African American–Jewish relations

African Americans and Jewish Americans have interacted throughout much of the history of the United States. This relationship has included widely publicized cooperation and conflict, and—since the 1970s—has been an area of significant academic research.[1][2][3] Cooperation during the Civil Rights Movement was strategic and significant, culminating in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The relationship has also featured conflict and controversy related to such topics as the Black Power movement, Zionism, affirmative action, and the antisemitic canard concerning the alleged role of American and Caribbean-based Jews in the Atlantic slave trade.


During the colonial era, Jewish immigrants to the Thirteen Colonies were generally merchants from London. They settled in cities such as Providence, Rhode Island, Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, gradually integrating into the local society. Some Jews became slaveholders, which was a long-established institution in the colonies. American historian Eli Faber says that "[t]he numbers just aren’t there to support the view", and that "Jews were involved, but to an insignificant degree. That doesn’t absolve them of that guilt, but everyone made money off African slaves: Arabs, Europeans, Africans."[4]

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, millions of Ashkenazi Jews from Germany and Eastern Europe immigrated to the U.S. for social and economic opportunities due to widespread pogroms in their homelands. They mainly settled in cities across the Northeast and Midwest where manufacturing industries were in dire need of workers, such as New York City, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Philadelphia. Jewish immigrants entered northeastern and midwestern cities in the same period when Blacks were migrating in the hundreds of thousands from the rural South in the Great Migration; Jews and Blacks had a greater variety of encounters, and these were markedly different in urban northern centers and agricultural southern areas.

In the early 1900s, Jewish newspapers drew parallels between the Black movement out of the South and the Jews' escape from Egypt, pointing out that both Blacks and Jews lived in ghettos, and calling anti-Black riots in the South "pogroms". Stressing the similarities rather than the differences between the Jewish and Black experience in America, Jewish leaders emphasized the idea that both groups would benefit the more America moved toward a society of merit, free of religious, ethnic and racial restrictions.[5]

The American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, and the Anti-Defamation League were central to the campaign against racial prejudice. Jews made substantial financial contributions to many civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, the Urban League, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. About 50 percent of the civil rights attorneys in the South during the 1960s were Jews, as were over 50 percent of the Whites who went to Mississippi in 1964 to challenge Jim Crow Laws.[5]

Marcus Garvey (1887–1940) was an early promoter of pan-Africanism and African redemption, and led the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. His push to celebrate Africa as the original homeland of African Americans, led many Jews to compare Garvey to leaders of Zionism.[6] An example of this was that Garvey wanted World War I peace negotiators to turn over former German colonies in southwest Africa to Blacks. In that period stressing self-determination for former colonies, Zionists were promoting a "return of Jews" after 2,000 years to the historic homeland of Israel.[6] At the same time, Garvey regularly criticized Jews in his columns in his newspaper Negro World, for allegedly trying to destroy the Black population of America.[7]

The much publicized lynching of Leo Frank, a Jew, in Georgia in 1915 by a mob of Southerners caused many Jews to "become acutely conscious of the similarities and differences between themselves and Blacks." Some had an increased sense of solidarity with blacks, as the trial exposed widespread antisemitism in Georgia.[8] The trial also pitted Jews against Blacks because Frank's defense attorneys suggested black janitor Jim Conley was guilty of the murder of the white girl. They called him a "dirty, filthy, Black, drunken, lying, nigger."[9] Many historians since the late 20th century have concluded that Jim Conley did murder Phagan.[10][11]

In the early 20th century, Jewish daily and weekly publications frequently reported on violence against Blacks, and often compared the anti-Black violence in the South to the pogroms endured by Jews in the Russian Empire. They were inspired by principles of justice, and by a desire to change racist policies in United States.[12] During this period, the leaders of American Jewry expended time, influence and their economic resources for Black endeavors, supporting civil rights, philanthropy, social service, and organizing. Historian Hasia Diner notes that "they made sure that their actions were well publicized" as part of an effort to demonstrate increasing Jewish political clout.[13]

Julius Rosenwald was a Jewish philanthropist who donated a large part of his fortune to supporting education of Blacks in the South by providing matching funds for construction of schools in rural areas.[14] Jews played a major role in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in its early decades. Jews involved in the NAACP included Joel Elias Spingarn (the first chairman), Arthur B. Spingarn, and founder Henry Moskowitz. More recently, Jack Greenberg was a leader in the organization.[15]

Shopkeeper and landlord relationshipsEdit

Following the Civil War, Jewish shop-owners and landlords engaged in business with Black customers and tenants, often filling a need where non-Jewish, white business owners would not venture. This was true in most regions of the South, where Jews were often merchants in its small cities, as well as northern urban cities such as New York, where they settled in high numbers. Jewish shop-owners tended to be more civil than other whites to Black customers, treating them with more dignity.[16] Blacks often had more immediate contact with Jews than with other whites.[17]

In 1903, Black historian W. E. B. Du Bois interpreted the role of Jews in the South as successors to the slave-barons:

The Jew is the heir of the slave-baron in Dougherty [County, Georgia]; and as we ride westward, by wide stretching cornfields and stubby orchards of peach and pear, we see on all sides within the circle of dark forest a Land of Canaan. Here and there are tales of projects for money-getting, born in the swift days of Reconstruction,—"improvement" companies, wine companies, mills and factories; nearly all failed, and the Jew fell heir.[18][a]

Black novelist James Baldwin (1924–1987) grew up in Harlem in the years between the world wars. He wrote,

[I]n Harlem.... our ... landlords were Jews, and we hated them. We hated them because they were terrible landlords and did not take care of the buildings. The grocery store owner was a Jew... The butcher was a Jew and, yes, we certainly paid more for bad cuts of meat than other New York citizens, and we very often carried insults home along with our meats... and the pawnbroker was a Jew—perhaps we hated him most of all.[17][21][22]

Baldwin wrote other accounts of Jews that were more sympathetic.

