Monthly Archives: January 2019

Martin Luther King, Jr. vs Louis Farrakhan on Anti-Semitism

I am a proud attendee of a local Women’s March in Atlanta in 2017. I also became very disturbed early on by statements from Linda Sarsour about how women in Saudi Arabia didn’t have it so bad and how issues such as women being forbidden from driving or going out in public unveiled are trivial. The issues of anti-Semitism, homophobia, and palling around with Louis Farrakhan are alarming as well, and the response of Tamika Mallory has been disheartening. Farrakhan is an anti-Semite, a homophobe, and a misogynist, who condemns interracial marriage and defends racial segregation. He must be condemned. At the same time, I was frustrated by Meghan McCain’s criticism of Mallory. I don’t see McCain denouncing Lindsey Graham, who is also a racist, also a misogynist, also a homophobe, and has far more political power than Farrakhan ever has or ever will. Indeed, in a big way, people like Graham are the reason why leaders like Farrakhan exist. The Lindsey Grahams of the world are a great recruiting tool for reverse racist groups such as the Nation of Islam. With all of that said, I thought that since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is tomorrow, it would be interesting to look at the contrast between King’s and Farrakhan’s views on anti-Semitism.

Of course, Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism has been widely discussed. What may be less well known is the extent to which Martin Luther King, Jr. implicitly and explicitly rejected anti-Semitism. His closest white friend and Southern Christian Leadership Conference cofounder, Stanley Levison, was a nonreligious Jewish New Yorker. Levison functioned an adviser, publicist, and ghostwriter to King. Due to his being a Communist Party member, Levison became a lightning rod for controversy within the SCLC, and the Kennedy Administration pressured King to cut ties with him. King was unwilling to disassociate from his friend and adviser, and they began the process of utilizing another Civil Rights Movement activist, Clarence Jones, as a go-between in order to remain in communication without the federal government noticing.

When King addressed the issue of anti-Semitism, as he did on multiple occasions, he always emphatically condemned it. He was not shy about making comparisons between the experiences of black people and the experiences of Jewish people, though of course, there are also major differences. At the 1958 American Jewish Congress Convention, he declared, “My people were brought to America in chains. Your people were driven here to escape the chains fashioned for them in Europe. Our unity is born of our common struggle for centuries, not only to rid ourselves of bondage, but to make oppression of any people by others an impossibility.” Then, as now, not all Jewish Americans were supportive of black equality. The story of the various “Levittowns,” seven suburban housing developments built after World War II illustrates the divergent positions that individual Jewish Americans took on the race question. Real estate developer, William Levitt, had a policy of not selling any homes in these areas to blacks or fellow Jews. On the other hand, it was a Jewish family, the Wechslers, who secretly helped a black couple named Bill and Daisy Myers buy a house in Levittown, Pennsylvania. But Dr. King was aware that, then as now, Jewish Americans in the aggregate were far more supportive of civil rights for black people than non-Jewish white Americans were in the aggregate. In 1964, he asserted that, “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.” We must guard against attempts by conservatives, primarily white, to spin outlandish narratives about what King would think if he were alive today. The idea, for example, that King, who eviscerated American racism in the harshest terms, would support efforts to destroy people’s careers for kneeling during the National Anthem is laughable. The idea that King, who was a staunch theological liberal and praised the Supreme Court’s ruling against official, teacher-led prayer in public schools, would support the Religious Right is farcical. But we can be fairly certain that if he were alive today, King would firmly deplore anti-Semitism, along with all other racial bigotry.

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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

In the past week and a half, three new candidates have entered the Democratic Party’s presidential primary field. Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro are welcome additions. Warren has a strong record in the areas of LGBT rights, racial equality, and feminism, as well as in other areas such as capital punishment and the Surveillance State. Castro’s background as a mayor and HUD Secretary make his positions on many issues hard to assess, but he has a very strong civil rights record. Then there’s the matter of an admirable politician from Hawaii. She’s distinguished herself in Congress as a dogged fighter for freedom and justice, and I would love to see her get elected president. I am, of course, referring to the inestimable Mazie Hirono. Unfortunately, it was Tulsi Gabbard who decided to run.

