Memo To: Sen. Joseph Lieberman
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Interview continued
[This is the continuation of the taped interview of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, conducted by freelance journalist Jeffrey Goldberg on March 28, 1998 at the NOI National House in Chicago. The NOI taped the interview, which was never published, and made it available to me.]
JG: This is what I've never understood. Let's take an individual who's committed a sin and that individual happens to be Jewish: There are Jewish people who commit sins and yes, there are black people who commit sins. And we judge them in society as individuals. It seems as if you're judging the entire Jewish community on behalf that one sinner. Let's take an Ivan Boesky-type figure. He is Jewish; and he committed financial crimes. How am I as a Jewish person who has never met Ivan Boesky -- how does that impact negatively on me? Why should I be held responsible?
Min. LF: Okay. There are Germans who were not involved in the Holocaust. There are Germans at this moment who never did share the view, philosophically or ideologically, of Adolph Hitler. But they, as a body, are paying reparations because of the sins of certain Germans that affected an entire people. Now the question in our research -- that we researched in Jewish libraries, from Jewish scholars who are not anti-Semitic -- is the fact that Jews were involved in the horrendous slave trade and therefore have some responsibility in the horrific results of our having been brought into slavery and robbed of culture, name, language, God, religion and history.
This rendered us as a people incapable of doing for ourselves what the Jewish people and other human beings do for themselves. If the Jewish people benefit from our misery in that our incapability of doing for ourselves did not encourage Jewish people to teach us what Moses taught you -- what the prophets taught you. You didn't try to bring us into the faith that Abraham and the prophets brought you into. We were subjected to a form of religion that made us tools for anybody to use us as they would and so there are Jews who never had anything to do with slavery -- nothing at all. But those who helped to bring us into slavery, brought us into a condition that has made us tools of service for anybody who wishes to use us. What responsibility does the Jewish community feel that is owed to the Blacks that we can begin to work out problems and reconcile ourselves? Not that just one person, Ivan Boesky, did something that ripped-off other human beings. You don't know him, you can't be charged with his crime. But Ivan Boesky ripped-off a few people. But the black community in America, in the Caribbean, in South America, all of us that were brought out of Africa have suffered a similar fate. And that is the total disconnect of us from ourselves, from our culture and that means that those Jewish people who are involved, those Arabs that were involved, those Europeans that were involved, it seems to me that there is some responsibility. Not that you are guilty in 1998 for what was done 400 years ago -- but is there any responsibility to correct the wrong?
JG: Now I recognize that argument, entirely. My qualm is with the single analyzation to the Jewish nation. As singularly the primary party responsible for slavery, I don't want to get into particulars. There is no way to argue that slavery in America was not by and large a European Christian phenomenon. I won't cede you the point that there were Jews in the south that benefitted enormously from the slaves they owned and the slaves they bought. But the entire Jewish population of America before the Civil War stood at 50,000. And there’s a reason that the religion the slaves were offered when they came to this country wasn’t Judaism. There was Christianity. That’s because the people that were running slavery were Christians. And so it’s interesting when you said late in your answer that the Arabs were involved, the Europeans were involved...
Min. LF: But I’ve said that over and over again...
JG: But what happened then? An outsize reaction from the Jewish community forced you to make an outsize reaction to their reaction?
Min. LF: Let’s look at it. I made a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, and in that speech I mentioned Arabs, Jews, Africans and Europeans who are all involved in the slave trade. Is that correct? Now, however, you know when the controversy came up with the Jewish people. And the genesis of that controversy is very important, because I believe absent the political considerations of the 1984 Jessie Jackson campaign, there never even would have been a controversy with myself and the Jewish people -- And when I, trying to promote that which would strengthen the bond between blacks and Jews by advising the Jewish detractors of Rev. Jackson that they should be careful how they handled him, because 90 percent of black people saw him as a champion of our concerns and the way you handled him could exacerbate tensions that were building between blacks and Jews since the case that involved the quotas and affirmative action and all of this. I can't recall the names but you know what I'm talking about. So when I was advising the Jewish community to be careful how you handled Rev. Jackson in that context -- and I said we are tired of feeding our leaders to the white community as raw meat, to wild beasts. And should anything happen to Jessie Jackson, you know, I believed that God would respond to that.
