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Do American Jews Still Believe They’re White?

And how is it possible that some Jews are still shocked that they’re hated in America?

Ishmael Reed
November 08, 2018
Illustration: Tablet Magazine; based on a seminal 1992 'New York Times' story.
Illustration: Tablet Magazine; based on a seminal 1992 ‘New York Times’ story.
Illustration: Tablet Magazine; based on a seminal 1992 'New York Times' story.
Illustration: Tablet Magazine; based on a seminal 1992 ‘New York Times’ story.

Some years ago, Rabbi Michael Lerner invited me to address a gathering of his Tikkun group. I think that it was about the time that an op-ed authored by Henry Louis Gates Jr. cast the black community as the last zone for anti-Semitism in the United States. In a note to Gates, I pointed to statistics that showed a decline in anti-Semitism among blacks. He told me not to worry because there’d be a follow up in The New York Times, where his op-ed appeared, that would address the issue of racism among Jews. How did blacks express their anti-Semitism? Joe Lieberman was their first choice for president in 2004, and when Al Sharpton entered the race, Lieberman was their second choice.

During the Tikkun meeting, an elderly Jewish woman said that Jews are not white. “We’re Semites.” She was ignored.

I was reminded of her remark when The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin responded to the shootings at the Tree of Life in Pittsburgh. Appearing on Joy Reid’s show, the weekend of Oct. 26-28, she said of the alt-right, “And if you can believe it, they do not believe that Jews are white.” Has Rubin been so isolated from the millions of anti-Semites that she’s surprised that whites, some of whom are not considered white in Europe, do not accept Jews as members of their tribe? Now, Rubin has broken with the conservative movement, reminding one of the split between German and Jewish feminists when the German government swerved to the right under Hitler.

Sam Stein also responded on air and at The Daily Beast. Stein appears to be one of those Jews who believed that anti-Semitism was a thing of the past, maybe lulled into complacency by Gates’ op-ed suggesting that minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, head of a group with dwindling membership ever since Elijah Muhammad’s late son Wallace Muhammad formed a separate group, was the last remaining anti-Semite in America. Stein said that he was naive and blamed his naivety on his being surrounded by those who did not consider him “the other.” Andrea Mitchell, appearing on Morning Joe, Nov. 6, responding to an anti-Semitic dog whistle posted by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and then taken down, said that she grew up in an observant Jewish family and when her mother mentioned the Holocaust she thought of it as something that happened “over there,” and attributed her mother’s concerns to “paranoia.” But now people of her generation are thinking about their status in a “different way.” Conditions that “people of color experience every day.”

Appearing on CNN, Oct. 29, presidential historian Tim Naftali said that the massacre at the Tree of Life was the canary in the coal mine. That it was a warning of dire events to come. What Naftali doesn’t realize is that the canary was killed by the carbon dioxide of hatred decades ago, even though some Jews, those who have successfully assimilated into the American mainstream, hadn’t noticed. As labor leader Herbert Hill wrote:

By the 1960s Jews in America had become “white,” that is, they had become assimilated and successful enough in a society sharply divided by race that they regarded themselves as “white,” and by and large they were accepted as such by the majority of the population.

Perhaps this is the reason why many Jews didn’t notice an incident that happened decades ago during a weekend in Pullman, Washington. I was present as a guest of Eastern Washington University, and was quoted by Courtland Milloy of The Washington Post on Nov. 30, 1994. He cited a passage from my book Another Day at the Front.

Reed suggests that blacks and Jews might be cured by a trip to Pullman, Wash., near the Idaho border, the scene of a 1984 shootout between the FBI and the American Nazi group called Order. Townsfolk were cheering for the Nazis.

Jews might be forgiven the oversight, because the last 20 years have been a jumble of hope, hysteria, and misdirection, often in the wrong places.


If I had written an op-ed for The New York Times about racist Jews as a follow-up to Gates’ piece about anti-Semitism among blacks, I might have included William Kristol, who appeared on the panel with Stein. Maybe Kristol is just insensitive, but I was annoyed by his argument that we should respect the Confederate dead. These are soldiers who massacred blacks at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, Apr. 12,1864, after they’d surrendered. It was called “the atrocity of the war.”