The first white man I ever saw was the Jewish manager who arrived to collect the rent, and he collected the rent because he did not own the building. I never, in fact, saw any of the people who owned any of the buildings in which we scrubbed and suffered for so long, until I was a grown man and famous. None of them were Jews. And I was not stupid: the grocer and the druggist were Jews, for example, and they were very very nice to me, and to us... I knew a murderer when I saw one, and the people who were trying to kill me were not Jews.[23]

Martin Luther King Jr. suggested that some Black anti-Semitism arose from the tensions of landlord-tenant relations:

When we were working in Chicago, we had numerous rent strikes on the West Side, and it was unfortunately true that, in most instances, the persons we had to conduct these strikes against were Jewish landlords... We were living in a slum apartment owned by a Jew and a number of others, and we had to have a rent strike. We were paying $94 for four run-down, shabby rooms, and .... we discovered that whites ... were paying only $78 a month. We were paying 20 percent tax. The Negro ends up paying a color tax, and this has happened in instances where Negroes actually confronted Jews as the landlord or the storekeeper. The irrational statements that have been made are the result of these confrontations.[24]


Jewish producers in the United States entertainment industry produced many works on Black subjects in the film industry, Broadway, and the music industry. Many portrayals of Black people were sympathetic, but historian Michael Rogin has discussed how some of the treatments could be considered exploitative.[25]

Rogin also analyzes the instances when Jewish actors, such as Al Jolson, portrayed Blacks in Blackface. He suggests that these were deliberately racist portrayals but adds that they were also expressions of the culture at the time. Black people could not appear in leading roles in either the theatre or in movies: "Jewish blackface neither signified a distinctive Jewish racism nor produced a distinctive Black anti-Semitism".[26]

Jews often interpreted Black culture in film, music, and plays. Historian Jeffrey Melnick argues that Jewish artists such as Irving Berlin and George Gershwin (composer of Porgy and Bess) created the myth that they were the proper interpreters of Black culture, "elbowing out 'real' Black Americans in the process." Despite evidence from Black musicians and critics that Jews in the music business played an important role in paving the way for mainstream acceptance of Black culture, Melnick concludes that, "while both Jews and African-Americans contributed to the rhetoric of musical affinity, the fruits of this labor belonged exclusively to the former."[27][28]

Black academic Harold Cruse viewed the arts scene as a white-dominated misrepresentation of Black culture, epitomized by works like George Gershwin's folk opera, Porgy and Bess.[29][30]

Some Black people have criticized Jewish movie producers for portraying Black people in a racist manner. In 1990, at an NAACP convention in Los Angeles, Legrand Clegg, founder of the Coalition Against Black Exploitation, a pressure group that lobbied against negative screen images of African Americans, alleged:

[T]he century-old problem of Jewish racism in Hollywood denies Blacks access to positions of power in the industry and portrays Blacks in a derogatory manner: "If Jewish leaders can complain of Black anti-Semitism, our leaders should certainly raise the issue of the century-old problem of Jewish racism in Hollywood.... No Jewish people ever attacked or killed Black people. But we're concerned with Jewish producers who degrade the Black image. It's a genuine concern. And when we bring it up, our statements are distorted and we're dragged through the press as anti-Semites.[31][32]

Professor Leonard Jeffries echoed those comments in a 1991 speech at the Empire State Plaza Black Arts & Cultural Festival in Albany, New York. Jeffries said that Jews controlled the film industry, using it to paint a negative stereotype of Blacks.[33][34]

Civil rights movementEdit

Gelders recovering in a Clayton, Alabama, hospital[35]

A 1934 ore-miner strike leading to the killing of several Black miners was the catalyst for physicist Joseph Gelders' civil rights activism and labor organizing efforts. Gelders and his wife Esther started hosting a weekly discussion group for students at University of Alabama at Birmingham. He established an Alabama committee to work on the Scottsboro Boys case.[36] Due to his efforts, on September 23, 1936, Gelders was kidnapped and assaulted by members of the Ku Klux Klan.[36][37] Gelders and suffragist Lucy Randolph Mason established the Southern Conference for Human Welfare in 1938.[38] In 1941, Gelders and activist Virginia Foster Durr led the creation of the National Committee to Abolish the Poll Tax.[39]

Cooperation between Jewish and African-American organizations peaked after World War II—sometimes called the "golden age" of the relationship.[40] Leaders of each group joined each other in order to launch an effective movement for racial equality in the United States, and Jews funded and led some national civil rights organizations.[41] Conversely, African-American Civil Rights leader W. E. B. Du Bois wrote testimonies and op-eds in Jewish publications that decried the Nazi violence in Europe after he visited the eviscerated Warsaw Ghetto.[42] Historically, Black colleges and universities also hired Jewish refugee professors who were not given comparable jobs in white institutions because American culture was anti-semitic. This era of cooperation culminated in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed racial or religious discrimination in schools and other public facilities, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited discriminatory voting practices and authorized the government to oversee and review state practices.