Now I said that I wasn't attacking Jewish people. If you go back and listen exactly to my words, that is the predicate of the whole controversy. The next day in New York City -- I did that on a Saturday night -- on a Sunday in New York, Nathan Perlmutter, (Anti-Defamation League) and a rabbi, (I can't remember his name, Rabbi Schindler?), began to label Farrakhan now as a new black Hitler. Now sir, that hurt me, personally it hurt me, that a Jew would dare think that I as a black person harbored some evil intent to kill all Jewish people on this earth. That is an insult to me, and an insult to what I represent and it is insulting even to Jews, but since the Jewish people are so sensitive because of their history and hurt, to label me as a black Hitler would make any Jew recoil and say, “We gotta get rid of that guy. He means trouble for us.” I responded to that, in a weekly lectured broadcast from the Final Call building and I said “Now here come the Jews calling me Hitler.” Maybe I should of said “Here comes Nathan Perlmutter, or the ADL, or Rabbi Schindler,” and if I could do it over I would do it better.
JG: Are you saying that your emotional reaction caused you to give an overly harsh reaction?
Min. LF: Yes. This is why dialogue is important because I have no right to say the Jews, when the Jews as a body did not do this, but those who claimed to represent Jewish interest did this and the body remained silent. Now you know, whenever somebody does something that offends Jewish people they go, if I do it as a black person, the Jewish people go to other blacks, “Well what do think about what Farrakhan said?” And encourage them to speak out against that black who has offended quote, unquote the Jews. But we did not notice any Jew, saying to other Jews, “Well wait a minute, this is what Farrakhan really said. Why did we take such a harsh position and label him as a Hitler when there nothing in this man’s history that justifies such a thing, that has never been done, not from that date to this?” Now as I said in my dialogue, if you show me where I am in error I will admit that. And I admit here and now that I should have said the name of the person that said this and then focused on that person or that organization which I did not do. Now, so that began the fight and if you go back as a journalist -- and also as a potential healer or bridge-builder -- if you go back and look at my visit to Los Angeles, speaking at the Forum in ‘85, in my visit to New York to speak at Madison Square Garden, before I got there you should read what was said about me -- no comments were made by me. But everything that was said about me in the New York Post, in The New York Times, by Mayor Koch, by those in authority in New York was horrendous. And Mayor Koch again referred to me as a Hitler and something about...I can't remember and I don't want to misquote. Now when you call me a Hitler, what does that conjure up, among the Jewish people whose experience with Hitler has been so painful? See, and then Jewish young people in Los Angeles, and in New York started marching with placards cards saying “Who do you want? Farrakhan! How do you want him? Dead!” This happened in Los Angeles, and in New York.
JG: I'm sure that was an extremist, tiny extremist group.
Min. LF: OK. Now, as you would say that is an extremist group, which I'm sure it is. But that extremist then became the spokesperson for the moderates who never tried to rein in the extremists. Now when brother Khalid made his extreme statements, it is expected that I should rein him in and that black leaders should attack Khalid for his statements. But when these extremist elements were literally calling for my death, we never heard anybody say, “Now I think we’re taking that too far.” So, one thing led to another. I am a fighter. I am not a person who lays down in the face of words that offend me and offend black people. So when those things were said about me, then most black people would run and hide, but I did not do that and so the boldness of this black man to dare to speak the way I spoke just caused members of the Jewish community who represented the entire community -- or who claimed to represent the entire community -- they went after to me tooth and nail. But every time they write about me they said “This is what Farrakhan said.” But this is not what Farrakhan said in response to what we said and what we did. They never say that. They always paint Farrakhan as the aggressor and the Jewish community as the victims. And this I resent and this is why I continue to try to hold out an olive branch because I sincerely desire for us to sit down and put this chapter behind us and write a new one.
JG: I will cede to you -- I did publicly on several occasions -- that there is a general trend in society to cheapen the name Hitler and cheapen the name Holocaust. Everything now is a holocaust and everybody who does anything remotely wrong is a Hitler, and Jewish groups and Jewish individuals resent it when everyone starts talking about this is like a holocaust and that is the holocaust. Hitler was so extreme; the Holocaust is such an extreme misery, yet it is very hard to compare anything.
