James Baldwin on Black-Jewish Relations, Israel and the United States

James Baldwin on Black-Jewish Relations, Israel and the United States

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Post-Blog

Israel wasn’t created because non-Jews loved Jews but to protect Western interests

James Baldwin who died in 1987 aged 63 was a Black American essayist, novelist, playwright, poet and social critic.

With the novel Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), a distillation of his own experiences as a preacher’s son in 1930s Harlem and the essay collection Notes of a Native Son (1955), Baldwin established himself as a prophetic voice of his era. Baldwin remains not only a chronicler of his epoch but a thinker who helped shape it. One of the great modern prose stylists, he applied his passion, wit, and relentlessly probing intelligence to the fault lines of American society while remaining true to his early credo:

“One writes out of one thing only—one’s own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give.” “I fell under the spell of Baldwin’s voice. No other black writer I’d read was as literary as Baldwin in his early essays, not even Ralph Ellison. There is something wild in the beauty of Baldwin’s sentences and the cool of his tone, something improbable, too, this meeting of Henry James, the Bible, and Harlem. I can see the scratches in the desk in my room where I was reading ‘Notes of a Native Son,’ Baldwin’s memoir of his hated father’s death the day his father’s last child was born in 1943, one day before Harlem erupted into the deadliest race riot in its history. I can feel the effects of this essay within me still.”

Darryl Pinckney, The New York Review of Books, April 4, 2014 from the Library of America

For a biography of Baldwin see here 

My attention was drawn to Baldwin, Israel and the Jews by an essay by Stephen Salaita, James Baldwin and the Jewish State. Salaita was subject to a Zionist witchhunt at Illinois University at Urbana-Champaign in 2014 when critical remarks he made on social media about Israel’s genocidal attack on Gaza were used as a pretext to withdraw a tenured job offer. After a major campaign by Palestine solidarity supporters and academics, including being censured by the Association of American University Professors and a boycott by visiting professors, a settlement was reached. University of Illinois OKs $875,000 settlement to end Steven Salaita dispute

The whole episode, including the lies and destruction of email evidence by former Chancellor Phyllis Wise, who was a casualty of her own witchhunt, was extensively detailed by Electronic Intifada at the time. See

Univ. of Illinois protected white supremacist, but not Steven Salaita, report finds

Steven Salaita settles lawsuit with Univ. of Illinois

Univ. of Illinois official who fired Steven Salaita admits to destroying evidence

Salaita’s article was based on Baldwin’s ‘The Cross of Redemption – Uncollected Writings and in particular an essay Blacks and Jews.

The essay consists of a transcript of a remarkable discussion held by Baldwin, who was a professor at the University of Massachusets-Amherst. As Salaita notes, Baldwin’s ideas on Zionism and Israel arose in the context of the 1984 Presidential election in which Jessie Jackson, a civil rights campaigner who stood for the Democratic nomination in 1984 and 1988, had used the epithet “Hymietown” to describe New York City in what he thought was an off-the-record conversation with a journalist.  (“Hymie” is an anti-Jewish slur.)  When the comment was reported, it erupted into a scandal. 

Baldwin claimed that “Jesse is singled out for particular reasons.”Hymietown, is hardly the most anti-Semitic slur that has ever been levelled. New York is famous for the large number of Jews, some 2 million, who live there. Hymie, a reference to a typical Jewish name simply emphasised the Jewish presence in New York. It reminds me of Jo Bird’s play on words – ‘Jew process’ rather than ‘due process’.

It was an artificial controversy in which the Zionist lobby sought to weaponise anti-Semitism against a radical Black candidate. As Nathan Perlmutter the neo-liberal Executive Director of the Anti-Defamation League, a Zionist organisation that had previously spied on anti-Apartheid activists on behalf of BOSS, the South African secret police, said of Jackson’s apology for the remark:

“He could light candles every Friday night and grow side curls, and it still wouldn’t matter. He’s a whore,”.

The controversy was a forerunner of the attacks on Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Alexander Ocasio-Cortez. The difference this time around is that instead of apologising they stood up to their detractors and that is why they all won their primaries. If Corbyn had done the same instead of cowardly throwing his supporters under a bus then he might be Prime Minister now.


