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Reggie Yates, and the Jewish Religious Fundamentalist ‘Get out of Jail Card’ on Racism?

by Gavin Lewis
24 Jan 2018 • Comment (0) • Print
Posted: General Issue [10] | Commons

This doesn’t mean that we are anti-Jews or anti-Semitic—we’re anti-exploitation.

Malcolm X [1]

The Ghanaian-British TV presenter Reggie Yates has just had to step down as a TOTP music chart show host after a month-old comment about self-determination for Black-British musical artists was splashed in the corporate media as ‘offensive’ to sections of the Jewish community. Yates had stated “The thing that makes it great about this new generation of artists is that they ain’t signing to majors. “They’re independent, they’re not managed by some random fat Jewish guy from north west London, they’re managed by their brethren.”[2] The historical complicity of white ethnic groups in racial oppression has usually been beyond doubt and the films of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro[3]actually draw attention to incidents of Italian-American racism. If Yates had therefore said ‘random fat Italian guy’ there would have hardly been the same furore. So what purpose does this constructed outrage serve other than to give a particular white ethnic group an exemption on matters of racism, and sideline the real issues of generations of racist exploitation and cultural appropriation?  Are we supposed to forget how many Black artists have died in literal or relative poverty, while generating fortunes for their white management?

This is an attempt by the rabid right of the Jewish diaspora of constructing a ‘get out of jail card’ for racism is far from new. In 2016 the Jamaican-Jewish activist Jackie Walker pointed out that Jewish entrepreneurs had been “financiers of the sugar and slave trade” and “the African holocaust”[4]and she too was subsequently smeared for supposed anti-semitism. However, Jewish histories such as Rabbi Dr Marc Lee Raphael’s 1983 book Jews and Judaism in the United States: A Documentary History states on the issue of slavery, “in all the American colonies, whether French (Martinique), British, or Dutch, Jewish merchants frequently dominated.”[5] Similarly to publicise his book The Jewish Slave, Rabbi Lody van de Kamp gave an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, in which he pointed that even in the Dutch slave colonies alone “Jews controlled about 17 percent of the Caribbean trade.”[6]

Nor was this the historical end of this exploiter vs exploited relationship or of ‘get out of jail’ attempts to excuse it. In the postwar era Malcolm X gave a number of interviews complaining of Jewish business mobilising their economic class and white privileges in exploiting poor Black African-American communities. Here too, an attempt was made to over-write scrutiny of racism with the accusing smear of anti-semitism. However as Malcolm pointed out at the time, “This doesn’t mean that we are anti-Jews or anti-Semitic—we’re anti-exploitation.”[7]

The recent upsurge in anti-semitism smears has most prominently been mobilised in defence of Israel’s White settler racial oppressions – known as Israeli Apartheid – and are apparently designed to block the resulting criticism. Even leaving aside the Palestinian’s colonial oppressions, the reality is – as numerous examples have demonstrated – that Israel has one immigration/visitation criteria for white Jews and another far more severe one for Black Jews designed to block and impede the latter’s entry.[8] Even if you had made it into the country along with a generation of Black Ethiopian Jews, you would have been subjected to regular forced injections of a long lasting contraceptive drug Depo-Provera (a policy of temporary sterilization – that deliberately plummeted Ethiopian-Israeli reproductive rates by at least 20%).[9] Since that time Israel’s hospitals and Red Cross have dumped, so-called ‘Black-blood’ donations as apparently unclean.[10] Some neighbourhoods have been found to be practicing ‘Whites only’ housing policies.[11]And Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has justified the expulsion of tens-of-thousands of African refugees by the pejorative labelling “infiltrators.”[12]

The research by the writer David Sheen – some of it on video and which has to be viewed to be believed[13] – appears to demonstrate that Israel is developing a mutated form of street lynch mob culture.  In the US, racists rationalised lynching attacks by the fiction that they were a response to a sexual threat to White women – a mythology that early proto-feminist activists did their level best to dispel.[14] Similarly in Israel mob abuse, intimidation and assaults are rationalised by demonising Black Jews and African refugees as rapists. In a brutal irony Sheen’s footage reveals that lone white feminists who attempt to protect Black Jews from attack often then have the threat of rape invoked against them by the same mobs. Sheen has also documented physical attacks on Black Jews who go out with White girls.[15] He records that as of December 2016 the systemic nature of violence confronting Black Jews – including by police/state authorities – resulted in hundreds of them going on strike and refusing their IDF reservist status.[16]