Min. LF: Let us stop right there. See, when people compare things to the Holocaust I don't believe they have any intention of insulting what the Jews have suffered. But underlying the Holocaust is a state of mind that existed that all of these people should be destroyed. Now, if African people talk about an African holocaust, Jewish people talk about 6 million lost -- a horrendous number for a small group of people, 6 million is a lot. African people talk about the millions more than 6, more than 10, that were lost in the middle passage as a result of somebody thinking about black people that was universal. They didn’t say that this black will do it against this black, but not that black, but any black that we could catch and make a slave, we made a slave. But look at this, Hitler wanted to kill off the Jews. He was not successful, and the Jews that survived, they survived intact. They had their language. They had their culture. And Hitler never destroyed one atom’s weight of the knowledge that God had given Jews through the intervention of the prophets.
So the Jews could bounce back from a holocaust to be a power all over the world today where blacks and what we call our holocaust have not come back in over four centuries. So when I said -- and Mrs. [Edgar] Bronfman evidently took issue, the night that we met -- and Mr. Goldberg I would not lie to you, if a gun were at my head. We had a beautiful meeting with Edgar Bronfman [president of the World Jewish Congress]. That meeting was arranged by Mr. Mike Wallace, who lived up to his word, and I honor and respect him for what he did. We sat in that meeting, and as God is my judge and if he, Mr. Wallace, and Bronfman would tell the truth, I never once raised money as an issue. That was raised by the person that brought Mike Wallace to me, that is the former manager of Riddick Boe, Rock Newman. Money, in terms of how we can work together, or maybe we could do this or do that. It was an economic thing. And I stopped that kind of talk and I said no. I said the problems between us as people must be ironed out first before we talk about economic cooperation.
Then the night after, I spoke in Brooklyn. And I compared the suffering of the Iraqi people to the Holocaust and then I learned -- I wanted to know why all of a sudden this hostility -- because I never got a letter from Mr. Bronfman or any of his aides saying that he was insulted by what I said. Nor did I intend to insult the Jewish community by looking at the suffering of Iraqi people. Now, I visited Iraq. I went to the hospitals I saw the suffering of the people, a million and a half Iraqis had died because of sanctions. They’re not Jews. They’re Arabs, they’re Muslims, so who cares about them in a Judeo-Christian world? It appears that nobody gives a damn about the suffering of Arabs and Muslims. So I raised their case and I compared it to the suffering of the Jewish people under Hitler.
Now did I strike a nerve? What did I say that was improper? It seems to me that’s what the mentality of the Clinton administration is and some in the Jewish administration in Israel as well: Saddam Hussein is a man we must get rid of. And one of the ways to get rid of a person in power that you don't like is to create conditions in his country under his rule that would cause the people to rise up against him. This is part of policy, and I think it’s wrong policy, it’s wicked policy. But I believe it was the policy of the United States administration to create these kind of sanctions that have never before been placed on any nation -- not in South Africa, nowhere, where Blacks have suffered has any kind of sanction like that been put on a government and a people that caused the continuous loss of life. And so I spoke out and compared that to the Holocaust. Not thinking I would offend Bronfman or Jewish people. And we’re not trying to play down the Holocaust. But we’re trying to show a mentality that led to the slaughter of the Jews that is leading to the slaughter of Africans or Arabs or Muslims or ethnic groups in Europe -- in the Balkans. It's a mental attitude that is reminiscent of Hitler. And that’s what I think I was trying to say.
JG: Why didn't you compare it to the Africa holocaust -- what’s going on in Iraq? According to your standard the African holocaust was an equal or greater suffering than the Jewish Holocaust. In your desire to make it appropriately emotional or striking analogy, why didn't you cite the African holocaust then?
Min. LF: It was because Clinton and those Zionists who hate and want the removal of Saddam Hussein. And they’re not conscious -- or they are conscious of the methodology of removing him. That it is improper. It is not just. It is not fair. It is in contravention of international law, moral law. And so since that Holocaust is so close to the Jews and so close to the world, and the world looked the other way, when the Jews were being put in ovens and the world is looking the other way while Iraqi children and women and old people die. And what I want them to see. There’s Pope Pius looking the other way. Here are religious institutions that said nothing and did nothing. Here are the same religious institutions looking the other way while the Iraqi people are dying. And so what would better show the irresponsibility of the human family toward this tragedy than the Holocaust itself? And that’s why I brought it up, because it is very near to me, while the African holocaust began 400 years ago and what we have today is the residual effects.