My biggest problem with Gabbard is her LGBT rights record. In her teens, Gabbard became involved in anti-gay activism and was elected to the Hawaii state legislature in 2002. Between 2000 and 2004, we got some real gems of quotes from her, including:
“This war of deception and hatred against my mum is being waged by homosexual activists because they know, that if elected, she will not allow them to force their values down the throats of the children in our schools.”

“Working with my father, Mike Gabbard, and others to pass a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage, I learned that real leaders are willing to make personal sacrifices for the common good. I will bring that attitude of public service to the legislature.”

“To try to act as if there is a difference between ‘civil unions’ and same-sex marriage is dishonest, cowardly and extremely disrespectful to the people of Hawaii who have already made overwhelmingly clear our position on this issue… As Democrats we should be representing the views of the people, not a small number of homosexual extremists.” She worked for her father’s PAC, The Alliance for Traditional Marriage, which not only opposed gay rights but supported gay conversion therapy. While most Democrats opposed gay marriage in the early 2000s, the majority of mainstream Democrats were not devoting the kind of energy to opposing it or using the kind of rhetoric that Gabbard was, nor did they share her strong opposition to civil unions.

Since then, she has apologized for her past views, announcing support for gay marriage in 2012 and earning a perfect score from the Human Rights Campaign as a U.S. Representative. However, this month, Gabbard stepped in to defend the Knights of Columbus, an organization that is all male and has been involved in anti-gay marriage efforts. In response to Senators such as Hirono and Kamala Harris questioning Brian Buescher, a Trump District Court nominee, about his membership in the group, Gabbard wrote, “While I oppose the nomination of Brian Buescher to the U.S. District Court in Nebraska, I stand strongly against those who are fomenting religious bigotry, citing as disqualifiers Buescher’s Catholicism and his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus.” And this, of course, happened less than two weeks ago. Unsurprisingly, Hirono and Harris were not grilling Buescher about being Catholic, they were grilling him about membership in a separate organization that has engaged in political advocacy. Gabbard’s claim is akin to arguing that a judicial nominee who joins an Islamic organization supporting the killing of apostates cannot be grilled about this membership without being subjected to anti-Muslim bigotry. Given her friendly relations with India’s anti-Muslim (and anti-gay) President Narenda Modi, I doubt she’d appreciate that argument. It is also alarming, because it indicates part of a pattern. Her past virulent homophobia might be seen as a youthful indirection, albeit a big one. Her recent defense of the Knights of Columbus might be seen as an attempted defense of religious freedom, albeit an idiotic one. Taken together, they appear to be part of a pattern. How much has Gabbard really changed since her youth, and how much are we seeing her trying to appear liberal on gay rights to get elected? We don’t know for sure, but I’d rather not gamble with it.

Gabbard’s foreign policy is strange at best. During the Obama Administration, she criticized Obama for not bombing Syria fast enough before then criticizing him for being too hawkish. In the Trump Administration, she laudably opposed war in Syria but also bizarrely expressed skepticism that Bashar al-Assad was behind the chemical weapons attacks on Syrian civilians. Then we have the fact that she was one of a minority of Democrats to vote in 2015 for additional restrictions on Syrian refugees entering the country that were widely seen as crossing the line from due diligence into red tape. While I can understand (and disagree with) the national security arguments for this legislation, it again hints at a disturbing pattern when considered alongside her view of Assad. Is it possible that she feels Syrian refugees don’t have a pressing need to come here, since Assad isn’t such a brutal leader?

She has also stated that she feels “conflicted” about the use of torture due to concerns that it might be necessary in a “ticking time bomb” scenario. Putting aside the actual likelihood of that kind of scenario occurring, one of the chief problems with the CIA torturing people is that without a trial, there is a heightened risk that the detainee being tortured will turn out not to be guilty, let alone be providing accurate information under duress.

Gabbard was a terrible state legislator. However, I think she has done a mostly good job in Congress, and I hope that is where she will stay.

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