For those supporting Israel’s racial oppressions it is of obvious strategic importance to establish a taboo against Jews being scrutinised for racism (in recent years the country has attempted to gain global acceptance of an expanded notion of anti-semitism that includes “claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor[17]). The idea that white religious fundamentalism trumps and excuses racism, is the major rhetorical prop responsible for rationalising ongoing Israeli colonialism. It is also the failed excuse for white settler oppressions that progressives in the west had long ago previously rejected.  Dutch Boers attempted to excuse South African Apartheid’s original oppressions with the religious mythology that to them, ‘this was the land promised in the book of Joshua.’ Israel has also attempted to excuse its own white settler offences with a Jewish variant of this religious fundamentalist ‘promised land’ entitlement mythology, but – even for those who care less about the brutalised exterminated Palestinians – claims marketing this colonialism as simply ‘a Jewish state’ are undermined by the similar western settler oppression of Black Jews and of indigenous middle-eastern Jews too, who deemed too primitive to raise their own children suffered, having their newborn babies forcibly fostered – ‘stolen’ – to White Settlers in ‘the Yemenite Children’s Affair’.[18] This latter eugenics-type social-engineering scandal has opened up wider concerns about the plight within Israel of indigenous middle-eastern “darker-skinned Jews”. Yemenite-Israeli historian Rafi Shubeli has asked, “Zionism – what is it really about?”  ”What were its intentions towards Mediterranean Jews, the Jews of the Islamic world? “There are very many elements in Israeli society who want to avoid this kind of discussion.”[19]

However the facilitating ‘anti-semitism smears overwriting scrutiny of racism’ dynamic, has been helped by the fawning strategic hypocrisy of the UK’s and wider corporate media. Whatever affront Yates clumsy comments might have generated, do they really equal the historical offences of Cambridge educated Jewish comedians David Baddiel and Sacha Baron Cohen?  Baddiel Blacked-up and spent an entire series of the TV show ‘Fantasy Football’ inciting tens-of-thousands of people to mock the ‘locks-&-cornrows’ ethnic appearance of the footballer Jason Lee (as a consequence Black children apparently experienced copy-cat racial abuse).[20] Infamously in addressing his ‘is it coz I’s Black’ catch-phrase to a UK policeman, Cohen’s Ali-G minstrel guise character’s mockery of the proliferation of Black street culture, actually parodied the basic grievance of racism itself – this in disregard of the issues of Black deaths at the hands of the police and disproportionate mass incarceration.[21] Yet try finding anything like the same indignant press coverage? Despite his history, the Guardian even occasionally uses Baddiel as a columnist in its pro-Israel/anti-left moral panics.

David Baddiel’s ‘Pineapple-Head’ mockery of Black ethnic appearance.[22]

Nor is this ‘get out of jail’ tactic restricted to racism. In an era when overt media anti-gay bigotry was the norm and following years of British tabloids routinely referring to gay men as paedophiles, the anti-racist rainbow-coalition politician Ken Livingstone was smeared for objecting to the homophobia of an uninvited Evening Standard journalist stalking a gay political event,[23] who Livingstone condemned as acting “just like a concentration camp guard.” Astonishingly, there were retroactive attempts to suggest that this apparent homophobia could be excused by the Jewish identity of the reporter.  Yet, homophobias in sections of the Jewish community are far from isolated and can be linked to issues of racism as a manifestation of social contamination paranoia. In 2016 Taj Paterson, a Black Gay New Yorker, wandered into an area dominated by a White Jewish Fundamentalism Vigilante Shomrim gang and – as covered extensively by the New York Post – was pinned and beaten until his eye socket collapsed resulting in partial blindness[24] In September 2017 Pink News expanded on a story largely buried by the corporate media that “An Israeli MP has been forced to resign – after attending his nephew’s same-sex wedding…Parts of Israel are liberal on LGBT rights, but homophobia is rife in parts of the country and among ultra-Orthodox communities.”[25] When Black or Muslim groups are accused of these patterns of bigotry, by comparison, the corporate media usually devotes editorial and letters space to demands that these communities, ‘get their house in order.’

It is a bitter irony that the other victims of current anti-semitism smears are a large number of anti-racist Jews. Among those smeared as anti-semites have been the internationalist organisation, ‘Jewish Voice for Peace’, ‘Free Speech on Israel’ (Jewish organiser Naomi Indriss-Wimborne has actually been condemned on Zionist websites for intermarriage), ‘Jewish Voice for Labour,’ Tony Greenstein of ‘the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’, Jamaican-Jewish activist Jackie Walker, Jewish Academic Norman Finkelstein, Jewish writers Max Blumenthal, Jonathan Cook, David Sheen and many others.

Illustrating the desperate McCarthyite scatter-gun approach of these smears, The Guardian’s pro-Israel opinion editor Jonathan Freedland has also led attempts to label the internationally acclaimed filmmaker Ken Loach – with his many decades long history of standing up for numerous oppressed groups including the Palestinians – as a supposed holocaust denier.[26] Recently Amnesty International’s refusal to debate with lobbyists supporting Israel’s exploitation of the occupied territories was – in an apparent thematic, ideological and subjective inversion – labelled in The Guardian headlines as “UK Jewish group calls Amnesty ‘disgraceful’ over cancelled debate.”[27] Unsurprisingly high profile BAME figures have been also been prominent among those attacked.  These include the former NUS President Malia Bouattia and MP Naz Shah. Similarly the Black South-African Nobel prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu has actually been denied entry to Israel[28] and some reports suggest the same prohibition has been extended to Jewish-Jamaican Jackie Walker. Israeli news obituaries similarly attacked the late Muhammad Ali, labelling his critiques of Zionism a ‘legacy of anti-semitism’[29] which echoes similar previous smears aimed at Malcolm X and a former practice of suggesting Black Power athletes were giving ‘Nazi-like salutes’.

