Knox College in Turmoil as Professor Says ‘Jews Act Like Nazis,’ Jewish Critic Targeted by Hate Mail
A professor at Knox College in Illinois has been accused of antisemitism for a history of online posts targeting Jews and Israel, prompting an investigation by the school’s administration and a hate mail attack on a Jewish faculty member.
Kwame Zulu Shabazz, a visiting assistant professor of Africana Studies, first came under scrutiny earlier this month, after the school’s Hillel campus group learned that he had promoted “some questionable opinions about Jewish people.”
These include a September 2015 tweet claiming that “whites/Jews control commercial hip hop” — a sentiment Shabazz shared weeks beforehand, when he responded to a critique of the influential hip hop album Straight Outta Compton by writing, “Jews pulling the strings for profit.”
. @rachelkasumba Jews have long-standing influence on Black orgs. Blacks have ZERO influence on Jewish orgs. It's an exploitive relationship
Related coverageNovember 16, 2019 3:38 pm
— ghetto intellectual™ (@kzshabazz) August 20, 2016
Shabazz has expressed support for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan — who previously blamed “Satanic Jews” for the 9/11 attacks and trans-Atlantic slave trade — and said in January that he shows an interview with Farrakhan “in most of my courses.”
The professor, who started teaching at Knox in 2015, has also taken a critical view of the Jewish religion, alleging in June that the “brutal” God of the Hebrew Bible “commanded the so-called ‘Chosen People’ (Jews) to wipe out *every* living thing.”
Shabazz tweeted in February 2017 that “the Jews act like Nazis,” a theme he revisited after his social media activity was exposed to the campus community.
It is breathtaking to consider how Jews went from Holocaust victims to brutal occupiers in just a few generations…
— ghetto intellectual™ (@kzshabazz) July 26, 2014
“Zionism is genocide,” he tweeted of the movement for Jewish national self-determination on April 20th.
The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights group, has argued that such charges are not factually grounded, and — by deliberately comparing the actions of the Jewish state and Jews as a collective to those of Nazi Germany — constitute “blatant hostility toward Jews, Jewish history and the legitimacy of the Jewish State of Israel.”
Last week, Shabazz shared a YouTube video of a 2011 CNN interview with late White House reporter Helen Thomas, titled, “CNN Helen Thomas ‘Jews don’t have the right to take other people’s land.’” The video included the annotation: “All Helen spoke was Truth and Law, and the Fake Jews Crucified her; same reason they Crucified Jesus.”
In the segment, Thomas claimed that Jews — who the FBI has identified as the most frequent target of religiously-motivated hate crimes since it began releasing such data in 1992 — are “not being persecuted anywhere” and “don’t have the right to take other people’s land.” She also doubled-down on her previous, widely-criticized call for Jews in Israel to “go home” to Germany, Poland, and the United States, and asserted that they are “not semites. I mean, most of them are from Europe.”
The majority of Israeli Jews are native-born, with about half of the overall Jewish population estimated to be of Mizrachi — or Middle Eastern and North African — descent. Multiple genetic studies have found that Jewish communities worldwide share common origins in the Middle East.
After linking to the interview on his Twitter profile, Shabazz retweeted a comment praising Thomas.
Shabazz has dismissed charges that his claims are antisemitic — saying he uses the term Jews when he sometimes means Israelis or Zionists — and accused “White Jews” of using “‘anti-Semite’ to deflect any sort of criticism of their actions.”
“Jewish people in America have been assimilated into the white racial category. Let’s call them ‘marginal white people.’ Jewish people, as a group, just like white Americans, as a group, have participated in and/or benefitted from the oppression of African Americans,” he argued on April 12th. “I am also opposed to the state Israel. Creating a nation on the backs people already living in that space is genocide.”
Cobbling together old tweets out of context to smear me as "anti-Semitic" was an act of aggression. I dont back down from acts of aggression. You wanted a fight. You shall have a fight.
— ghetto intellectual™ (@kzshabazz) April 21, 2018
Two days earlier, the professor met with Hillel members — including Hillel co-president and junior Chava Solberg — to address concerns about his posts, the Knox Student reported.
Shortly afterwards, Shabazz said he was contacted by a colleague who learned of this meeting from an email sent to the Hillel community. He subsequently forwarded his communication with Solberg — as well as an explanation for the tweets — to all Knox faculty and staff, as well as several student clubs. Solberg has criticized Shabazz for exposing her identity to the campus community through the email, for which Shabazz apologized.
Hillel — which was not included in Shabazz’s explanatory note — learned of it through Political Science Professor Sue Hulett, who said the tweets and email chain seemed to include an anti-Jewish message.
“I found that appalling. In fact, the most appalling thing I’ve seen on a Knox email,” Hulett told the Knox Student. “This was just heartbreaking. It seemed to me that those emails violated every principle of social justice, every principle of tolerance that we’re supposed to have here at Knox. It was horrible, it violated what Knox stands for, at least it seems to me, and again to attack a group because of religious identity — this is wrong.”
The email chain prompted mixed public responses. Natania Rosenfeld, an English professor and one of Knox’s only Jewish faculty members, condemned Shabazz’s tweets for lacking “academic and intellectual integrity.”
“I don’t think an academic should be trumpeting hate speech,” Rosenfeld told the Knox Student. “There’s no question in my mind that those are anti-Semitic tweets, particularly the ones about Jews and money, and about the Jewish god supposedly commanding us to commit genocide.”
Yet Shabazz found support from Visiting Instructor of Art Kahlil Irving, who agreed that Jews and Israelis are participating in a genocide of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, which have among the highest population growth rates in the world.
“Jews are — Israelis are annihilating entire peoples. That’s true. … And if you can’t understand that, you have an implicit bias,” Irving asserted. “How Jews went from Holocaust victims to brutal occupiers in just a few generations, if that ain’t f****n’ the most true statement about Israel, then I don’t know what is. ”
The campus debate over the tweets took a turn for the worse on Wednesday, when an explicit graphic was anonymously slid under Rosenfeld’s office door, mocking her “cheap antisemitic accusation nobody cares about.”
The administration condemned the “vulgar and anti-Semitic” message, and launched an investigation into the incident. The school’s bias incident team is also conducting a review of Shabazz’s tweets, which is ongoing.
Hillel members likewise raised their concerns at a Knox Student Senate meeting last week, which “African American and Muslim students attended … to express their support of their fellow students,” the administration said in a statement sent to The Algemeiner on Friday.
In an effort to facilitate a college-wide dialogue, Hillel then invited the Knox community to attend a meeting on April 30 “to talk about how hate transpires on our campus.”
“Recently, our campus has had an opportunity to view exactly what modern day anti-Semitism looks like. Our Jewish community has felt threatened and oppressed,” the group wrote. “We hope that by having these difficult conversations we can bring our community closer and show that Knox will not tolerate hate.”
Shabazz did not respond to the Algemeiner’s requests for comment by publication time.