Historian Greenberg notes that one narrative of the relationship says: "It is significant that ... a disproportionate number of white civil rights activists were [Jewish] as well. Jewish agencies engaged with their African American counterparts in a more sustained and fundamental way than other white groups did largely because their constituents and their understanding of Jewish values and Jewish self-interest pushed them in that direction."[43][undue weight? ]

The extent of Jewish participation in the civil rights movement often correlated with their branch of Judaism: Reform Jews participated more frequently than Orthodox Jews. Many Reform Jews were guided by values which were reflected in the Reform branch's Pittsburgh Platform, which urged Jews to "participate in the great task of modern times, to solve, on the basis of justice and righteousness, the problems presented by the contrasts and evils of the present organization of society."[44]

Religious leaders such as rabbis and Baptist ministers from Black churches often played key roles in the civil rights movement, including Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. during the Selma to Montgomery marches. To commemorate this moment, 20 years later, representatives from the Coalition of Conscience, the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith (now the ADL) and the Atlanta Board of Education marched together again.[45] Sixteen Jewish leaders were arrested while they were heeding King's call to march in St. Augustine, Florida, in June 1964. It was the occasion of the largest mass arrest of rabbis in American history, which took place at the Monson Motor Lodge.[46] Marc Schneier, President of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, wrote Shared Dreams: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Jewish Community (1999), recounting the historic relationship between African and Jewish Americans as a way to encourage a return to strong ties following years of animosity that reached its apex during the Crown Heights riot in Brooklyn, New York.[47]

Northern and Western Jews often supported desegregation in their communities and schools, even at the risk of diluting the unity of their close-knit Jewish communities, which were frequently a critical component of Jewish life.[48]

Murder of Jewish civil rights activistsEdit

The summer of 1964 was designated the Freedom Summer, and many Jews from the North and West traveled to the South to participate in a concentrated voter registration effort. Two Jewish activists, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, and one Black activist, James Chaney, were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan near Philadelphia, Mississippi, as a result of their participation. Their deaths were considered martyrdom by some, and as a result, Black-Jewish relations were temporarily strengthened.[citation needed]

In 1965, Martin Luther King Jr., said,

How could there be anti-Semitism among Negroes when our Jewish friends have demonstrated their commitment to the principle of tolerance and brotherhood not only in the form of sizable contributions, but in many other tangible ways, and often at great personal sacrifice. Can we ever express our appreciation to the rabbis who chose to give moral witness with us in St. Augustine during our recent protest against segregation in that unhappy city? Need I remind anyone of the awful beating suffered by Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld of Cleveland when he joined the civil rights workers there in Hattiesburg, Mississippi? And who can ever forget the sacrifice of two Jewish lives, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, in the swamps of Mississippi? It would be impossible to record the contribution that the Jewish people have made toward the Negro's struggle for freedom—it has been so great.[49][non-primary source needed]

Questioning the "golden age"Edit

Some recent scholarship suggests that the "golden age" (1955–1966) of the Black–Jewish relationship was not as ideal as it is often portrayed.

Philosopher and activist Cornel West asserts that there was no golden age in which "blacks and Jews were free of tension and friction". West says that this period of Black–Jewish cooperation is often downplayed by Black people and romanticized by Jews: "It is downplayed by Blacks because they focus on the astonishingly rapid entry of most Jews into the middle and upper middle classes during this brief period—an entry that has spawned... resentment from a quickly growing Black impoverished class. Jews, on the other hand, tend to romanticize this period because their present status as upper middle dogs and some top dogs in American society unsettles their historic self-image as progressives with a compassion for the underdog."[50]

Historian Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz points out that the number of non-Southern Jews who went to the southern states only numbered a few hundred, and she also points out that the "relationship was frequently out of touch, periodically at odds, with both sides failing to understand each other's point of view."[51]

Political scientist Andrew Hacker wrote: "It is more than a little revealing that whites who travelled south in 1964 referred to their sojourn as their 'Mississippi summer'. It is as if all the efforts of the local Blacks for voter registration and the desegregation of public facilities had not even existed until white help arrived... Of course, this was done with benign intentions, as if to say 'we have come in answer to your calls for assistance'. The problem was... the condescending tone... For Jewish liberals, the great memory of that summer has been the deaths of Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner and—almost as an afterthought—James Chaney. Indeed, Chaney's name tends to be listed last, as if the life he lost was only worth three fifths of the others."[52]

Southern Jews in the civil rights movementEdit

The vast majority of civil rights activism by American Jews was undertaken by Jews from the northern and western states. Jews from the southern states engaged in virtually no organized activity on behalf of civil rights.[53][54] This lack of participation was puzzling to some northern Jews, due to the "inability of the northern Jewish leaders to see that Jews, before the battle for desegregation, were not generally victims in the South and that the racial caste system in the south situated Jews favorably in the Southern mind, or 'whitened' them."[48] However, there were some southern Jews who participated in civil rights activity as individuals.[54][55]

Rabbi Jacob Rothschild was the rabbi of Atlanta's oldest and most prominent Jewish synagogue, The Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, also known as "the Temple”, from 1946 until his death in 1973, where he distinguished himself as a outspoken proponent for civil rights. Upon arriving in Atlanta (after living most of his life in Pittsburgh), Rabbi Rothschild was disturbed by the depth of racial injustice he witnessed and resolved to make civil rights a focal point of his rabbinical career. He first broached the topic in his 1947 Rosh Hashanah sermon but remained mindful of his status as an outsider and proceeded with some caution to avoid alienating supporters during his first few years in Atlanta. By 1954, however, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Brown v. Board of Education decision, which called for the desegregation of public schools, race relations had become a recurring theme in his sermons, and Temple members had grown accustomed to his support of civil rights.