Kristol argued that there were “admirable” people who led the Confederacy. When asked about the Fort Pillow massacre, Robert E. Lee justified the massacre on the grounds that the blacks were members of a “servile” race revolting against their masters. When the rebel army invaded Pennsylvania they “captured” slaves whether they were free or not and, their necks tied with rope, even the children, walked them back to slavery, while the rebels rode on horseback. Admirable?

When asked by his sister whether he had any regrets about the mowing down of Mexican women and children during the invasion of Mexico, whose purpose was to extend slavery to Mexico and Cuba, Stonewall Jackson said that he had none.

Now suppose that I said that we should respect the SS dead? What would I be called? Kristol is part of a neoconservative movement that had its homes at the Weekly Standard and Commentary magazine, where The Bell Curve by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein was treated with respect. Maybe those who were friendly toward that book were not aware that it was funded by the Pioneer Fund, a “race betterment” outfit that has Nazi ties. What does the book say?

According to Murray, “disadvantaged groups are disadvantaged because, on average, they cannot compete with white men, who are intellectually, psychologically and morally superior. Murray advocates the total elimination of the welfare state, affirmative action and the Department of Education, arguing that public policy cannot overcome the innate deficiencies that cause unequal social and educational outcomes.”

Charles Murray incidentally is Scots Irish, a group that Benjamin Franklin called, “white savages.”

In my reply to Gates, I would question, as I have repeatedly in the past, why David Simon, Steven Spielberg, and David Mamet offer products to the public that depict black men as sexual predators. Have they looked at the cartoons about Jewish males printed in Julius Streicher’s Der Sturmer or examined Nazi movies, which the distributor Kino Lorber has explored under the title Forbidden Film. A typical image in these films is that of a Jewish male in the act of assaulting a German woman, which is consistent with the image of black men even in David Simon’s new television series, The Deuce, which is all about black pimps—who in reality are as unsuccessful in the sex-trafficking industry as they are in other forms of crimes.

Left: still from ‘Jud Süss’ (1940), in which a Jewish man assaults a German woman. Right: a still from ‘The Deuce,’ depicting a black pimp assaulting a white prostitute.
Left: still from ‘Jud Süss’ (1940), in which a Jewish man assaults a German woman. Right: a still from ‘The Deuce,’ depicting a black pimp assaulting a white prostitute.

After The New York Review of Books compared Simon’s earlier pulp effort, The Wire, to the writings of Balzac, I wrote a letter reminding them that the portrayal of black men in The Wire was consistent with the portrayal of Jewish males in these Nazi cartoons and films. No answer. I have had a correspondence with Claudia Dreifus, the author of the article. I wrote her about this parallel. She didn’t reply either. So much for the wonders of black-Jewish dialogue.

I would not have known about the Nazi depiction of Jewish males had I not attended a lecture sponsored by the San Francisco Holocaust Museum where the notorious Nazi film Jud Süss, about a Jewish sexual predator, was shown. A pamphlet accompanying the film stated that Hollywood’s treatment of black males and the treatment of Jewish males in Nazi film are similar. This same image of Jewish and black males appears in The Turner Diaries, by William L. Pierce, the white nationalists’ bible, which inspired the Nazis in that shootout with the FBI in Pullman, Washington. The same group that engaged in that shootout was responsible for the murder of a Jewish talk show host, Alan Harrison Berg.

Like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (1903), The Turner Diaries is propaganda disguised as a work of fiction. The book guided Timothy McVeigh, another Irish-American who lost his way, when he blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and very few of the media noticed the connection between the bombing and the book.

What is the solution to black and Jewish males coming on to white women, as presented in this book, about a white Nationalist uprising? Extermination!


