This is an excerpt from Arguable, a Globe Opinion newsletter from columnist Jeff Jacoby. Sign up to get Arguable in your inbox each week.
On the evening of Oct. 7, as it was becoming apparent that Hamas had not only carried out the worst massacre of Jews in the history of modern Israel but had done so in a frenzy of cruelty and bloodlust, the liberal Black activist Amber Sherman took to Facebook.
Writing as the chair of the Black Caucus of the Young Democrats of America, Sherman proclaimed her full support for “the uprising happening in Gaza right now.” The corpses of the victims hadn’t cooled, but Sherman was eager to display solidarity with their killers. “I encourage folks,” she wrote, “to publicly acknowledge the uprising happening in Gaza and stand in support of the Palestinian people.”
In a post on X (Twitter), Sherman — who calls herself a “Black liberationist” and has worked with Official Black Lives Matter Memphis and BLM Louisville — reveled in the Hamas slaughter. “You love to see it,” she exulted. She followed up the next day, tweeting a picture of herself wearing a Palestinian scarf and grinning. She captioned the picture: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” That slogan is a call for the elimination of Israel and its Jews.
In the world of Black progressive organizers, Sherman was no outlier. The horrific Hamas slaughter, in which Israeli civilians were shot, burned, raped, and tortured to death and more than 200 kidnapped and taken to Gaza, brought forth a gusher of excitement in radical left-wing Black circles.
BLM Chicago tweeted out an image of a paraglider with a Palestinian flag and the words: “I Stand With Palestine” — a gleeful allusion to the fact that some of the terrorists who carried out the bloodbath had entered the Israeli kibbutzim on gliders. It deleted the tweet a few days later, but doubled down on standing “with Palestine & the people who will do what they must.” Another BLM chapter, Black Lives Matter Grassroots, issued a statement declaring its “solidarity with our Palestinian family” who are “resisting 57 years of settler colonialism and apartheid.” On Saturday came another message: “Yeah, we said it. Free Palestine!” (Of course no single activist or chapter represents everyone in the BLM movement.)
Black antisemitism is not a new phenomenon.
Louis Farrakhan, who heads the Nation of Islam, has for decades spewed a potent toxin of African-American nationalism and unrelenting Jew-hatred into the Black community. Before Al Sharpton became a host on MSNBC, he was a street agitator who trafficked in vicious antisemitism; on one occasion, he fomented a riot in Crown Heights, N.Y., during which his followers, chanting “Kill the Jew,” beat and stabbed an Orthodox yeshiva student to death. When Black Lives Matter issued a formal platform in 2016, it focused entirely on domestic issues — with a single exception: The document condemned Israel, the only liberal democracy in the Middle East, of committing “genocide” against Palestinians. Last year, Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, with a social media following of 31 million, unleashed a stream of antisemitic malice, vowing to go “death con 3″ against Jews.
Survey data has long shown that bigotry against Jews is higher among Black Americans than among Americans overall — and higher still among those with a college education, as Henry Louis Gates Jr. lamented as long ago as 1992. Too many people have turned a blind eye to the antisemitic bile in hard-left Black circles. But after the events of this month, denial is impossible.
David Christopher Kaufman, a gay Black Jewish writer in New York, expressed the anguish he felt as he saw or heard so many Black activists react to the ghastly attack on Israel by condemning — Israel.
”When you’re living at the front lines of intersectionality like I do as a gay Black Jew, you learn early on that no one is coming to your rescue,” he wrote in the Forward.
This is how I feel about Israel right now. While the last two horrible weeks have included some commendable allyship, they have also revealed a level of indifference and disbelief to Jewish pain that extends beyond my darkest nightmares.
It is important to make clear that this is not a blanket indictment. Some Black leaders have unwaveringly stood with Israel against the terrorists. US Representative Ritchie Torres, a progressive New York Democrat, has vehemently condemned organizations that engage in “glorifying the terrorism of Hamas, cheering and celebrating the cold-blooded murder of Israeli civilians.” Boxing champion Floyd Mayweather posted a strong public statement of support for Israel, then filled a plane full of military equipment he had purchased and flew it to Israel. New York City Mayor Eric Adams attended a pro-Israel rally three days after the massacre and, in a powerful address, said that New York was “not all right” after the heart-crushing atrocities of Oct. 7.
But they have largely been eclipsed by uncompromising left-wing Black activists who want the world to know that as Israel goes to war against the barbaric Jew-haters of Hamas, it cannot count on their sympathy.
It could have counted on Martin Luther King Jr.’s.
The Nobel peace laureate was a leader in the fight against antisemitism, especially among American Blacks. He was at pains to rebut the vile smear that Zionism is racism. King was an admirer and defender of the modern state of Israel, and he declared unequivocally that to hate the world’s only Jewish state was to hate Jews.
I have recounted in Arguable before how in 1967 King described Israel as “one of the great outposts of democracy in the world.” It was a message he repeated just 10 days before his assassination. On March 26, 1968, King was asked whether Black American intellectuals should support Israel in its conflict with the Arab world. Nine months after the Six-Day War, when some on what was then called the New Left were turning against Israel, King reiterated his ardent support for the embattled Jewish homeland.
”Peace for Israel means security and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity,” he said.
King had no tolerance for those who pretended that anti-Zionism was anything but Jew-hatred wearing a mask. He said so bluntly. The prominent political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset recalled a dinner in Cambridge in October 1967, during which a Black college student denounced “the Zionists.” King’s reaction was swift.
”Don’t talk like that!” he snapped. “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking antisemitism!”
America’s foremost civil rights leader wasn’t just a great exponent of the fundamental principle that all persons are created equal and that racial distinctions have no legitimate place in American life. He was also an ardent believer in America’s potential for decency and goodness and a staunch supporter of the beleaguered Jewish state. Were he here to see how eagerly so many progressive Black Americans have lined up against Israel after the worst massacre of Jews in its history, Dr. King would be reduced to tears.