An Anti-Semite for Congress?
New York City councilman Charles Barron is a defender of Qaddafi and Mugabe and a foe of Israel
Ten years ago, New York City councilman and former Black Panther Party activist Charles Barron was something of a curiosity. A Nehru-jacket-clad “pan-Africanist,” gleefully defending causes long abandoned as indefensible, Barron found a mainstream media niche: He was the professional extremist, saying gaspingly outrageous things to amused cable news hosts. In 2002, when Fox News’ Sean Hannity mistakenly introduced the councilman as “Congressman,” Barron quickly interjected that this would be his “next job,” running for the seat of Brooklyn Congressman Ed Towns “when he retires.” Four years later, MSNBC host Tucker Carlson made the same mistake, with Barron offering the same quip: “That’s my next job.”
When the 77-year-old Towns announced his retirement in April, after 30 years representing New York’s 10th District, it became clear that Barron wasn’t kidding. On June 26, he will square off against Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries in the Democratic primary for Towns’ seat. And in this progressive-heavy Brooklyn district, it’s a safe bet that whoever wins the primary can start packing his bags for Washington. (In the 2002 general election, Towns beat his Conservative Party opponent by a Saddam Hussein-like margin, grabbing 97.8 percent of the vote.)
In his tenure as an assemblyman, Jeffries supported the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, positioned himself as a stern critic of the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” program, and offered qualified support for charter schools. In his decade on the city council, Barron has defended Hamas, identified former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi and current Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe as his political “heroes,” called Thomas Jefferson “a pedophile” who “raped an African child,” and proposed that Huckleberry Finn be “banned.”
Although Jeffries has been flagged as a “rising star” (New York Times) in the liberal firmament and “Brooklyn’s Barack Obama” (Washington Post) and has banked piles of campaign cash from the state’s traditional Democratic power brokers, Barron is still proving a formidable opponent. He’s a skilled debater, at times clever and beguiling, but always casuistic and willing to hit below the belt. His occasional geniality and undeniable political skill, though, can obscure a deep illiberalism and contempt for democracy, an almost pathological hatred of Israel and fondness for dictatorship.
While Barron might not be an anti-Semite on the order of Louis Farrakhan (a man for whom he frequently professes admiration), he is obsessively hostile to Israel—a country whose founding he rejects as historical crime. After a 2009 trip to Gaza with British MP George Galloway’s anti-Israel group Viva Palestina, Barron told reporters that the Gaza Strip was a giant “concentration camp.” Considering this description a touch understated, he traded Dachau for Auschwitz, comparing the Palestinian territories to a modern “death camp.” Israel, he added, “deliberately cause[s] the death of innocent children” and is guilty of “genocide.”
Barron routinely conflates Jews and Israel, decrying the influence not of an “Israel lobby” but of the “Jewish lobby,” a distinction that even Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer considered important. In 2003, Barron cast the only dissenting vote after the City Council tabled a resolution denouncing anti-Semitic remarks by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad: “I will be voting against any resolution pro-Israel [sic] in this council until this council has the heart to be fair with the Palestinian cause and come up with a [similar] resolution.” For Barron, a condemnation of Mohamad’s claim that “the Jews rule the world by proxy” amounted to an endorsement of Israeli policy.
At a pro-Qaddafi rally in Harlem organized by Farrakhan, he happily shared the stage with second-string anti-Semites like New Black Panther Party Chairman Malik Zulu Shabazz (“Who is it that has our entertainers … and our athletes in a vise grip? The Jews!”). Barron has also declared his admiration for Khalid Muhammad, the viciously anti-Semitic Nation of Islam leader who said there was “no evidence” the Holocaust happened and thundered against the “hook-nosed” Jews who control the “Jew-nited Nations in Jew York City.” When Muhammad died of a brain aneurysm in 2001, Barron was on hand at his memorial service.
These troubling metrics, plus the traditionally low turnout in congressional primaries, have so terrified Jewish Democrats like former Mayor Ed Koch, Congressman Jerry Nadler, and Assemblyman Dov Hikind, that they recently organized a press conference at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan to remind voters of Barron’s extremism. “People are not familiar that there’s an individual who’s running, who we all know very well, who is an anti-Semite, who’s a hate-monger and who’s a bigot,” Councilman David Greenfield told the media scrum. “I think it’s very important for us to educate the public and let them know who this individual is.” (In a stunning blog post, the New York Times described the press conference as “A lot of white people condemning a black person.”)
Barron’s effusions about Israel are part of a larger, even battier, vision of foreign policy. He is still one of the few elected officials to publicly proclaim his love for former Libyan tyrant Muammar Qaddafi. After Qaddafi was killed during the Libyan revolution, Barron summoned his comrades to a restaurant in Brooklyn to eulogize the “lion of Africa.” Apparently unconcerned by Qaddafi’s demented racism—on display in the ur-text of Qaddafism, The Green Book, which bemoans the “lassitude” of blacks—Barron figures that if Americans were facilitating a war in Africa, the pan-Africanist knew which side he was on. Indeed, in 2009 he denounced President Obama for killing Somali pirates who had hijacked an American ship. “How dare you go to Africa,” Barron bellowed, and “kill three Somalians [sic] for trying to protect their water.”
A prominent challenger to President Hugo Chávez isn’t Jewish, but his roots are. That’s enough for the regime.