JG: What I was going to say before, in reference to the early accusations that you are a new black Hitler, was that in my mind that was in the early example and a Jewish example of misappropriating the Holocaust for temporal and political use. In other words, Hitler to me is the devil, there is no greater devil. You never killed a Jewish person. Hitler killed six million. The stakes were raised to such a level early on that there was the initial miscommunication, where someone introduced the idea of Hitler into the discussion and then everything fell apart. The way I always view it is, the worst thing that ever happened to the Jews is the Holocaust and the worst thing that ever happened to the African people is the middle passage of slavery. We recognize that these are terrible things and there is no reason to compete but what I'm saying is that unlike the middle passage, the Holocaust has been compared to many things that are trivial in comparison. It’s a holocaust on the road due to drunk drivers. It’s a holocaust here. This one is a Hitler that one is a Hitler.
Min. LF: Mr. Goldberg, look. In the breakdown of black-Jewish relations, whenever a black leader has done something different than what Jewish leaders expected that person to do, the Jewish leaders with one brush say he’s anti-Semitic. This term is misused by Jewish leaders, out of their history or fear, I don’t know. But you know the mayor of Los Angeles, Mayor Tom Bradley, had been a friend of the Jewish community, a good friend of the Jewish community. But when he did not do, with respect to me, what members of the Jewish community leadership felt he should do, they said it was anti-Semitic and then when he did what he did, they said was too little, too late. Now all of a sudden, the man that had a 20-year track record of good is now out with the Jewish community. [Nelson] Mandela never had a bad relationship with Jewish people. Mandela -- because he respected Arafat and he respected Khadafi and he respected Fidel Castro -- because these were elements that helped the [African National Congress]. Now when he shows respect to them, the name anti-Semite was used to him. Even when a Jerry Fallwell, or the Senator Percy, somebody does something that the Jewish people feel it could be a legitimate difference. It doesn't mean they hate Jews. But then to say the person is anti-Semitic -- just to use that term to back people off from legitimate criticism of members of the Jewish community, I feel is an extreme trivializing of what a real anti-Semite is.
JG: What is a real anti-Semite?
Min. LF: First of all, the term anti-Semite referring to Jews is bigoted.
JG: Let’s use anti-Jewish then.
Min. LF: Okay. If I were a person who woke up every morning, to try to find a way to stop Jews from the pursuit of happiness and freedom that God intended for Jews and I became an enemy of all of their progressive moves, you could call me anti-Jewish. But Farrakhan never wakes up in the morning with one thought of how can I stop a Jewish person from doing this or doing that, You’ve never seen Farrakhan order a picket line to stop a person from going to a Jewish store. Many of the Muslims right now even through this controversy go to Kosher meat markets and buy from Jews. We are not anti-Jewish. What we are anti is that which impedes our progress toward the full realization of what God intends for us. And that’s what everybody should be anti. But to play it like Farrakhan has some grand plan that if he gets black people together he’s gonna kill Jews, and make it difficult for Jews, man that hurts. And you know what Mr. Goldberg, on the day that I had my greatest triumph was the Million Man March. Now think about how a man with nearly 2 million black men which there’s not another, except a super power that has a 2 million man army. Here’s 2 million men standing in front of me and what do I say? Did I say come on black men, let’s rise up and harm Jews? I said if you could sit down and talk with Palestinians while there are rivers of blood between Arabs and Jews, and there is no bloodletting between us -- why shouldn't we sit down?
It seems to me that at the height of my quote, unquote influence or power if you will, with my own people that should have been the time, if that were dormant and hiding around in the back of my mind that I would have come out and shown the Jewish communities -- see all what you have done against, look how powerful I am, and as a result of that we going to come after you guys. No, I offered an olive branch and the next day, that olive branch blah blah blah and you made mockery -- not you -- but Foxman and others made mockery of a sincere effort. And that’s why I think that although Jews are magnificent, in terms of finance, and business, art and culture, you don't made good politicians. You just don't seem to know your friends and your enemies and sometimes you are so sensitive because of history and because of your suffering that every time something touches where you hurt, you overreact to it. I can understand that. If there's a wound on your hand, and it’s painful if I just touched it, you know I just might get a Whoa!!! because of all the pain that is there.
JG: You concede that you touched that wound? Not that you hit it with a baseball bat, but that you touched the wound?
Min. LF: Yes I have. Yes I have. I concede that. And so have those Jewish leaders touched wounds with us.
[To be continued.]