At the same time, he reached out to members of the local Christian clergy and became active in civic affairs, joining the Atlanta Council on Human Relations, the Georgia Council of Human Relations, the Southern Regional Council, the Urban League, and the National Conference of Christians and Jews. In order to promote cooperation with his Christian colleagues, Rothschild established the Institute for the Christian Clergy, an annual daylong event hosted by the Temple each February. Black ministers were always welcome at the Temple's interfaith events, and on other occasions Rothschild invited prominent black leaders, such as Morehouse College president Benjamin Mays, to lead educational luncheons at the Temple, despite objections from some members of his congregation.

In 1957, when other southern cities were erupting in violent opposition to court-ordered school desegregation, eighty Atlanta ministers issued a statement calling for interracial negotiation, obedience to the law, and a peaceful resolution to the integration disputes that threatened Atlanta's moderate reputation.[citation needed] The Ministers' Manifesto, as the statement came to be known, marked an important turning point in Atlanta's race relations. Although the Manifesto's strong Christian language prevented Rothschild from signing it himself, the rabbi helped to draft and conceive the statement, and he endorsed it in an article that ran separately in both the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution and later appeared in the Congressional Record.

While Rothschild's activism won admiration from some quarters of the city, it earned contempt from others. When fifty sticks of dynamite exploded at the Temple on October 12, 1958, many observers concluded that the rabbi's outspoken support of civil rights had made the synagogue a target for extremist violence. Because it was condemned by elected officials, members of the press, and the vast majority of ordinary citizens, however, the bombing resulted in a repudiation of extremism and a renewed commitment to racial moderation by members of official Atlanta.

Rather than withdraw from public life, Rothschild stepped up his activism following the bombing, speaking regularly in support of civil rights at public events throughout the city and region, and assuming the vice presidency of the Atlanta Council on Human Relations. Members of his congregation followed Rothschild's lead, taking leadership positions in HOPE (Help Our Public Education) and OASIS (Organizations Assisting Schools in September), two influential organizations that helped ensure the peaceful integration of Atlanta's public schools in 1961.

During this period Rothschild forged a close personal friendship with Martin Luther King Jr. After King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Rothschild helped to organize a city-sponsored banquet in King's honor, for which also he served as master of ceremonies. Following King's assassination in 1968, the combined clergy of Atlanta held a memorial service at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Philip to pay their respects, and Rothschild was selected by his peers to deliver the eulogy.

In the years after King's death, Rothschild's opposition to the more militant measures adopted by younger Black activists cost him much of the support he once enjoyed from his African American counterparts in the civil rights movement. His diminished stature in the Black community notwithstanding, Rothschild continued to speak regularly and candidly about social justice and civil rights until he died, after suffering a heart attack, on December 31, 1973.

Recent decades have shown a greater trend for southern Jews to speak out on civil rights issues, as shown by the 1987 marches in Forsyth County, Georgia.[56]

Black power movementEdit

From 1966, the collaboration between Jews and Blacks started to unravel. Jews were increasingly transitioning to middle-class and upper-class status, creating a gap in relations between Jews and Black people. At the same time, many Black leaders, including some from the Black Power movement, became outspoken in their demands for greater equality, often criticizing Jews along with other white targets.[57]

In 1966, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) voted to exclude whites from its leadership, a decision that resulted in the expulsion of several Jewish leaders.[41][58]

In 1967, Black academic Harold Cruse attacked Jewish activism in his 1967 volume The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual in which he argued that Jews had become a problem for Blacks precisely because they had so identified with the Black struggle. Cruse insisted that Jewish involvement in interracial politics impeded the emergence of "Afro-American ethnic consciousness". For Cruse, as well as for other Black activists, the role of American Jews as political mediator between Blacks and whites was "fraught with serious dangers to all concerned" and must be "terminated by Negroes themselves."[59]

Black Hebrew IsraelitesEdit

Black Hebrew Israelites are groups of people, mostly of Black American ancestry who are mainly situated in the Americas and claim to be descendants of the ancient Israelites.[60] To varying degrees, Black Hebrews adhere to the religious beliefs and practices of both mainstream Judaism and Christianity, though they mostly get their doctrines from Christian resources. They are generally not accepted as Jews by Orthodox or Conservative Jews, nor are they accepted as Jews by the greater Jewish community, due to their degree of divergence from mainstream Judaism, and their frequent expressions of hostility towards traditionally recognized Jews.[61]