When I was a young author living in New York, I was represented by the great lawyer, the late Abraham Friedman, who also represented Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland. I think that Friedman had a radical past because he was once roommates with the poet Claude McKay, who, in 1919, traveled to the Kremlin to complain about white chauvinism in the American Communist Party. I used to complain to Abe about the images of blacks in novels by Jewish authors. He said that I should treat the authors as individuals. He was right.

But Michael Morgan, director of the Oakland Symphony, told me that Louis Farrakhan studied with a Jewish instructor for three years to practice for a performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, “to say in music what I couldn’t say in words.” His performance is on YouTube. How many of those who want to defend something Americans called Western civilization, which was salvaged by Muslim scholars, can do that? Louis Farrakhan is an individual, but he is used by the media to indict all black Americans, which is something that the Jews, who know their history, can identify as the strategy used by their enemies since the time of the Romans. Josephus comments on this strategy of using the behavior of one individual to indict a tribe.

So, when asked about the massacre at the Tree of Life, Chuck Todd, who occasionally identifies himself as a Jew, pressed the Farrakhan button, and equated Louis Farrakhan with the anti-Semitic circle in the Trump administration, which owns Congress and the Supreme Court, and which is led by a man who said that those white men who were chanting “The Jews Will Not Replace Us” were nice fellows. A president who retweets Nazi material from white genocide internet sites.

Just as the media made excuses for the Tea Party, even though the Southern Poverty Law Center, ADL, and an NAACP report described it as including every broken-down has-been anti-Semite and racist member who’ve been hitting the hate circuit for years, they make excuses for Trump voters, who, in a poll, prefer Jefferson Davis, a traitor and mass murderer, over President Barack Obama. My favorite of these excuses came from MSNBC’s Katy Tur. She said that Trump voters were upset because they couldn’t make the kind of jokes they made 10 years ago. Her father is Jewish, for whatever that’s worth.

The media that elected Trump continues to provide him with millions in advertising, and some of those who speak for him are Jewish. I don’t think Steve Miller has read Benjamin Ginsberg’s book The Fatal Embrace which asserts that Jews provided support for anti-Semitic regimes only to be betrayed. Miller is Trump’s immigration czar.

I believe that Anne Frank would have become a great writer had her family been offered refuge, but unfortunately, she was turned away from the United States. Maybe Steve Miller, who grew up in Santa Monica, a safe liberal zone, is unaware of this blot on American history.

Another Trump adviser is the white nationalist Steve Bannon, who has been portrayed as an intellectual even by The New York Times. His favorite reading material includes a nutty book called The Camp of Saints, all about an invasion of France by Indian untouchables. Even David Remnick, a smart guy, invited this character to The New Yorker Festival and said he’d be “honored” if he showed up, though the invite was later rescinded.


The Jews that Herbert Hill wrote about are not the first ally to go white on blacks. I’ve already published an article about the circle of Irish-Americans surrounding Trump, whom a senator from Ireland called “Irish without hearts.” The Irish and blacks fought the British Redcoats at the Boston Massacre (Mar. 6, 1770) and were members of the Saint Patrick’s Battalion of 1846 that fought the future Confederate generals who invaded Mexico. Then came the Draft Riots (July 16, 1863), where the Irish ran through the streets of New York and killed every black they could lay their hands on. A colored orphan’s home was burned to the ground.

It is a popular misconception that Jews and blacks began an alliance during the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and ’60s. In fact, that alliance began in the early 1900s, when both groups faced brutality from the New York police, mainly comprised of Irish cops who went around punching out Jews “who looked Jewish.” The Tenderloin Riot (1900) erupted when a black man saw a white policeman treating his girlfriend like a whore, which was the attitude held by the police in those days as well as now, for many. I still remember the shouts from an Irish-American mob at black children who were integrating Boston schools: “Niggers Eat Shit.”

Ethnics of whatever background and hue want to be part of the winning team. Hispanics are beginning to go white. Even though white life expectancy is on the decline and the highest suicide rate is occurring among white men, a trend that I wrote about in 1988, writing for Life magazine. Even poor people who vote against their interests are compensated with “ the psychological wages” of whiteness, an observation made by W.E.B. DuBois. White male suicide rates have gotten worse according to the CDC, but I’ve noticed that when the CDC announces suicide rates, the media don’t notice this statistic. It’s as though white men are surrounded by members of an enemy nation that is always readying to invade the white nation, and so any sign of vulnerability has to be hidden.

