When conspiracy theories are taken seriously

In his attempt to turn the controversy over poet Amiri Baraka’s visit to Yale into a referendum on Israel, Sahm Adrangi ’03 failed to point out that Baraka’s appearance was not about Israel. It was about anti-Semitism.

In fact, John Stuart Mill would have been proud of the way the Baraka situation was handled at Yale. By opposing what Baraka stands for, the Yale Daily News and the students who joined the protest demonstrated their right to freedom of speech.

But this is not about Baraka’s First Amendment freedom, as Mr. Adrangi asserts. To call Baraka “controversial” is not enough; Baraka is an anti-Semite.

Mr. Adrangi claims that opposition to Baraka’s hatemongering comes from “the prevalence of Jews in American media, business and politics,” including at the Yale Daily News. In an attempt to provide a reason for his claim, he says that he is not “pointing to a secret Jewish conspiracy aimed at promoting Israel.”

That is exactly what he is doing.

The anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews control the media, business and politics has nothing to do with Israel. It existed long before the Jewish State’s establishment in 1948. It unfortunately remains alive today with anti-Semites using the notorious czarist forgery “the Learned Protocols of the Elders of Zion” to promote their cause.

Is it any wonder, then, that the Anti-Defamation League is concerned by the rise of a new anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Israel and Jews were complicit in the Sept. 11 attacks? Mr. Adrangi calls the claim that 4,000 Jews did not show up to work at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, a “far-fetched conspiracy theory.” In many parts of the Arab and Islamic world, this “Big Lie” is the standard belief about the Sept. 11 attacks. A recent Gallup poll has shown that 60 percent of peoples in nine Arab and Muslim countries believe that Israel or Jews, and not Osama bin-Laden, were responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

Baraka has a long history of anti-Semitism. In his mid-1960s poem, “For Tom Postell, Dead Black Poet,” Baraka wrote, “I got the extermination blues, jewboys. I got the hitler syndrome figured.” His 1966 poem “Black Art” speaks of wanting “dagger poems in the slimy bells of the owner-Jews.” In 1970, Baraka said, “Zionists control the radio, the television, the movies, the education, the intellectual life of the United States, the morality of the United States-Judeo-Christian ethics. The minute you condemn them publicly, you die. They will declare a war on you forever.” It should be clear to everyone that when Baraka says Zionists, he means Jews.

We have a responsibility to exercise our free speech rights to speak out against hate, no matter against whom it is directed. We do not, as Mr. Adrangi asserts, condone hatred of Muslims and Arab-Americans. In the days following the Sept. 11 attacks, the ADL placed ads in The New York Times and other prominent newspapers urging Americans to desist from committing or even contemplating retaliatory acts against Muslims and Arab-Americans. We have condemned attacks on mosques and the distribution of hate literature targeting Arabs and Muslims. We have called on the INS to thoroughly investigate allegations of discrimination of Middle Eastern men detained under new immigration procedures.

The ADL also believes that Israel, a democratic state, and its policies are open to legitimate criticism. But spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jewish influence and control over events, as Baraka and Mr. Adrangi have done, does not fall into the category of legitimate criticism.

Baraka’s visit to Yale has nothing to do with Israel. Plain and simple, he is an anti-Semite who spreads hatred.



Abraham H. Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

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