Many Black Hebrews consider themselves—and not Jews—to be the only authentic descendants of the ancient Israelites, claiming that Jews are simply imposters.[61] Some groups identify themselves as Hebrew Israelites, other groups identify themselves as Black Hebrews, and other groups identify themselves as Jews.[62][63][64][65] Dozens of Black Hebrew groups were founded in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[66]

In 2003, 1200 Black Hebrew Israelites were found to be eligible for Israeli citizenship. Members of the community began immigrating to Israel as early as 1992, when Israel's interior ministry began granting Black Hebrew Israelites different levels of immigration status. Some Black Hebrew Israelites were granted full citizenship, while others were granted permanent resident, and temporary resident status. In April 2021, A spokesman for the Israeli government announced Israel's plans to deport dozens of African Hebrews despite the fact that many members of the community had received permanent residency under arrangements with Israel. 51 members of the community were ordered to leave their homes by September 23, 2021. In October 2021, The Beersheba court district issued and interim injunction, which effectively halted the deportations. [67] [68]

Labor movementEdit

Herbert Hill (second from right), labor director of NAACP, with Thurgood Marshall (second from left)

The labor movement was another area of the relationship that flourished before WWII, but ended in conflict afterwards. In the early 20th century, one important area of cooperation was attempts to increase minority representation in the leadership of the United Automobile Workers (UAW). In 1943, Jews and Black people joined to request the creation of a new department within the UAW dedicated to minorities, but that request was refused by UAW leaders.[69]

In the immediate post-World War II period, the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC), which was founded in February 1934 to oppose the rise of Nazism in Germany, formed approximately two dozen local committees to combat racial intolerance in the U.S and Canada. The JLC, which had local offices in a number of communities in North America, helped found the United Farm Workers and campaigned for the passage of California's Fair Employment Practices Act, and provided staffing and support for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom led by Martin Luther King Jr., A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin.[70]

Beginning in early 1962, allegations were made by NAACP labor director Herbert Hill that since the 1940s, the JLC had also defended the anti-Black discriminatory practices of unions in both the garment and building industries.[71][72] Hill claimed that the JLC changed "a Black white conflict into a Black-Jewish conflict".[71] He said the JLC defended the Jewish leaders of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) against charges of anti-Black racial discrimination, distorted government reports about discrimination, failed to tell union members the truth, and when union members complained, the JLC labeled them antisemites.[73] ILGWU leaders denounced Black members for demanding equal treatment and access to leadership positions.[73]

The New York City teachers' strike of 1968 also signaled the decline of Black-Jewish relations: the Jewish president of the United Federation of Teachers, Albert Shanker, made statements that were seen by some as straining Black-Jewish relations by accusing Black teachers of antisemitism.[74]

Criticism of ZionismEdit

After his retirement, professional boxer Muhammad Ali publicly opposed Zionism.[75]

After Israel took over the West Bank and Gaza following the 1967 Six-Day War, some American Blacks supported the Palestinians and criticized Israel's actions; for example, they publicly supported the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and called for the destruction of the Jewish state.[41] Some, such as Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, also criticized the Zionist movement.[75][76]

Immediately after the war, the editor of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee's (SNCC) newsletter wrote an article which criticized Israel, and asserted that the war was an effort to regain Palestinian land and the article also asserted that during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, "Zionists conquered the Arab homes and land through terror, force, and massacres". The publication of this article triggered a conflict between Jews and the SNCC, but Black SNCC leaders treated the war as a "test of their willingness to demonstrate the SNCC's break from its civil rights past".[77]

The concerns of Blacks continued to be expressed, and in 1993, Black philosopher Cornel West wrote in Race Matters: "Jews will not comprehend what the symbolic predicament and literal plight of Palestinians in Israel means to Blacks.... Blacks often perceive the Jewish defense of the state of Israel as a second instance of naked group interest, and, again, an abandonment of substantive moral deliberation."[78]

The support of Palestinians is frequently due to the consideration of them as people of colorAndrew Hacker writes: "The presence of Israel in the Middle East is perceived as thwarting the rightful status of people of color. Some Blacks view Israel as essentially a white and European power, supported from the outside, and occupying space that rightfully belongs to the original inhabitants of Palestine."[79] Martin Luther King Jr. criticized this position at the 68th Annual Rabbinical Assembly for Conservative Judaism, saying "On the Middle East crisis, we have had various responses. The responses of the so-called young militants does not represent the position of the vast majority of Negroes. There are some who are color consumed and see a kind of mystique in being colored, and anything non-colored is condemned. We do not follow that course in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and certainly most of the organizations in the civil rights movement do not follow that course."[80]

Affirmative actionEdit

Many Black people have supported government and business affirmative action, while many Jews have not, preferring merit-based systems. Historians believe that this difference contributed to the decline of the Black-Jewish alliance in the 1970s, when Blacks began seeking ways to build on the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.[41][81][82] As Blacks continued to face widespread discrimination and struggled to make progress in society, they began to develop an increasing militancy. Greenberg believes that this increased resentment and fear among Jews.[57]

Herbert Hill's survey of affirmative-action lawsuits found that Jewish organizations have generally opposed affirmative-action programs.[83] A widely publicized example of the Black-Jewish conflict arose in the 1978 affirmative action case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, when Black and Jewish organizations took opposing sides in the case of a white student who sued for admission, claiming that he was unfairly excluded by affirmative action programs.[84]

