May 15, 2019
Days after Facebook banned Louis Farrakhan for his antisemitic posts on its platform, a controversial Roman Catholic priest at a predominately black parish in Chicago invited the Nation of Islam leader to his pulpit.
“I’m here to separate the good Jews from the Satanic Jews,” Farrakhan told a packed church. “I have not said one word of hate. I do not hate Jewish people. Not one that is with me has ever committed a crime against the Jewish people, black people, white people, no matter what your color is. As long as you don’t attack us, we don’t bother you.”
But Farrakhan’s decades-long track record tells a different story. His hatred for Jews and others is well-established, which is why AJC welcomed Facebook’s decision last week to ban him along with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and alt-right author Milo Yiannopoulos. While Yiannopoulos and Jones have stoked antisemitism among their followers in recent years, Farrakhan has spewed antisemitic vitriol for decades
“They may have the right to spread vile hatred but Facebook has the right (and responsibility) to say ‘not on our platform,’” AJC tweeted.
The invitation to speak in St. Sabina Catholic Church in Chicago wasn’t the first. Farrakhan’s friendship with the priest and anti-violence activist there, Father Michael Pfleger, has made the Nation of Islam leader a fixture at the church. In 2009, Pfleger shared his pulpit with Farrakhan, calling him prophetic.
But Pfleger has always been an outlier, said Emily Soloff, AJC’s Chicago-based Associate Director for Interreligious and Intergroup Relations. This situation is no different. His tolerance of antisemitism belies significant strides in Jewish Catholic relations. If anything, the situation underscores that there is much work to be done in Black-Jewish relations.
Dov Wilker, Director of Black-Jewish Relations for AJC, said there is no doubt that Farrakhan still has influence in the Black community. During a visit to Capitol Hill before the Facebook ban, he said, the name of the Nation of Islam leader came up multiple times in conversations.
Many people associate Farrakhan with the Million Man March, a political demonstration he organized in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 16, 1995, to emphasize African-American unity and family values.
“It impacts our work because there are those people who believe he does good and therefore they’re willing to overlook the bad,” Wilker said. “There’s still a following there. When he repeats something terrible that he said before, where are the people condemning him? As long as his bigotry isn’t targeting them, they give him a pass.”
Last year, despite public pressure, Tamika Mallory, organizer of the Women’s March, would not denounce Farrakhan’s hateful rhetoric in a Saviours’ Day speech she had attended.
“You want people to call out bigotry on all sides,” Wilker said.
Farrakhan has also directed his contempt toward homosexuality and white people in general. But Jews have been his primary target over the years. He has accused Israelis of warning Jews not to go to work on September 11, 2001. He has called Hezbollah terrorists “freedom fighters.” He has said Jews are responsible for the Holocaust because they trusted Hitler and helped him. At the end of a talk at the University of Tehran law school last year, he led the chant “Death to Israel” and “Death to America.” And at last year’s celebration of Saviours’ Day, which commemorates the birth of the Nation of Islam’s founder, Master Wallace Fard Muhammad, Farrakhan said God sent him to do what Jesus couldn’t: “end the civilization of the Jews.”
The Vatican, on the other hand, has adopted a drastically different tone. In March, during a meeting with an AJC delegation to Rome, Pope Francis expressed “great concern” about “an excessive and depraved hatred” spreading in many places around the world.
On the eve of that visit, Francis agreed to unseal the long secret archives of Pope Pius XII, head of the Catholic Church during the Holocaust era. And just last week, at the same time Farrakhan was speaking at St. Sabina, AJC convened scholars in Rome who convinced Pope Francis to stop using “Pharisee” as a synonym for hypocrite.
During the time of Jesus, Pharisees were the Jewish sect that enforced the observance of ancient laws. In fact, they are the forefathers of Rabbinic Judaism. To refer to them as self-righteous hypocrites carries antisemitic overtones.
Cardinal Blase Cupich, leader of the Chicago archdiocese, condemned Farrakhan’s remarks as having more than just overtones.
“Minister Farrakhan could have taken the opportunity to deliver a unifying message of God’s love for all his children. Instead, he repeatedly smeared the Jewish people, using a combination of thinly veiled discriminatory rhetoric and outright slander,” Cupich said.
“Antisemitic rhetoric — discriminatory invective of any kind — has no place in American public life, let alone in a Catholic church,” Cupich said.
While the archdiocese was proactive about reaching out to the Jewish community, Soloff said, there is always room for more progress. Jewish organizations, including AJC, have recommended that the cardinal convene a Black-Jewish conversation to heal the damage done. She said AJC considers the Catholic Church a partner, not an adversary in this situation.
“At some point,” she said, “we have to trust our partners will do what is right.”