As if the saga of Trayon White, the embattled Washington, D.C. city councilman who recorded himself castigating Jewish bankers for controlling the weather, wasn’t already deeply disturbing on a number of levels, it appears that some of those who support him think nothing of moving from the realm of implied anti-Semitism into the territory of outright Jew hatred.
Ironically, at a “unity rally” designed to tamp down inter-community strife — as well as to defend White against calls to reprimand him for donating $500 in public funds to a Nation of Islam event in February where Louis Farrakhan described Jews as “my enemy” — Farrakhan’s mid-Atlantic representative, Abdul Khadir Muhammad, went after Elissa Silverman, the Jewish at-large councilwoman who has been among White’s staunchest critics.
“What is the fake Jew that calls themselves Jews, the ADL, the JDL,” Muhammad said into a bullhorn held by a onetime consultant to D.C.’s mayor. “You got your nerve to say Farrakhan can’t come back to D.C. What nerve are you, you fake Jew?”
Silverman rightfully called for the dismissal of the rally’s organizer, who until Tuesday sat on the city’s housing board, and quite properly railed against the “disturbing tolerance [in the city] for anti-Jewish hate speech.” But we see the problem of inner-city anti-Semitism as being much larger than White and the ward he represents.
Like many incredibly poor and predominantly African-American urban neighborhoods across the United States, the Nation of Islam has strong support in Ward 8. The group provides a disciplined social welfare structure in areas where government seems unwilling or unable to provide residents with services or hope. And so the Nation of Islam steps in with its baggage of anti-Semitism and shifted blame, and people like White are elected to citywide office carrying the conspiracy theories against Jews that no one questions.
And why would they, especially if they’ve never met a Jew to plant a seed of doubt in their minds? That’s essentially what Silverman was doing when she invited White to a Passover seder following his Rothschilds remark. White responded positively. But then came the exposure of his Nation of Islam connection and reports of his early departure from a Jewish community-sponsored visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
White either has a very long learning curve ahead of him, or no interest in stretching himself beyond what the Nation of Islam has taught him. This presents a challenge for our community. We pride ourselves on our support for the 50-year-old Civil Rights movement. But most of our African-American interlocutors are, like us, middle class, educated and professional people. Perhaps, in order to address our real audience we need to go farther. We can’t offer what the Nation of Islam offers, and shouldn’t try to do so. But perhaps we should try to figure out a way to offer another voice and presence that is heard and seen throughout our cities.