Memo To: Website fans and Polyconomics’ clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: A Word for Louis Farrakhan
Today is the first anniversary of the Nation Of Islam’s Million Man March. Minister Louis Farrakhan has called interested followers to join him at the United Nations Plaza today for an International Day of Atonement, to carry forward the message of reconciliation he began a year ago. On Monday, we carried quotes from a speech he delivered in St Louis three weeks ago, in which he responded positively to Jack Kemp’s challenge that he renounce anti-Semitism. As you will see from the following op-ed essay, which I submitted yesterday to the Jewish Weekly Forward in New York City, I have been in contact with Minister Farrakhan’s people on and off for the last year, since Kemp first initiated an attempt to broker a truce between the Nation of Islam and the Jewish Community, the Anti-Defamation League in particular. Farrakhan last week followed up his St. Louis speech with a call to Abe Foxman of the ADL, offering to begin a process of reconciliation, and was turned down. He also called representatives of the American Jewish Committee with a similar offer. This has been reported in the New York tabloid press, which treats Farrakhan’s offer of reconciliation as if it were a trick from a bigot. None of this has been reported in the national press, although the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate is at the center of the controversy. The major media had earlier carried accounts of Kemp’s favorable comments about Farrakhan’s central self-help message of the Million Man March, the denunciations of those comments by leaders of the major Jewish organizations, and Kemp’s challenge to Farrakhan to respond. It is simply too shocking to conventional wisdom to have Farrakhan follow through. It is far more preferable to the editors of the major newspapers to ignore the response to Kemp and Farrakhan’s direct appeal to the Jewish political leaders for a process of reconciliation. The following article, which is aimed directly at the Jewish leaders in my naive belief that we should be able to take some steps in the direction of bridging the nation’s racial divide, was invited by the editors of the Forward, although it has not yet been accepted for publication as written. I would also appreciate having you pass this memo on to your web friends and penpals. If you would like to read the essay I wrote last year, on the weekend before the Million Man March, we offer that in our archive.
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By Jude Wanniski
It may not have been enough for the leaders of the Jewish community, but Jack Kemp’s challenge to Louis Farrakhan to renounce anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry, once and for all, did ring forth a positive response: In a St. Louis speech Sept. 28, Farrakhan said:
“Jack Kemp said that he wanted Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam to denounce anti-Semitism. Let me say frankly, I denounce anti-Semitism in all its forms, and anybody who would hate Arabs, Jews, or any people because of their faith or color, I denounce that. It is easy for me to denounce anti-Semitism, because I know that in the eyes of God I am not that.”
As one of Jack Kemp’s closest political friends for the past 20 years, I began to encourage him a year ago, at the time of the Million Man March, to take seriously Farrakhan’s offer to seek reconciliation with the white community in general and the Jewish community in particular. Both Jack and I have long histories of friendship with the black and Jewish communities, as the publisher of this newspaper will attest. We have been increasingly troubled in the last decade at the escalation of angry words between these communities -- most particularly in the clashes between the Nation of Islam and the Anti-Defamation League.
Jack’s initiative began a year ago, knowing that if a bridge is ever going to be built across the racial divide, it would take an honest broker to start the process. I told him that of all white Gentiles in a position to be that broker, he was clearly the man. God had long ago put him on a path that has now made him the most respected white political leader in the black community and the most respected political Christian in the Jewish community. He had no choice.
We’ve never met or spoken to Minister Farrakhan, but we did note a marked change in his rhetoric at the time of the Million Man March. Where he had previously been unrelenting on his side of the escalation of epithets, something a year ago clearly caused a change of heart. In bringing a million black men to Washington, D.C., to atone for their failure to take responsibility for their families and communities and to have them pledge to do so in the future, Farrakhan established himself as the most influential leader of his community. Those who respect him, as well as those who do not, agree that he alone could have accomplished what he did.
It is true that he continues to make inflammatory statements aimed at Jewish political leaders, which makes it hard to believe he is not anti-Semitic even while he insists he is not. It is as if there are different languages being spoken. Precisely for this reason, if there is to be a reconciliation process, it will require a series of private discussions involving go-betweens of both communities to sort out the communication difficulties.
As a white Catholic, I can’t fully appreciate black or Jewish perspectives. Still, my discussions with Farrakhan’s people over the past year have persuaded me that they genuinely wish to begin a reconciliation process, in the spirit of the process that began at Camp David between Menachim Begin and Anwar Sadat or between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat. This means one side should not be expected to apologize for everything ever said about the other, when both sides insist the other started the fight. In my discussions, I’ve tried as best I can to represent the Jewish viewpoint, and also to explain my personal judgement that economics was the source of the dispute. I’ve argued for decades that economics, not religion, is the source of all modern disputes that involve anti-Semitism, although religion is the ancient source. Here is how I have been putting it in my discussions:
When Christianity became the dominant religion of Europe 1500 years ago, Jews were forbidden to farm while Christians were forbidden to lend money at “usurious” rates. A division of labor began, with Christians as producers, Jews as merchants and bankers. It should be no surprise that after 2000 years of practice, Jews are today the most gifted and important financiers in the western world.
Anti-Semitism emerges in serious form only in periods of economic contraction, when producers who are Christian cannot pay their debts to their creditors, the merchants and bankers who are Jews. The pogroms of the 11th century followed the miscalculation of Christians who thought the world would end in the year 1000. In the inflation of the era, they borrowed against their properties from Jews at “usurious” interest rates, to buy indulgences from the church. Thinking Armageddon would moot their debts, they could not make the payments when the world went on, and took out their frustration on the Jews.
In the same way, when Germany looked around for someone to blame for the stupendous inflation of the 1920s, which was the result of a Versailles Treaty written by Christians, they blamed the messenger -- the Jewish financial intermediaries who presented the bills. When the Wall Street Crash sent depressed Germany into a deeper spiral, Hitler rose to the top with a theory that held Jews as being genetically inferior, subhuman, and worthy only of extinction.
The current friction here between blacks and Jews coincides with our economic contraction during the last 30 years, with labor in surplus and capital in short supply. Where a white family could make ends meet with one breadwinner 30 years ago, it now takes two. The black family that could make ends meet with two breadwinners 30 years ago now cannot do so.
Southern blacks 50 years ago began displacing middle-class Jews in the cities of the North who moved to the suburbs. The Jewish merchants remained, doing well until 30 years ago, when the economic decline began and their clients increasingly could not pay their bills. The tensions that began in that environment evolved into the shouting match we see today.
Farrakhan now seeks reconciliation because his followers want him to. With the end of the Cold War, there is in our country and around the world an expectation of a peacetime economic expansion. This was the message Farrakhan tried to convey at the UN Plaza this week. In economic expansions, anti-Semitism always recedes, which is just one good reason why the forces of growth must be encouraged. My recommendation to my Jewish friends and opinion leaders is they take this chance on reconciliation. Jack Kemp has, knowing it would cause him considerable grief. If the Nation of Islam now turns on Jack, its leaders seem to know it would be the last time they would get that chance.