by Harold Brackman
Long ago, Raphael Patai’s The Myth of the Jewish Race (1975) should have dispelled the pernicious notion that Jews are a biological “race.” We are a people — whether one emphasizes the bonds of religion or nationality.
Jewish nationality is not about loyalty to a government, but love of the land of Israel and a bond to a historic tradition. As with other religions, Judaism as a faith community is delineated by internal markers rooted in geography, history, and DNA disease clusters. Jews cannot be a race for the core reason that Abraham himself was a convert, and converts have always been accepted by Jews as fellow Jews.
My subject here is what two authors have both called “the racializing of antisemitism.”
Zahava Morderler’s “Racializing Antisemitism: The Development of Racist Antisemitism and Its Current Manifestations,” in the Fordham International Law Journal — like many law review articles — combines prolix prose with detailed analysis of an important subject. She shows how Hitler and the Nazi regime “racialized antisemitism” down to every minutiae of Jewish existence and behavior. She also shows, through ground-breaking research, the massive investment that post-World War II “human rights jurisprudence” has made to dismantle and repudiate fascist “racist antisemitism.”
But Morderler’s analysis of “racializing anti-Semitism” has limitations. First, she ignores that the effort to “racialize anti-Semitism” goes back further than Hitler — to the “dark enlightenment” of Voltaire and even the Spanish Inquisition. Starting in 1478, the Spanish Inquisition was a critical transmission belt between medieval prejudice and modern racism. Ostensibly, the Inquisition’s target was not those who professed Judaism, but converts — called “New Christians” or, pejoratively, Marranos (pigs). These were people whose families had converted from Judaism to Christianity, but were now suspected of continuing to practice their ancestral faith in secret. For a Christian to be a “crypto-Jew” was an offense punishable by imprisonment, confiscation of property, and even death; ultimately, thousands of such alleged “heretics” were burned at the stake. Some New Christians, probably a minority, did secretly practice Judaism. But the real reason many were persecuted was envy of their economic success.
The Inquisition reinforced Spaniards’ attitudes that heresy was not a matter of unorthodox beliefs but of bad genes. “Jewish genes” and “African genes” were both considered inferior.
Jewish ancestry — calculated back to one great-grandparent — was sometimes crime enough to destroy the life of a “New Christian” no matter what he believed. Only “Old Christians” with limpieza de sangre (“pure blood”) were trusted.
Second, Morderler’s politically-correct analysis ignores the fact that there are African and African-American antisemites who, though not quite in the same way as Hitler, also “racialize antisemitism.” This scholarly deficiency is corrected by Eunice C. Pollack’s “Racializing Antisemitism: Black Militants, Jews, and Israel, 1950 to the Present.” Well-written and researched, Pollack’s study depends on pioneering scholarship.
Pollack focuses not only on the paradigmatic case of the Nation of Islam, founded in Detroit in 1930 by Georgia-born Elijah Muhammad (Elijah Poole) and led today by Minister Louis Farrakhan. She also documents the “racialized antisemitism” of other African-American leaders, from Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey in the 1920s to Tamika Mallory of the Women’s March today. She also mention the age-old envy of antisemites of all colors because of centuries of Jewish achievement, and the invidious impact of current identity politics.
Historian Harold Brackman is coauthor with Ephraim Isaac of From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, African Americans (Africa World Press, 2015).