A version of this article first appeared in The Hill.
Imagine President Trump being invited to speak at the funeral of a white singer who he admired (say, Ted Nugent, if he were to pass) and seeing that David Duke was on stage in a place of honor. Well, President Clinton gave a speech in the presence of Louis Farrakhan at the funeral for Aretha Franklin. Hillary Clinton was sitting off to the side but did not speak.
Why would President Clinton, a good man and a friend of the Jewish people, do this? There are several possible answers. First, he was taken by surprise at Farrakhan’s presence and didn’t want to do anything to disrupt the service. But the “shoe on the other foot” question remains: Would he have acted similarly if it had been Duke rather than Farrakhan?
Second, Clinton doesn’t believe that refusing to sit alongside a bigot is the proper response to bigotry. Again the “shoe on the other foot” question remains: Would he sit alongside Duke?
Third, Clinton doesn’t regard Farrakhan as comparable to Duke. But that is simply wrong. Farrakhan is a blatant anti-semite with an enormous following. Finally, Farrakhan’s antisemitism is not considered as serious a problem as Duke’s white supremacy. But without getting into comparisons of bigotry, antisemitism is a serious and growing problem.
Farrakhan is at least as bigoted as Duke. This is a man who only last year called Jews members of the “Synagogue of Satan” and claimed that Jesus called Jews the “children of the devil.” Farrakhan is also a homophobe claiming that Jews are “responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out turning men into women and women into men.” In the past, Farrakhan delivered similar remarks claiming that “when you want something in this world, the Jew holds the door” and calling Adolf Hitler “a very great man.” He’s also a racist claiming a few years ago that “white people deserve to die.”
Many younger people on the left may not know the extent of Farrakhan’s bigotry, or they may condone it by claiming he did a service for African American communities. For example, Tamika Mallory, cofounder of the Women’s March, called Farrakhan a “GOAT,” or greatest of all time, and Congressman Keith Ellison, deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee, once called him a “role model for black youth.”
Earlier this year, a photo of Barack Obama smiling with Farrakhan taken in 2005 emerged. (Although I supported President Obama, both in 2008 and 2012, I would not have campaigned as enthusiastically for him had I known then about this suppressed photograph.) Ellison, who may become Minnesota’s next attorney general, later distanced himself from Farrakhan but, like Mallory, claimed that Farrakhan’s contribution to African American empowerment is “complex.” Would we accept this kind of complexity and nuance if a white singer’s family had invited Duke?
Liberals need to make unequivocally clear that the Democratic Party tent will never be big enough for anti-semites and anti-Americans like Farrakhan, just as Republicans need to do the same with sympathizers of the alt-right. There are not “good people” on the side of antisemitism, any more than there are “good people” on the side of white supremacy.
There is no place for a double standard when it comes to antisemitism. Black antisemitism should not get a pass on account of the oppression suffered by so many African Americans. Neither should “progressive” tolerance of antisemitism of the kind shown by Bernie Sanders backing Jeremy Corbyn, the antisemite leader of the British Labour Party who may well become the next prime minister of America’s closest ally.
Just contrast the Aretha Franklin memorial service with the controversy surrounding the decision of the New Yorker to invite Steve Bannon for what promised to be a critical conversation with the magazine’s editor, David Remnick. After many prominent liberals, such as Judd Apatow, Jim Carrey and Patton Oswalt, announced that they would not attend lest they “normalize hatred,” Bannon was disinvited. Chelsea Clinton tweeted, “For anyone who wonders what normalization of bigotry looks like, please look no further than Steve Bannon being invited by both @TheEconomist & @NewYorker to their respective events in #NYC a few weeks apart.”
To that I would add, look no further than the Clintons sharing the stage with Farrakhan. I hope they will take this occasion to distance themselves from, and strongly condemn, Farrakhan’s antisemitism.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus, atHarvard Law School. He is the author of “Trumped Up: How Criminalizing Politics is Dangerous to Democracy” and “The Case Against Impeaching Trump.” He is on Twitter @AlanDersh and Facebook @AlanMDershowitz.