They say there’s no Zionist lobby!

Blacks, Jews and America

What is remarkable about Baldwin’s comments are how perceptive he was about the reasons for the establishment of Israel and the relationship between Zionism and anti-Semitism.

Noting how ‘the black American singles out the American Jew because so much of the black inheritance comes from the Old and New Testament’ Baldwin observed how Black people

‘unconsciously tends to expect more from a Jewish person than he expects from anybody else. And because the American Jew in this country is essentially a white man, this expectation is always defeated with a resulting accumulation of bitterness.’

Baldwin put it down to American Jews ‘acting on the minor inheritance and rejecting the major one’, which I interpret as meaning that Jews, instead of looking to their past role in the fight against racism and exploitation, instead choose the ‘minor’ issues of slavish obedience to Israel’s dictates and their own material situation.

Baldwin emphasised that

‘a black man does not expect from an American white man what he expects from an American Jew, and when that expectation is defeated, a certain bitterness ensues’ whereas if Jews were like William Buckley, a well-known neo-liberal ‘from whom obviously I expect nothing.’ [Laughter from audience.]

In remarkably perceptive off-the-cuff remarks Baldwin remarks on how ‘Whenever Israel is mentioned one is required, it appears sometimes to me, to maintain a kind of pious silence. Well, why? It is a state like other states.’

Think of the Labour Party 36 years later.  You can say what you want about Chile, South Africa and France and no one will pay a blind bit of notice, but mention Israel and the ‘anti-Semitism’ witchhunters of Starmer and they will be all over you.

If you criticise Israel for poisoning a well then this will be immediately deemed ‘anti-Semitic’ because historically Jews were accused of poisoning wells.  The 2nd example of the IHRA states:

Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

No matter that the Zionist poisoning of water is a demonstrable fact. In 1948 the Zionists poisoned the water supply of Acre with dysentery. The evidence for this comes from the files of the International Committee of the Red Cross files, which became available, 50 years after the event , under the reference G59/1/GC, G3/82, sent by ICRC delegate de Meuron from 6 May to about 19 May 1948.

Baldwin spoke about how Israel ‘came into existence as a means of protecting Western interests at the gate of the Middle East.’

Bearing in mind how Corbyn and McDonnell didn’t get it after 5 years of abuse, Baldwin reached for the heart of the problem that caused so much confusion in the Labour Party:

in order to be a Zionist, it is not necessary to love the Jews. I know some Zionists who are definitely anti-Semitic. And to be a Jew is not necessarily to be a Zionist.

Referring to the confected Hymietown remark of Jesse Jackson, Baldwin again realised what was happening:

There is something about the whole anecdote which rubs me the wrong way, something that —I smell a rat somewhere, it doesn’t seem entirely—can we use the word?—kosher. [Laughter from audience.] Be that as it may, the press, the media… is now saddling Jesse Jackson with the label or the suggestion of being anti-Semite, of being an anti-Semite. I think I know Jesse well enough to say that that seems to me exceedingly unlikely.

This exactly mirrors the fake campaign in the Labour Party. Any remark, however humorous, about Jews was interpreted as ‘anti-Semitic’ whereas the racist troll, Luke Stanger, could be suspended for two years for saying that Travellers and Gypsies are a ‘nasty blight’ on society. If he had referred to Jews he would have been fast-tracked out of the Labour Party but idiot Corbyn and the servile McDonnell never got it.

We only have to think of Donald Trump’s remarks: “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” And who were they disloyal to?  Well Trump clarified this too. Israel!  But Netanyahu and the Zionist chorus showed no interest in genuine anti-Semitism. For the Zionists Trump’s support for Israel trumps his anti-Semitism.

Baldwin noted that

for the most part the American Jew is simply, in the black person’s life, nothing but another white American, who goes to church on Saturday instead of Sunday.’

Speaking of the weaponisation of anti-Semitism and how the Zionist lobby uses trivial examples of anti-Semitism, which Jackson’s certainly was, to mount an attack on a radical Black candidate:‘it would seem to be a pity if it [Jackson’s campaign] can be destroyed by this ancient red herring of anti-Semitism which I’ve seen drag through so many discussions with such disastrous results over so many years.

