Discover more from Journal of Free Black Thought
When Black People Defend Israel & the Jews
The racial attacks against those who speak truth
Antisemitism / racism
WHEN BLACK PEOPLE DEFEND ISRAEL & THE JEWS
The racial attacks against those who speak truth
Dr. Tabia Lee
Dr. Tabia Lee is the former Faculty Director for the Office of Equity at De Anza College in Cupertino, California. She is also a founding member of Free Black Thought, whose journal has featured previous posts (here and here) by my organization, Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel (IBSI). Dr. Lee was fired from her job for daring to challenge what has become progressive orthodoxy in regard to diversity. As the New York Post put it, she wasn’t woke enough. One of Dr. Lee’s unforgivable sins? Fighting against antisemitism and Israel-hatred. For the past two weeks, Dr. Lee has appeared on many news programs and podcasts discussing her experience at De Anza and the state of education and diversity on U.S. college campuses. I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Lee this week.
Dr. Lee began her work at De Anza College in August 2021. This included serving on the Equity Action Council (EAC). Two weeks into her service, she was contacted by Jewish students and faculty about the antisemitism they were experiencing. A representative from Hillel of Silicon Valley also visited the EAC and presented a large amount of documented evidence of Jew-hatred on campus. One recommendation from Hillel was to update the webpage to say that De Anza stands against antisemitism. When Dr. Lee attempted to act on the concerns, she was told by her team members and the supervising dean that nothing would be done. “We get recommendations all the time,” her supervising dean said. “We’ve gotten recommendations from CAIR (Council on Islamic Relations), and we haven’t done anything about those.” I was intrigued by this statement.
It seems that whenever Dr. Lee sought to address any form of anti-religious, antisemitic, or even Islamophobic issues, her colleagues were uninterested. They were also uninterested in promoting genuine efforts to celebrate ethnic heritage whether Jewish, Arab (Dr. Lee initiated the first Arab-American heritage month on campus), or Indian (specifically the Sikh religion). According to Dr. Lee, there was overwhelming student support for these efforts and in Spring 2022 the De Anza Student Body voted to recognize and support the Heritage Month Workgroup that Dr. Lee founded and co-chaired. The students were all in. It was her staff and some members of the Academic Senate leadership that criticized and attacked Dr. Lee’s movements toward true Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. I asked her about it.
Me: Why was that?
Dr. Lee: A common refrain was, “what we’re focused on is the struggle. We’ve got to de-center whiteness and keep our focus on that!”
Let us pause for a moment and consider the maniacal and deeply troubling nature of that statement, found all too often throughout progressive anti-racist spaces. Faculty at an institution of higher learning believe that studying about and celebrating one’s ethnic or religious background is misguided as it distracts from the focus on whiteness (white privilege, white supremacy, etc.). In other words, Black Americans, Africans, Arabs, Jews, Asians, Native Americans…should not learn about or take pride in their heritage. They should only understand their heritage in the context of (racist) White people. Otherwise, they do not exist.
Undaunted, Dr. Lee organized the first Jewish Inclusion & Anti-Semitism Community Education Summit at De Anza College in the winter of 2022. Featured speakers included student panelists and representatives from Hillel of Silicon Valley, Alums for Campus Fairness, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, National Jewish Advocacy Center, JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to North Africa & the Middle East), and AMCHA Initiative. De Anza refused to help promote or support the multi-week event in any form, though it did heartily promote a subsequent anti-Israel, antisemitic event.
Me: What was the response to your efforts to educate on and combat antisemitism?
Dr. Lee: I learned from my colleagues that I was being called a “dirty Zionist” because of the (Jewish) guests that I brought.
Dr. Lee was also called a “right-wing extremist” by faculty colleagues for having the audacity to seek out diverse perspectives. The reply she gave me when we talked should be required reading for all DEI departments everywhere.
We learn through dialogue and being in community. I’m bringing people who represent perspectives that are marginalized and silenced here so we can learn more about and better understand each other. I’m bringing guests who are talking about intersectionality through a Jewish lens—the beautiful diversity of the (Jewish) diaspora. I’m not going far right or far left. I’m bringing people who are talking about, “how do we unify?” and “how do we make this space safe and inclusive for everyone?” That wasn’t acceptable to my supervising dean or her aligned collegues. They wanted me to stick to far left, “Progressive” folks only, and to not elevate or make space for any other type of voice.
