Unintentional Antisemites: Why Obama and Harvard's President Tolerate Jew-Hate
The two glass ceiling-breaking Black Americans are not antisemitic in intention, just in outcome. I’m not sure what is worse.
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In his memoir “Dreams from My Father,” the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, recounted the breakup with his longtime girlfriend, Sheila Miyoshi Jager, whom he’d been living with in Chicago.
Obama described a heated disagreement after a play by an African American playwright, in which he defended his growing embrace of Black racial consciousness against Jager’s White-identified liberal universalism. After all, the subtitle of Obama’s memoir is “A Story of Race and Inheritance.”
Yet when historian David Garrow interviewed Jager for his 2017 book, “Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama,” she recalled this extra-ordinary fight over a very different reason. In Jager’s memory, the argument that ended the couple’s relationship was not about Obama’s self-identification as a Black man. Nor was the backdrop a play about the Black American experience.1
Instead, it was an exhibit at Chicago’s Spertus Institute about the 1961 trial in Israel of Adolf Eichmann, one of the Holocaust’s major perpetrators who was caught in Argentina by Israeli intelligence officials after he escaped Nazi Germany.
When Obama and Jager visited the Spertus Institute, the Chicago political scene was engulfed by a Black mayoral aide named Steve Cokely who, in a series of lectures organized by Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, accused Jewish doctors in Chicago of infecting Black babies with AIDS as part of a genocidal plot against African Americans.
In Jager’s recollection, what set off the dispute that led to the end of the couple’s relationship was Obama’s stubborn refusal, after seeing the exhibit, and in the midst of this Cokely drama, to not condemn Black antisemitism.
Claudine Gay, the embattled president of Harvard University, has a completely different background than Obama — she’s the daughter of two Haitian immigrants — yet she recently found herself in very similar shoes to those of Obama.
In a recent U.S. congressional hearing about antisemitism on college campuses, Gay awkwardly struggled to explain why her university protects antisemitic free speech but not other free speech. (For context, Harvard recently forced biologist Carole Hooven to resign for stating in public that biological sex is real.)
Turns out, Obama (a Harvard graduate) reportedly proceeded to privately lobby for the Harvard Corporation to retain Gay as president following her congressional appearance embarrassment, and even as threats mount against Jewish students on the Ivy League campus.
While Jew-hatred is not anything new at Harvard, the recent scandal over the school’s failure to address antisemitism on its campus began this past October, when a group of student organizations released a letter blaming Hamas’ massacre of Jews on Israel. As British columnist Howard Jacobson aptly pointed out: “Victim-blaming is a crime to so many progressives. Except when it comes to Jews.”2
During Chanukah this year, a woman passing by Harvard Chabad’s candle-lighting ceremony yelled that the Holocaust was fake. When the organization hosted a screening of an Israeli military film with footage from the October 7th Hamas attacks, the rabbi who manages Harvard Chabad said the campus police advised him to get security for his family. Even a menorah, displayed in Harvard Yard, was packed away each night to protect it from vandalism, which the university refused to do anything about.
“It pains me to have to say, sadly, that Jew hate and antisemitism is thriving on this campus,” said Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi of Harvard Chabad earlier this month. “Twenty-six years I’ve given my life to this community. I’ve never felt so alone.”3
A Harvard Jewish alumni group recently claimed they have seen data to suggest that the university’s Jewish population has declined from 20-to-25 percent in the 1990s and 2000s, to 5-to-7 percent today — and that almost all this decline occurred in recent years.
When U.S. senator Dan Sullivan visited his alma mater, Harvard, a couple of weeks ago, he walked into a library and “couldn’t believe” his eyes, saying:
“Nearly every student in the packed room was wearing a kaffiyeh (a Palestinian scarf). Fliers attached to their individual laptops, as well as affixed to some of the lamps in the reading room, read: ‘No Normalcy During Genocide — Justice for Palestine.’ A young woman handed the fliers to all who entered. A large banner spread across one end of the room stated in blazing blood-red letters, ‘Stop the Genocide in Gaza.’”4
Claudine Gay and Barack Obama are not outwardly antisemitic, nor do they seem to have the slightest personal animosity toward Jews as individuals. But from Obama’s antagonism toward Israel and Sheila Miyoshi Jager’s account of their breakup, to Gay’s reluctance to effectively combat antisemitism on Harvard’s campus, there seems to be an underlying problem — and they aren’t alone.
There is a pernicious thread that connects Obama and Gay to other Black Americans, including Kanye West, NBA star Kyrie Irving, and entertainer Nick Cannon, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement being bizarrely supportive of Hamas’ October 7th massacre, and even many African countries which vote antisemitically in the United Nations.
These instances of Black-Jewish tensions fit a pattern. They hibernate and then reemerge every couple of years to feed a narrative that Jews — or at least, Jewish Americans — are White oppressors. And, in line with progressive fanaticism, transgressions of the great oppressors of history, White people, are so horrendous that nothing short of maximum humiliation and unconditional surrender can begin to serve justice.