I’m always amused when even scholars who study trends in American life are shocked that all of the pathology in our great country doesn’t take place in neighborhoods that the President calls “shitholes.” The author of one study was surprised that widespread domestic violence takes place in white middle class households. Another scholar was “shocked” by heroin use in rural areas. Reports of suburban heroin epidemics were shoved onto the back pages of the Times in the late 1990s, while television and Hollywood were enhancing their box office receipts by placing them in black neighborhoods.

I recently wrote in Haaretz about the anti-Semitism in the Trump administration. I said that in the face of a president who retweets from neo-Nazi white genocide internet sites, there might be a renewed alliance between blacks and Jews.

I’ve noticed that unlike some of those in the American media—Jewish pundits and opinion makers and commentators, including “white Jews”—The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz do not engage in whataboutism and bothsidesism They’ve been shaming the Trump Jews since the beginning of Trump’s campaign. At home, it was Abraham Foxman who said that Trump rallies reminded him of the Nazi rallies during Hitler’s regime.

Yet some Jews are still shocked that they’re hated, and that a demagogue who inspires and foments hate as a political strategy has arisen in the United States. Trump was elected by haters, and he fronts for a philosophy that Richard Spencer calls “nonviolent ethnic cleansing.” When I pointed out, during a meeting of Jewish intellectuals organized by former Heyday book publisher Malcolm Margolis, that two-thirds of white college educated women voted for Trump, a woman jumped out of her chair and disputed me. But it’s true.


Unlike “white” Jews, blacks can’t afford to be shocked. We do not live in safe liberal zones. We’ve developed a seventh sense to detect the hate barometer at any given time. For us, like the European Jews and the early Native Americans, extermination has always been on the table. Blacks have been massacred throughout the history of the country. Much of this history has been buried. During the election campaign of 2018, none of our progressive thought leaders mentioned the massacre of 44 black men who in 1866 had gathered to complain about the suppression of the vote in New Orleans. None mention the only coup d’état that has occurred in the United States, which happened when a white mob in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1898, removed black council members by force and went on a rampage of murder.

Sam Stein should take a year off and tour the Southern states as a Harvard Jewish scholar did. He was skeptical of a passage in my novel, Reckless Eyeballing. Reckless Eyeballing was inspired by the lecture I attended at the San Francisco Holocaust Museum. Based on what I learned I then commented on The Today Show that The Color Purple was reminiscent of the kind of films they made in Nazi Germany about Jews. There was such a white feminist backlash that I was threatened with a boycott at the University of Louisiana at Baton Rouge. The boycott collapsed when it was discovered that none of the women who were so angered by my statement had read my books.

The year after I appeared on the The Today Show, I was invited to teach in Harvard’s African-American studies department. One of the professors, a Jewish scholar, thought that one of the scenes in Reckless Eyeballing was ludicrous. In it a New York Jewish playwright is invited to present a talk about postmodernist theater at a fundamentalist college. The invitation was just a ruse to lure him into a ritual, where he is sacrificed by Christian fundamentalists.

A few years later, while visiting New Orleans for an assignment where I spent most of my time writing in a hotel room and making runs to the gumbo restaurant downstairs, I ran into this same scholar, who invited me to have dinner with him. After spending two years in Louisiana, he said, he now understood the passage in my book. He had lived in an area where anti-Semitism is rife.

We are now hearing the death rattle of white nationalism, the idea of a white nation that Americans have embraced from the time of the Puritans to the present day. Anybody who doubts this should check into the Holiday Inn on Delancey Street, walk a mile or so from the end of the Manhattan Bridge, then have lunch at the Burger King on Canal Street, and witness the variety of languages and colors. The United States has never been a white nation and it never will be.

Ishmael Reed is a Distinguished Professor at California College of the Arts. He runs Konch magazine.