April Powers is Black and Jewish. She is also the former DEI Director for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). In May 2021, during Israel’s last war against the terrorist organization Hamas in Gaza, April issued a public statement condemning antisemitism. Jews were being attacked on the streets of New York, Los Angeles, Paris, and elsewhere across the Western world. Jewish neighborhoods, businesses, and synagogues were also being vandalized. On social media, Jew-hatred was being seen at historic levels. After posting her statement, April was mercilessly attacked on social media, especially by anti-Israel activist Razan Abdin-Adnani. April was accused of Islamophobia and not caring about Palestinians as the Hamas war was distorted beyond recognition. “I was also called a white supremacist,” April recounted to me.
Investigative journalist, David Collier explains:
Eventually, SCBWI actually issued a public apology for making the statement on antisemitism. And whatever did go on behind closed doors, left April Powers feeling so isolated that she felt the need to resign. In the end, the victim of the SCBWI statement on antisemitism—the person who paid the price and was bullied out of her job—was the black Jewish woman.
The SCBWI apology was written by their Executive Director, Lin Oliver. The statement says that they have accepted the resignation of April Powers and that they apologise for absolutely everything. SCBWI bowed before the haters, stripped down and publicly flagellated themselves.
April, however, had this to say about SCBWI’s apology. “I will not apologize for making a statement on anti-Semitism. It needed to be said and it still needs to be said. The silence is deafening.”
Professor Jason D. Hill
Africa-Israel Weekly has written about Professor Jason D. Hill of DePaul University in a piece entitled, The Problem of 'Uppity' Blacks. Professor Hill has filed a lawsuit against DePaul for its treatment of him after writing an op-ed for The Federalist called The Moral Case For Israel Annexing The West Bank—And Beyond. That was enough for Professor Hill’s colleagues to launch vicious, personal, racially motivated attacks against him. As IBSI Executive Director, Joshua Washington wrote:
Professor…Hill has been the recipient of intense vitriol, defamation, and racism on campus, not by men in white sheets or a group of people with swastikas tattooed on their necks. No, but by his colleagues at DePaul. The quickness with which supposed champions of compassion turn to hate-filled bigotry is quite astounding. From Hill’s colleague, professor Nila Ginger Hofman, calling his country of origin a “sh*t-hole country,” to other coworkers fighting tooth and nail for Hill not to receive tenure, to the wound-opening echoes of the racially pejorative “uppity” in reference to him, Hill has been persona-non-grata at his workplace.
Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY)
Black Congressional Representative from New York, Ritchie Torres, is a staunch supporter of Israel. He is also a Progressive Democrat who contends that he supports the Jewish State, “not despite my progressive values, but because of my progressive values.” Yet, for Israel haters, Torres is still labeled a white supremacist. As quoted in the Metro Voice, Torres said:
The moment I sent out a statement denouncing the terrorism of Hamas, I was swiftly demonized by extremists as a white supremacist, as a supporter of apartheid/ethnic cleansing/genocide. Although these comments cause great pain to my loved ones, I remain as determined as ever to speak out. And if I can speak out, then anyone can. And everyone must.
The list of Black leaders who support Israel and denounce Jew-hatred is long and stretches back to the 1960s when Dr. King and civil rights leaders stood up for the Jewish State. Dr. King was also “denounced” as a Zionist by Israel’s enemies. Over the past 50+ years, the false narrative of Israel as a racist regime has created an expectation that Black people would naturally denounce Israel and claim solidarity with the Palestinians. This is particularly true on college campuses and in the media. When Black people do not toe that pre-scripted line, they are demeaned as those who have somehow betrayed their ethnicity—they are white supremacists. These attacks are launched out of hatred and ignorance.
Rep. Torres continued:
We cannot allow ourselves to be silenced by an overbearing Twitter mob, dominated by the extremes of American politics. If we, in elected office, are not willing to say and do what is right, then we are unworthy of the office we hold.
Whether in Congress, in the corporate world, or on a college campus, these words are true for us all.
Dumisani Washington is the Founder and CEO of the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel (IBSI) and the former Diversity Outreach Coordinator for the over 10 million member Christians United for Israel (CUFI). He is a pastor, graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and professional musician, and author. His latest book is Zionism and the Black Church: Why Standing with Israel Will be a Defining Issue for Christians of Color in the 21st Century (now in its second edition). He and his wife, Valerie, have been married nearly 34 years and have six children and three grandchildren. He has published previously with Journal of Free Black Thought here.
A version of this essay was previously published at Africa-Israel Weekly.
NOTE: We originally published this with the phrase “the Jews” in the title, then changed it to “Jews,” and then finally, after consultation with a Jewish civil rights leader friend, changed it back to the original. We apologize for our editorial indecisiveness.