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April 18, 2023 11:40 am

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries Needs to Explain Support for Antisemitic Relative

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avatar by Alan Zeitlin


Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

There is no statute of limitations for hiding the truth or defending haters of Jews. People must be held accountable for their actions. However, that does not mean we should try to cancel someone or brand them as antisemitic based on one incident alone. We must look at their record, and hear both sides of the story.

But it is clear that Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), the House Minority Leader, did something wrong in 2013, when asked about his controversial uncle, Leonard Jeffries, who chaired the Black Studies Department at the City University of New York.

Hakeem Jeffries told The Wall Street Journal that he had a “vague recollection” of the controversy surrounding his antisemitic uncle, and neglected to tell the outlet that he was part of a student government group that brought his uncle to the State University of New York at Binghamton (now Binghamton University) campus, and wrote an op-ed in a campus newspaper defending his uncle as well as Louis Farrakhan. The story was broken by CNN.

Numerous Democrats were quick to defend Jeffries, including Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ).

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Professor Jeffries compared Jews to “dogs,” and said, “Russian Jewry had a particular control over the movies, and their financial partners, the Mafia, put together a financial system of destruction of black people.”

He was eventually removed as chair of the department, but after a lawsuit in which he claimed the removal was a violation of his First Amendment rights, he was reinstated, but not awarded monetary damages.

In his op-ed at the time, Hakeem Jeffries wrote that his uncle was subject to “a media lynching complete with character assassinations,” and defended Farrakhan as unfairly maligned for opposing the “ruling elite.”

Democrats like Wasserman Schultz and Gottheimer pointed out that Jeffries tackled hate against all groups, and was a strong defender of the Jewish people.

Wasserman Schultz tweeted, “As native Nyers, [email protected] and I became fast, dear friends. I saw how he embodied the Jewish values of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and gemilut hassadim (giving love and kindness.) While others foment antisemitism, Hakeem Jeffries always leads in the face of hate.”

I guess to the Congresswoman, “always” does not include when you run for government office and “forget” that you defended two people who made antisemitic comments.

To be sure, that was many years ago, and while he was in college. I’ve met Jeffries and watched him speak. He is dynamic, seemingly caring, and by all accounts not at all antisemitic. I also graduated from Binghamton University, though I was not there at the same time he was.

It is understandable that other Democrats would defend their friend, but to not ask for some explanation or apology is wrong and hypocritical (would Democrats react the same if Jeffries was a Republican? I doubt it.)

Jeffries should have to answer for his omission to The Wall Street Journal and speak about what he thinks of his uncle and Farrakhan’s words. He should also answer for calling Black conservatives “House Negroes” in college. He should apologize for that.

But we must note Jeffries’ record and statements. For example, he has decried claims of Israeli “apartheid” as a tactic “designed to isolate Israel in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the world.” Though he did support the nuclear deal with Iran, as most Democrats did, he once said “back home in New York City, we consider Jerusalem to be the sixth borough.”

Jeffries is a man on the rise, and it is possible that this story was aimed at hurting possible presidential chances in the future. If he speaks honestly and apologizes, I don’t think it will.

The author is a writer based in New York.

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