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An Open Letter to Ari Melber About Ice Cube

And about anti-Semitism in the world of hip-hop, from the legendary Def Jam publicist

Bill Adler
July 30, 2020
This article is part of Black Israelism.
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Like you, I’m a hip-hop head. (I was director of publicity at Def Jam from 1984 to 1990.) And, like you, I’m a Jew. I’m also completely devoted to your work on The Beat. My wife and I tune into every episode. That’s why it was so distressing to watch your segment with Ice Cube last Friday night. Your reasoning, apparently, was to give him props today—in the midst of the Black Lives Matter uprising—for having written and recorded “Fuck Tha Police” in 1988. This brotherly gesture would have been more persuasive if Cube hadn’t authored a series of anti-Semitic posts recently.

Dutiful reporter that you are, you asked Cube about one of those posts just three minutes into the 16-minute segment. It’s a cartoon of a bunch of elderly white men playing Monopoly on a board that rests on the backs of Black people. The caption reads: “All we have to do is stand up and their little game is over.” The cartoon struck many folks as anti-Semitic and ignited a firestorm of outrage. After all, the trope of Jewish world domination goes back at least as far as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Additionally, a number of the men at the table have suspiciously hooked noses. But when you asked Cube about it, he said, “I didn’t know the history of that picture when I put it up. I just saw the people at the bottom. And I understand that now that it’s supposed to be a caricature of other communities.”

You followed up: “So for people who say, ‘Wait—is he trying to say something about Jews?’—your response is what?”

“Not at all,” Cube said. “I’m just trying to say there’s a rich power structure and there’s poor people at the bottom.”

You accepted that explanation, but I’m more than dubious. I know that the majority of Black folks don’t distinguish Jews from other “white” people. But Cube? As you well know, this is the rapper whose “No Vaseline,” released in 1991, identifies Jerry Heller, NWA’s manager, as “the Jew” who broke “up my crew.” The same song also features a charming bit of advice about how to deal with Heller: “Get rid of that Devil real simple, put a bullet in his temple/ ’Cause you can’t be the Niggaz 4 Life crew/ With a Jew tellin’ you what to do.”

It was also in ’91, at a press conference promoting Death Certificate—the album that contains “No Vaseline”—that Cube endorsed a book published by the Nation of Islam titled The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, Volume 1. A fairly substantial-looking tome, it is in fact a rancid and fraudulent recounting of that relationship devoted to the purported oppression and persecution of Blacks by Jews between 1492 and the end of the Civil War.

Back in the present, it’s worth noting that Cube’s Monopoly cartoon was part of a Twitter spree of other images that homed in on Jews fairly directly. One is of dark-skinned folks building the pyramids. The caption reads: “Hebrew Israelites, slaves in ancient Egypt. Clearly, they are a black people.” Personally, I’m fine with the notion that our tribe is not white. But what Cube is suggesting, in line with the beliefs of the so-called Black Israelites, is that lighter-skinned Jews are not real Jews. Cube followed up this tweet with another on June 10, this one featuring the “The Black Cube of Saturn,” which features the cube in question embedded in the center of the Star of David. It was also on June 10 that Cube tweeted out praise for “The Honorable Louis Farrakhan.” I’m guessing, Ari, that your interview with Cube might’ve been a little less harmonious if you’d asked him not only about the Monopoly image, but about the Black Cube and his die-hard devotion to Farrakhan.

I’ll note, by the way, that a person doesn’t have to be Jewish to oppose anti-Semitism, any more than a person has to be Black, brown, yellow, or red to oppose racism. Cube’s latest anti-Semitic outbursts have been denounced by Roxane Gay, Marc Lamont Hill, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, among many others. Cube responded to Abdul-Jabbar’s recent opinion piece in The Hollywood Reporter by suggesting that Jabbar wrote it after accepting the magazine’s offer of “30 pieces of silver.” This of course is a way of calling Abdul-Jabbar a Judas (and casting Cube himself as Jesus). But let’s not forget that the “chief priests” described in the New Testament as paying Judas to betray Jesus were Jewish. At the very least we all should be able to agree that Ice Cube has a long history of anti-Semitic remarks and rhymes and that his recent tweets “in general implied that Jews were responsible for the oppression of blacks,” as Abdul-Jabbar put it.

Like you, I accept Ice Cube as a warrior against racism, but I reject his belief that “the Jews” are the chief perpetrators of this oppression. A more clear-minded individual would see what Cornel West laid out in an essay titled “Black Anti-Semitism and the Rhetoric of Resentment”—“Black people have searched desperately for allies in the struggle against racism—and have found Jews to be disproportionately represented in the ranks of that struggle.” And, as West also noted, “We black folk have been in the forefront of the struggle against American racism. If these efforts fall prey to anti-Semitism, then the principled attempt to combat racism forfeits much of its moral credibility—and we all lose.”

I don’t expect Cube to accept West’s argument. I’m more hopeful about you.


Bill Adler

Bill Adler is a music journalist and critic who specializes in hip-hop. He was director of publicity at Def Jam Recordings from 1984 to 1990.