Last week, Tamika Mallory, one of the Women’s March co-chairs, attended an anti-Semitic speech by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, in which he specifically mentioned her, and she enthusiastically posted a photo featuring herself and Farrakhan to Instagram.
Now, Farrakhan is a vicious anti-Semite (among their other sins, Jews, he said last week, encourage "degenerate behavior in Hollywood turning men into women and women into men.”) It is indeed gross that Mallory is currying favor with a despicable man.
But as we pillory her, we should remember: currying favor with despicable men is the foundation of American Jewish institutions and life.
Don’t believe me?
Well, think about Birthright, the Jewish institutional world’s largest bet to instill a Jewish identity in the next generation. Since 2007, Birthright has received $140 million from one Sheldon Adelson, a man who also gave $25 million to Donald Trump, insists that Palestinians do not exist, and whose corporation, in their own admission, likely bribed a Chinese politician.
Or for that matter, take AIPAC, which regularly hosts the anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and crazily conspiratorial Pastor John Hagee, simply because Hagee leads a massive bloc of Christian Zionists.
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Or take The New Republic, once the unofficial home of liberal Jewish intellectualism, which survived for years on the cash infusions of the deeply unsavory Marty Peretz ("Muslim life is cheap," “many in the black population are afflicted by cultural deficiencies," etc.).
Adelson, Hagee, and Peretz are just the famous ones. Every professional Jew I knew has horror stories about their local Farrakhan: an older man with deep pockets and an even deeper reservoir of hatred. You tolerate - and frequently even honor - these men because they are powerful and rich, and because if you run a struggling non-profit or a synagogue, telling off major donors is suicide.
Furthermore, when Jewish organizations and associate with awful people, they often aren’t subject to the same critiques Mallory is. Progressive, and particularly black, political power in the United States is by its nature public: based on showy protest, mass demonstration, the mobilization of grassroots publics.
Whether she’s an anti-Semite or not, Mallory likely attended Farrakhan’s rally for the same reason black leaders often praise him: he is a legendary elder, he commands tens of thousands of loyal followers, and he turns out mass crowds. His viciousness is thus constantly on display.
By contrast, the embarrassing views of old Jewish men rarely make headlines, because donors often don’t make speeches. Money is so comfortably discrete, so reassuringly quiet.
None of this is right or moral, and I am not trying to exculpate Mallory. She cannot be defended, and her attempts to explain herself (“If your leader does not have the same enemies as Jesus, they may not be THE leader”) have only made thing worse.
But her moral cowardice is something we ought to understand and recognize as our own. Farrakhan is, in a way, a stock figure of contemporary Jewish culture, the crazy uncle whose views are abhorrent but who is still invited back for Seder every year.
And that means that the Jews gleefully attacking her might, as one Jewish leader liked to say, consider removing the beams in their own eyes rather than the mote in their neighbor’s. Let he who has never buttered up a bigot tweet the first denunciation.
Raphael Magarik is a Phd Candidate in English and Jewish Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Twitter: @raffimagarik