Anti-Semitism among African AmericansEdit

Some leaders of the Black community have publicly made anti-Semitic comments, expressing anti-Semitic opinions that are held by a wider circle of some Blacks, accusing Jews of over-aggressiveness in business relations, loyalty to Israel (rather than loyalty to the United States), alleged participation in the slave trade, and economic oppression.[85] Some analysts attribute Black anti-Semitism to resentment or envy "directed at another underdog who has 'made it' in American society".[86]

In 1935 during the Great Depression, Black activist Sufi Abdul Hamid led boycotts against certain Harlem merchants and establishments (often owned by Jewish proprietors) which he claimed discriminated against Blacks. Some Jews accused him of anti-Semitism for these activities.[87][88]

In 1984 presidential candidate Jesse Jackson and former United Nations ambassador Andrew Young made anti-Semitic comments, which were widely publicized. These remarks were thought to have extended the era of African-American and Jewish distrust into the 1980s.[41][89][90]

In 1991 in Brooklyn, a Black mob that was involved in the Crown Heights riot killed Yankel Rosenbaum, an Orthodox Jew, after a car that was driven by a Jew hit and killed a Black boy in the neighborhood. Some commentators believed that the unrest was related to anti-Semitism. The two ethnic groups live in close proximity to each other in this neighborhood, and the Orthodox Jewish community has been expanding.[91]

During the 1990s, anti-Semitism became widespread in Black communities on college campuses, where some made accusations about Jewish participation in the slave trade, with some commentators claiming that they had dominated it.[92] Prof. Leonard Jeffries of the City College of New York was a proponent of this idea, but his conclusions have been disputed by major African-American historians of the slave trade, including David Brion Davis.

According to surveys that were begun in 1964 by the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization, African Americans are significantly more likely to hold antisemitic beliefs than white Americans are. There is a strong correlation between higher education levels and the rejection of anti-Semitic stereotypes among members of all races, but Black Americans of all educational levels are significantly more likely to be anti-Semitic than whites with the same educational level.[93]

In the 1998 survey, Blacks (34%) were nearly four times as likely as whites (9%) to have answers that identified them as belonging in the most anti-Semitic category (those agreeing with at least 6 out of 11 statements that were potentially or clearly antisemitic). Among Blacks with no college education, 43% responded as the most anti-Semitic group (vs. 18% for the general population). This percentage fell to 27% among Blacks with some college education, and 18% among Blacks with a four-year college degree (vs. 5% for the general population).[93]

Nation of IslamEdit

Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, has made several remarks that are anti-Semitic

The Nation of Islam, a black religious and political group, expressed several anti-Semitic pronouncements in the late 20th century. The group's founder, Elijah Muhammad, targeted whites in general, and he also asserted that whites—as well as Jews—are devils, implicated in the history of racism against blacks. However, he did not consider Jews to be any more corrupt or oppressive than other whites were.[94]

In 1993, Nation of Islam spokesman Khalid Abdul Muhammad called Jews "bloodsuckers" in a public speech, leading to widespread public condemnation. The Nation of Islam's current leader, Louis Farrakhan, has made several remarks that the Anti-Defamation League and others consider anti-Semitic. He is alleged to have referred to Judaism as a "dirty religion" and he is also alleged to have called Adolf Hitler a "very great man"; Farrakhan denied these claims[95][96][97][98][99] but a tape obtained by The New York Times supports the claim that he did and that he praised Hitler.[100]

Elijah Muhammad claimed that blacks—not whites or Europeanized Jews—are the chosen people.[101] Louis Farrakhan has also claimed that African Americans are the chosen people. In a 1985 speech, Farrakhan said "I have a problem with Jews ... because I am declaring to the world that they are not the chosen people of God. ... You, the black people of America and the Western Hemisphere [are]."[102]

Alleged role of Jews in the slave tradeEdit

Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard University called The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews "the bible of new anti-Semitism"

While there were not many Jews in the Antebellum South, as many as 75% of them owned slaves. Because the Jewish population of the South was largely urban, most of these slaves were house slaves.[103]

During the 1990s, much of the Jewish-black conflict centered on allegations of anti-Semitism which were made against studies of Jewish involvement in the Atlantic slave trade and allegations that they were over-represented as prominent figures in it. Professor Leonard Jeffries stated in a 1991 speech that "rich Jews" financed the slave trade, citing the role of Jews in slave-trading centers such as Rhode Island, Brazil, the Caribbean, Curaçao, and Amsterdam.[33] His comments drew widespread outrage and calls for his dismissal from his position.[104]

As a source, Jeffries cited The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews (1991), published by the Nation of Islam.[105] That book alleges that Jews played a major role in the African slave trade, and it generated considerable controversy.[105] Scholarly works were published which rebutted its charges.[106] Mainstream scholars of slavery such as David Brion Davis concluded that Jews had little major or continuing impact on the history of New World slavery.[107] American historian Wim Kooster notes that "[i]n no period did Jews play a leading role as financiers, shipowners, or factors in the transatlantic or Caribbean slave trades. They possessed far fewer slaves than non-Jews in every British territory in North America and the Caribbean. Even when Jews in a handful of places owned slaves in proportions slightly above their representation among a town's families, such cases do not come close to corroborating the assertions of The Secret Relationship."[108][109][110]