Historically, antisemitism among the Black American community was mostly rooted into being anti-White people, since many Jews in America are white-skinned (of mostly Eastern European descent). Today, though, antisemitism is a means among Black Americans to recruit others of various backgrounds into a coalition that revels in a smorgasbord of hatred — including hatred of Jews.
Israelis, do I mean? Surely, the attempt to differentiate non-Israeli Jews and Israeli Jews has become an instant-classic antisemitic ploy leveraged by those who define themselves not as antisemites, just “anti-Zionists.”
In 1967, during the heart of the American Civil Rights Movement, African American writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin wrote an explosive article in the New York Times, under the title: “Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They’re Anti-White.” He did not blame White Jews as a group for a Jewish conspiracy. Instead, he criticized White Jews as individuals for their complicity in the larger system of White supremacy, which certain African Americans claim has its roots in Christian theology.
Baldwin argued that Jewish World War II veterans built wealth through the GI program from which Black people were excluded, and he claimed Jewish day schools were organized as part of the backlash against school desegregation. In Baldwin’s time, he noted that White Jews were able to own stores while Black people mostly could not, even in their own neighborhoods.
Nowadays, many of the highest-profile Black people who embrace antisemitic conspiracy theories do not do so to critique whiteness. Rather, they express antisemitism alongside an explicit or implicit alliance to a Christian-fascist program of White supremacy that seeks to establish a White Christian nationalist authoritarian regime in which Black people and Jews will be, at best, second-class citizens.
But there are some Black people who don’t fit this mold. Consider, for example, Candace Owens, a Black American and conservative political commentator who said that it would have been fine if Hitler had just wanted to rule Germany and “make it great” as long as he had not invaded other countries. Not only is this revisionist history, but it also ignores what Hitler did to Jews in Germany.
Owens isn’t targeting Jewish people because she is anti-White supremacy, according to Baldwin’s thesis. Rather, Owens’ antisemitism is consistent with her own defense of anti-Black racism — much like Barack Obama and Claudine Gay, who have used it become the first of their skin color to ascend to two of the world’s most prestigious positions.
Yet neither of them are quintessentially Black, in the eyes of the stereotypical Black American community. Obama was mostly raised by a White mother and White grandparents in the U.S. and Indonesia, and Gay spent some of her childhood in Saudi Arabia, where her father worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, before attending a private boarding school in New Hampshire, and then Princeton University, Stanford University, and Harvard.
However, Obama and Gay both “chose” to be Black, because it fit their personal agendas to rise to places that most Black Americans hardly dream of. When comparing Martin Luther King Jr. to Obama, as many people do, David Garrow said: “Doctor King has no choice to be Black. Barack chooses to be Black.”
Gay, meanwhile, continuously pursued racial subjects as a college student, culminating in her 1997 dissertation, “Taking Charge: Black Electoral Success and the Redefinition of American Policies” as part of her doctorate in political science from Harvard. This thesis paper dealt with White-Black political representation and racial attitudes, and it helped Gay secure major tenure at Stanford.
What’s more, both Obama and Gay took advantage of “White guilt” — Obama to become the first Black U.S. president despite a previous record not exactly fitting for the Oval Office, and Gay to become Harvard’s first Black president despite a lackluster academic career.
This is one of the reasons why, when they were confronted with opportunities to demonstrate admirable leadership, both Obama and Gay failed miserably. Under Obama’s two presidential terms, racial tensions escalated in America. At Harvard, Gay’s tenure has been marked by a gross overemphasis on DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusivity) policies despite the DEI doctrine’s outright racism and exclusivity.
For those who have an understanding of America’s stereotypical Black community, the explanation of their failures in leadership is rather obvious: Obama and Gay are in “no man’s land.” They are not quite “black enough” for the Black community, but they are obviously dark-skinned and therefore associated, even loosely, with it. If Obama or Gay does something in favor of the Black community, they’re accused of unjust favoritism. If they don’t, they are labeled disappointments and even traitors.
Thus, when they are presented with Black racism against, say, the Jews, they do nothing, because it’s a lose-lose to do one thing or another. Remaining “neutral” is the safest of all options — the same way that many Palestinians (and some Israeli Arabs) are not Jewish blood-thirsty terrorists, but predominantly stay silent about the massacre that Hamas unleashed on October 7th.
Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor turned Nobel laureate, had something to say about this: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
As such, Barack Obama and Claudine Gay are not antisemitic in intention, just in outcome. I’m not sure what is worse.
“The Obama Factor.” Tablet.
“Victim-blaming is a crime to so many progressives. Except when it comes to Jews.” The Guardian.
“Feeling Alone and Estranged, Many Jews at Harvard Wonder What’s Next.” The New York Times.
x“An Antisemitic Occupation of Harvard’s Widener Library.” The Wall Street Journal.