Baldwin’s comments on White  liberals, many if not most of whom were Jews, was telling in view of the conflicts that arose in for example New York between Black parents and White, mainly Jewish school teachers.

when the civil rights movement was in Alabama… they were very indignant. And then I watched what happened imperceptibly but fatally when that same movement moved north to Brooklyn, to Pittsburgh, Detroit, and New York. And their attitudes changed…. Their attitudes changed because they began to feel more and more threatened, and a liberal facade or even a liberal attitude was not enough to deal with the speed with which the movement was moving

When a student questioned Baldwin’s assertions about the foundation of the Israeli state and misattributed to him the suggestion that Israel was founded to protect oil interests, Baldwin replied that:

I said to protect the vital interests of the Western world… but I would be lying to you and lying by my own experience if I said to you that the Europeans—the English, the Dutch, the Germans, the French—impressed me as having any very vivid concern for Jews. The French are still anti-Semitic, so are the British, so are the Dutch, so are the Poles, so are the French. They’ll probably be anti-Semitic until the nation disappears

Baldwin immediately gets what Corbyn and his gaggle of sycophants, from Seamus Milne to Karen Murphy and Jennie Formby didn’t get. Israel was not established because of any concern for Jews. It is only a Jewish state in its racial make up, not its values or ethics. Baldwin elaborates upon this declaring that:

Part of the hazard of being a Jew, historically and… actually, morally, historically of being a Jew, is finding yourself doing the Christian’s dirty work. You see what I’m saying? It’s not a condemnation; it’s simply a fact. So it is in that sense to say that Israel is useful to the Western interests.

Unlike many people these days and organisations like If Americans Knew which portray the United States as the pawn of Israel, Baldwin understood very well that Israel is ‘doing the Christian’s dirty work.’

The only disagreement I would have with Baldwin was on the question of Israeli sales of arms to South Africa where he said:

‘As far as I know, Jesse has said nothing about arms sales to South Africa, and I don’t think he will, you know. The arms sales to South Africa on the part of Israel are again an example of the traditional role that Jews have often played in Christendom.’

That isn’t quite true. Even when the West imposed an arms embargo on the Apartheid state Israel still supplied it with weaponry, including nuclear arms.

However all in all it was an extremely interesting lecture, even more so because many of these issues were barely visible back in 1984.

Tony Greenstein

Blacks and Jews – extracts – James Baldwin

Because the most awful thing about the black American relationship to Jews, to the American Jew, is that the black American singles out the American Jew because so much of the black inheritance comes from the Old and New Testament—so much of our imagery: “Let my people go,” all of those legends black people have lived with and made real up until this hour—and that means that unconsciously a black person tends to expect more from a Jewish person than he expects from anybody else. And because the American Jew in this country is essentially a white man, this expectation is always defeated with a resulting accumulation of bitterness, because the American Jew is acting on the minor inheritance and rejecting the major one.

a black man does not expect from an American white man what he expects from an American Jew, and when that expectation is defeated, a certain bitterness ensues. I might feel very differently about my ex–running buddies if in fact they were all Calvinists, if they were people like William Buckley, from whom obviously I expect nothing. [Laughter from audience.]

What is behind it, in another way, has to do with something else— something else which no one ever wishes to discuss. And that is the actual role in the Middle East of the state of Israel. Whenever Israel is mentioned one is required, it appears sometimes to me, to maintain a kind of pious silence. Well, why? It is a state like other states. It has come into existence in a peculiar way. But it does not, does not, become a state because people who wrote the Balfour Declaration, or Winston Churchill, or for that matter anyone in Europe, or in the Western world, really cared what happened to the Jews. I wish I could say differently, but I would be lying if I did—it came into existence as a means of protecting Western interests at the gate of the Middle East.