Tony Martin of Wellesley College included The Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews in the reading list for his classes, leading to charges of anti-Semitism against him in 1993.[111][112][113]

Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard University called the book "the bible of new anti-Semitism" and added that "the book massively misinterprets the historical record, largely through a process of cunningly selective quotations of often reputable sources."[114]

Racism among JewsEdit

Jewish slave ownership practices in the Southern United States were governed by regional practices, rather than Judaic law.[115][116][117] Many Southern Jews held the view that blacks were subhuman and suited for slavery, which was the predominant view because it was also held by many of their non-Jewish Southern neighbors.[118] Jews conformed to the prevailing patterns of slave ownership in the South, and as a result, they were not significantly different from other slave owners in their treatment of slaves.[115] Wealthy Jewish families in the American South generally preferred employing white servants rather than owning slaves.[117] Jewish slave owners included Aaron Lopez, Francis Salvador, Judah Touro, and Haym Salomon.[119] Jewish slave owners were mostly found in business or domestic settings, rather than plantations, so most of the slave ownership was in an urban context — running a business or working as domestic servants.[116][117] Jewish slave owners freed their black slaves at about the same rate as non-Jewish slave owners.[115] Sometimes, Jewish slave owners bequeathed slaves to their children in their wills.[115]

The counterpoint to black anti-Semitism is Jewish anti-black racism.[120] Some black customers and tenants felt that Jewish shopkeepers and landlords treated them unfairly because they were racists. Hacker quotes James Baldwin's comments about Jewish shopkeepers in Harlem in support of his racism claim.[120]

In the early 1970s, Atlanta's first Jewish mayor Sam Massell used blatant anti-black rhetoric in his re-election bid for mayor against the city's first black mayoral candidate Maynard Jackson. As a result, many progressive and college-educated whites in the city (including Atlanta's largest daily newspaper) publicly endorsed Jackson which caused Massell to lose his re-election campaign.[121][122]

Hacker also quoted author Julius Lester, who was an African-American convert to Judaism, as writing: "Jews tend to be a little self-righteous about their liberal record, ... we realize that they were pitying us and wanted our gratitude, not the realization of the principles of justice and humanity... Blacks consider [Jews] paternalistic. Black people have destroyed the previous relationship which they had with the Jewish community, in which we were the victims of a kind of paternalism, which is only a benevolent racism."[123]

In his 1992 essay "Blacks and Jews: The Uncivil War," historian Taylor Branch asserted that Jews had been "perpetrators of racial hate." He noted that 3,000 members of the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem, founded in 1966 in Chicago, were denied citizenship as Jews when they moved en masse to Israel. The Americans claimed that they had the right of citizenship as Jews under the Israeli Law of Return. Under the law, the only people who are recognized as Jews are people who are born Jews (having a Jewish mother or having a Jewish maternal grandmother), those with Jewish ancestry (having a Jewish father or having a Jewish grandfather), and people who convert to Orthodox, Reform, or Conservative Judaism.[b]

Branch believed that the rejection of the Chicago group was based on anti-Black sentiment among Israeli Jews.[124][125] Branch was criticized by Seth Forman, who said that his claims seemed baseless. He said that Israel had airlifted thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in the early 1990s.[126] A group of American civil rights activists which was led by Bayard Rustin investigated the 1966 case. They concluded that racism was not the cause of the Black Hebrews' rejection in Israel. They were considered a cult rather than a group of historic Jewish descendants.[127]

See alsoEdit




  1. ^ In 1953, Du Bois revised The Souls of Black Folk for its fiftieth anniversary; it was the only time he changed its text. He made fewer than ten edits, and two of them were to this passage, which he changed from "The Jew is the heir of the slave-baron ... and the Jew fell heir." to "Immigrants are heirs of the slave-baron ... and foreigners fell heir."[19] He explained his changes in a paragraph he asked his publisher to add at the end of the chapter:

    In the foregoing chapter, "Jews" have been mentioned five times, and the late Jacob Schiff once complained that this gave an impression of anti-Semitism. This at the time I stoutly denied; but as I read the passages again in the light of subsequent history, I see how I laid myself open to this possible misapprehension. What, of course, I meant to condemn was the exploitation of Black labor and that it was in this country and at that time in part a matter of immigrant Jews, was incidental and not essential. My inner sympathy with the Jewish people was expressed better in the last paragraph of page 152. But this illustrates how easily one slips into unconscious condemnation of a whole group.[20]

    See The Souls of Black Folk#Textual changes for further information.
  2. ^ The law also provides certain rights to the spouse of a person who is recognized as a Jew, the children and grandchildren of a person who is recognized as a Jew, and the spouses of the children and grandchildren of a person who is recognized as a Jew.


