Spencer is an American neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist, and white supremacist.”
“David Ernest Duke is an American white supremacist, far-right politician, convicted felon, and former Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. He has advocated neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories like Holocaust denial and Jewish control of academia, the press, and the financial system.”
But for some reason, Farrakhan doesn’t get that treatment. “Louis Farrakhan, Sr., formerly known as Louis X, is an American religious leader and political activist. He is the leader of the Nation of Islam, an organization which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as Black nationalist and a hate group.” That’s all Google shows. If you click on the Wikipedia entry, his anti-Semitism isn’t even mentioned until paragraph three.
But big tech isn’t the only institution that allows Farrakhan a wider net than it does Duke and Spencer. The media plays a role in this, as well. CNN published a Louis Farrakhan Fast Facts editorial on June 19. It only mentions his anti-Semitism twice. The first wasn’t even about him; it was about how he came to Jesse Jackson’s defense when Jackson was accused of anti-Semitism. The second time couldn’t distance itself more from placing a label on the man: “Farrakhan is known for having preached anti-Semitic, anti-White, anti-Catholic, and anti-homosexual rhetoric.” Could you possibly protect yourself more in an editorial by claiming that he “is known” to preach anti-Semitism? G-d forbid that you actually label him an anti-Semite.
Contrast this to how they report Duke and Spencer. Of course, there would never be a Fast Facts op-ed on either one, but every single time either one is mentioned in an article (even if it’s not an op-ed), they are “former KKK leader and noted anti-Semite David Duke” or “white supremacist and anti-Semite conspiracy theorist Richard Spencer.” The media does an excellent job of burying Spencer and Duke to the point where nobody would ever want to be associated with them, and I am beyond grateful for that. The quashing of voices and forced distancing from the human debris that are Spencer and Duke is a phenomenal accomplishment. But why isn’t the same treatment given to Farrakhan? Why can’t the media criticize him the way they do for other anti-Semitic voices?
The results of letting Farrakhan slide can be seen all over the place. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib wrote for his newsletter in 2006. The leaders of the Women’s March have attended his sermons. Farrakhan came to Ilhan Omar’s defense when, in 2018, Omar made her anti-Semitic comments. You know who else came to her defense? David Duke. And the media knows that Farrakhan is a bad dude. It’s why they hid a photo of Obama and the Minister leading up to both the 2008 and 2012 elections. The photo didn’t surface until long after the elections were secured.
You see, when it comes to anti-Semitism, Duke, Spencer, and Farrakhan are all the same. But the way they are covered by the media allows for one of them to have a much louder voice than the other two. It’s why Farrakhan has two-and-a-half times the number of Twitter followers than Spencer and Duke combined – despite all three losing their verified accounts. It’s why Duke and Spencer have been pulled from YouTube entirely while Farrakhan has 74,000 subscribers. It’s why intellectual neophytes like DeSean Jackson, Ice Cube, and Nick Cannon can get easily sucked into Farrakhan’s rhetoric: The media has given him the okay to do so. In fact, it’s probably safer for someone in the public eye to have a sit-down conversation with Farrakhan than it is to do so with a conservative pundit like Tucker Carlson. A Hollywood personality would be chastised for appearing on Carlson’s show, but won’t be for attending a Farrakhan speech.
So, while anyone who repeats the Farrakhan rhetoric is certainly not innocent of anti-Semitism, they are only a symptom of allowing Farrakhan the leeway that he has. Until his public persona is as removed from polite society as his White counterparts, we will continue to see prominent voices repeating his talking points. Farrakhan is the equivalent of Spencer and Duke, but until we see him labeled as such, and those associated with them all become lepers, we are doomed to seeing a continued rise in public personalities promoting anti-Semitic propaganda.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.