In any case, in order to be a Zionist, it is not necessary to love the Jews. I know some Zionists who are definitely anti-Semitic. And to be a Jew is not necessarily to be a Zionist. I’m putting it to you this way in the attempt to clarify something which is happening all around us. All of this is triggered by the incipient attack on Jesse Jackson, who allegedly made, or has confessed to having made, an anti-Semitic remark in a private conversation, while a reporter was listening. There is something about the whole anecdote which rubs me the wrong way, something that —I smell a rat somewhere, it doesn’t seem entirely—can we use the word?—kosher. [Laughter from audience.] Be that as it may, the press, the media, to which we owe so much, which is so enlightening for us all, is now saddling Jesse Jackson with the label or the suggestion of being anti-Semite, of being an anti-Semite. I think I know Jesse well enough to say that that seems to me exceedingly unlikely.

it is true that for the most part the American Jew is simply, in the black person’s life, nothing but another white American, who goes to church on Saturday instead of Sunday.

What I myself may think of Mr. Jackson, Reverend Jackson, in the privacy of my own house has nothing to do with this possibility, and he’s the only candidate which offers us this possibility. And it would seem to be a pity if it can be destroyed by this ancient red herring of anti-Semitism which I’ve seen drag through so many discussions with such disastrous results over so many years.

it is not enough to be a liberal, to have the right attitudes and even to give money to the right causes. You have to know more than that. You have to be prepared to risk more than that. I am telling you this because I have watched what happened to many of my liberal friends when the civil rights movement was in Alabama, let us say, in the Deep South, and they were [inaudible] very indignant. And then I watched what happened imperceptibly but fatally when that same movement moved north to Brooklyn, to Pittsburgh, Detroit, and New York. And their attitudes changed. I really hate to put it to you that way, but that is what happened. Their attitudes changed because they began to feel more and more threatened, and a liberal facade or even a liberal attitude was not enough to deal with the speed with which the movement was moving

In talking about Israel before, you said that Israel wasn’t set up because anyone else [cared] about the Jews, but you implied it was set up to protect oil interests in that area. And I would argue that point and say that I think after centuries of despoil that there was a bit of that, [but] that this was an area that the Jews did deserve as their homeland, and I just find it hard to accept that it was set up to protect oil interests. 

BALDWIN: I said to protect the vital interests of the Western world, and I don’t mean to be sardonic or cynical, but I would be lying to you and lying by my own experience if I said to you that the Europeans—the English, the Dutch, the Germans, the French—impressed me as having any very vivid concern for Jews. The French are still anti-Semitic, so are the British, so are the Dutch, so are the Poles, so are the French. They’ll probably be anti-Semitic until the nation disappears

why do they think that the Jews are going to protect Western interests and Israel doesn’t even have the oil?

BALDWIN: Oh! Yeah, I know that. I didn’t say oil, I said the vital interests of the Western world. Part of the hazard of being a Jew, historically and actually, and part of precisely the danger I was talking about when I began about the way a Jew intrudes himself on a black person’s attention because he is the only white man you see. But then part of the hazard, actually, morally, historically, of the Jewish … of being a Jew, is finding yourself doing the Christian’s dirty work. You see what I’m saying? It’s not a condemnation; it’s simply a fact. So it is in that sense to say that Israel is useful to the Western interests.

STUDENT: I have a question on anti-Semitism and Israelis or Jews doing America’s dirty work. Has Jackson made any censorious remarks about Israeli arms sales to South Africa? And could you maybe talk about how Jackson might take a position on Israel and arm sales to South Africa?

BALDWIN: As far as I know, Jesse has said nothing about arms sales to South Africa, and I don’t think he will, you know. The arms sales to South Africa on the part of Israel are again an example of the traditional role that Jews have often played in Christendom. It is, uh … After all, the state of Israel, as a state, that is to say, in terms of who is responsible for it, where the money comes from, is a—what is a polite word we use?—it is a Western state, it is a Western creation, it is a Western responsibility, isn’t it? And Israel selling arms to Israel, selling arms … I mean, South Africa, well, we all know that. I think it would serve very little purpose to single out Israel as the supplier of arms to South Africa when the real supplier of arms, not only to South Africa but to many, many other parts of the world, is not the state of Israel, but France, England, this country above all—you see what I’m saying? The state of South Africa, the state of Johannesburg, cannot be blamed on Israel—you see what I’m saying?

 

 

 

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