  1. ^ Greenberg, pp. 1–3
  2. ^ Webb, p. xii
  3. ^ Forman, pp. 1–2
  4. ^ "Is Jewish Control Over the Slave Trade a Nation of Islam Lie or Scholarly Truth?". Tablet Magazine. August 5, 2013.
  5. ^ a b "From Swastika to Jim Crow: Black-Jewish Relations". ITVS. Archived from the original on October 2, 2002. Retrieved February 17, 2017.
  6. ^ a b Hill, Robert A., "Black Zionism: Marcus Garvey and the Jewish Question", in Franklin, pp. 40–53
  7. ^ Saul S. Friedman, 1999, Jews and the American Slave Trade, pp. 1–2
  8. ^ Diner, p. 3.
  9. ^ Melnick, Jeffrey (2000). Black–Jewish Relations on Trial: Leo Frank and Jim Conley in the New South Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2000, p. 61.
  10. ^ Lindemann, Albert S. (1992). The Jew Accused: Three Anti-Semitic Affairs (Dreyfus, Beilis, Frank) 1894-1915. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-44761-4., page 254
  11. ^ Woodward 1963, p. 435
  12. ^ Diner, Hasia R. "Drawn Together by Self-Interest", in Franklin, pp. 27–39.
  13. ^ Diner, p. 237
  14. ^ Friedman, Saul, Jews and the American Slave Trade, p. 14
  15. ^ Kaufman, p. 2
  16. ^ Golden, Harry, "Negro and Jew: an Encounter in America", in Adams, p. 571
  17. ^ a b Cannato, p. 355
  18. ^ DuBois, W.E.B. (1903) The Souls of Black Folk quoted by Andrew Hacker in Adams, p. 18
  19. ^ Edwards, Brent Hayes (2007). "Note on the Text". The Souls of Black Folk. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. xxv. ISBN 978-0-19-280678-9.
  20. ^ Du Bois, W. E. B. (March 16, 1953). "The Souls of Black Folk". Letter to Blue Heron Press., cited in Edwards, Brent Hayes (2007). "Note on the Text". The Souls of Black Folk. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. xxvi. ISBN 978-0-19-280678-9.
  21. ^ James Baldwin, quoted by Andrew Hacker, in Adams, p. 19
  22. ^ Baldwin, James (April 9, 1967). "Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They're Anti-White". The New York Times.
  23. ^ Baldwin, James (July 23, 2014). "Open Letter to the Born Again". The Nation. Retrieved May 4, 2015.
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  95. ^ Minister Farrakhan rebuts fraudulent "Judaism is a Gutter Religion" canard.
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  113. ^ Leo, John (2008), “The Hazards of Telling the Truth”, The Wall Street Journal; April 15, 2008, page D9
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  124. ^ Forman, pp. 14–15
  125. ^ Branch, Taylor "Blacks and Jews: The Uncivil War", in Bridges and Boundaries: African Americans and American Jews (Salzman, Ed), 1992
  126. ^ Blacks in the Jewish Mind: A Crisis of Liberalism, Seth Forman, NYU Press, 1998: p. 15
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Works citedEdit

  • Adams, Maurianne, Strangers & neighbors: relations between Blacks & Jews in the United States, 2000.
  • Bauman, Mark K. The quiet voices: southern rabbis and Black civil rights, 1880s to 1990s, 1997.
  • Berman, Paul, Blacks and Jews: Alliances and Arguments', 1995.
  • Cannato, Vincent The ungovernable City, 2002.
  • Diner, Hasia R. In the almost promised land: American Jews and Blacks, 1915–1935
  • Dollinger, Mark, "African American-Jewish Relations" in Antisemitism: a historical encyclopedia of prejudice and persecution, Vol 1, 2005.
  • Forman, Seth, Blacks in the Jewish Mind: A Crisis of Liberalism, 2000.
  • Franklin, Vincent P., African Americans and Jews in the twentieth century: studies in convergence and conflict, 1998.
  • Friedman, Murray, What Went Wrong?: The Creation & Collapse of the Black-Jewish Alliance, 1995.
  • Friedman, Saul, Jews and the American Slave Trade, 1999.
  • Greenberg, Cheryl, Troubling the waters: Black-Jewish relations in the American century, 2006. ISBN 978-0691058658
  • Hacker, Andrew (1999) "Jewish Racism, Black anti-Semitism", in Strangers & neighbors: relations between Blacks & Jews in the United States, Maurianne Adams (Ed.). Univ of Massachusetts Press, 1999.
  • Kaufman, Jonathon, Broken alliance: the turbulent times between Blacks and Jews in America, 1995
  • Martin, Tony The Jewish Onslaught: Despatches from the Wellesley Battlefront, 1993
  • Melnick, Jeffrey Paul, A Right to Sing the Blues: African Americans, Jews, and American Popular Song, 2001.
  • Melnick, Jeffrey, Black-Jewish Relations on Trial: Leo Frank and Jim Conley in the New South, 2000.
  • Nation of Islam, The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, 1991.
  • Pollack, Eunice G, "African American Antisemitism", in Encyclopedia of American Jewish history, Volume 1 By Stephen Harlan Norwood.
  • Salzman, Jack and West, Cornel, Struggles in the promised land: toward a history of Black-Jewish relations, 1997
  • Salzman, Jack (Ed.) Bridges and Boundaries: African Americans and American Jews, 1992
  • Shapiro, Edward, Crown Heights: Blacks, Jews, and the 1991 Brooklyn Riot, 2006.
  • Webb, Clive, Fight Against Fear: Southern Jews and Black Civil Rights, 2003.
  • Weisbord, Robert G., and Stein, Arthur Benjamin, Bittersweet encounter: the Afro-American and the American Jew, Negro Universities Press, 1970
  • West, Cornel, Race Matters, 1993.

External linksEdit