It’s worth reflecting on how we got to this moment. For a little short of two decades, the White colonial ideology of Zionism was officially defined as a form of racism by UN resolution 3379 until ultimately it was revoked by the intervention of USA’s disproportionate global political leverage – obviously the US has its own racism blind spot, stemming from its ongoing post-civil-war Black human rights crisis. Things have declined so significantly that these days racist-Zionist propagandists of White settler colonialism can appear unchallenged on TV news shows as apparent respectable voices. Neoliberal colonised news outlets – including The Guardian, Independent and New Statesman magazine – not only smear anti-racist activists but actually employ staff who practice ‘racism denial’[30] of the very type of incidents that feature footnoted in this article.  Hypercritically, despite corporate media’s occasional ‘free speech under attack’ moral panics, no anti-racist/anti-colonial personnel or their arguments are permitted the space to rebut these establishment ideologies. In this manner, news outlets have managed to institutionalise at the level of editorial practice, the colonial era taboo, prohibiting the slave from ‘talking-back’, to question the slave master.

Surely enough is enough? This must be the time for all people of colour to show solidarity with our anti-racist Jewish friends who despite their large numbers have been fighting an unequal battle against highly financed corporate media racism. As for Reggie Yates, before continuing to offer more apologies for his so called ‘offence?’ which accommodate the ‘impossibility of Jewish racism narrative’, perhaps he might try a little experiment. He might like to visit Israel without his celebrity status and as an ordinary Black male, experience the sort of treatment that is meted out to people-of-colour at the country’s checkpoints and White-American gated communities – that is if unlike Desmond Tutu, he can successfully get past immigration.


It scarcely needs to be stated that these attempts at ‘exemptions’ on racism and other forms of oppression and the anti-semitism moral panics that accompany them, are white ethnocentric narratives. In the world of media lobbied history, it is now often treated as an orthodoxy that the history of genocide begins with WWII and white victims, and this quite deliberately excludes the instances of Black Holocausts stemming from White Settler conquests of which Israel is the latest example. Yet White Settler oppression is still part of the lived experience of many BAME people. If you had been Black British in the immediate post-war era you’d have been deterred from visiting large parts of the USA because of segregation. If you’re family was interracial you’d have found that roughly a third of the USA was practising anti-miscegenation laws – prohibiting mixed-race marriages and sexual relations – thereby excluding you further.  You couldn’t have emigrated to Australia and New Zealand because their ‘White Australia’[31] and ‘White New Zealand’[32] immigration policies deliberately barred Black entry. To this day, largely absent from these populations is the comparable Black Commonwealth demographics that are to be found in both the UK and Canada.  Obviously emigration to White minority ruled Rhodesia would have been self-defeating and the same was true of Apartheid South Africa.  Relatively small Israel is clearly in these traditions and arguably the worst of White settler societies.  As Archbishop Desmond Tutu has pointed out, it practices the Apartheid of South Africa.[33] In the ‘slaughtering defenceless and innocent Arabs’ that Nelson Mandela condemned,[34] it practices the extermination of Indigenous peoples of 19thC America. In ‘the Yemenite Children Affair’ it also has its own version of Australia’s ‘Stolen’ peoples. Yet in the 21stC our political and media elites would rather critique our own passport holding Black citizens than a racist foreign ‘White’ government (this despite the hazards BAME people might encounter in Israel). We can only hope that as the smears and moral panics of the pro-Israel right engender a understandably outraged scandalised reaction, that the virtues of wider Jewish diaspora who historically have provided anti-racist campaign support to the Palestinian people, worked in the civil rights and anti-Apartheid movements and as Jewish sociologists and Marxists provided much of the ideology of the Left, will neither be tarnished nor forgotten.


1. [↑]

2. [↑]

3.  Among these  ‘Mean Streets’ (1967) ‘Gangs of New York’ (2002) & ‘A Bronx Tale’ (1993) [↑]

5.  Jews and Judaism in the United States: A Documentary History (New York: Behrman House, 1983), 14, 23-25. cited on [↑]

6. [↑]

7. [↑]

8. Israel detains and deports American Jews because they are black & & [↑]

13. & & this is similar in theme.  [↑]

14.  ‘Committee of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation’ (a Black women’s NAACP supported group) worked in tandem with ‘The Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching’ run by Jesse Daniel Ames White women’s group – the latter organisation’s specific ethnic identity was mobilised to combat the ‘False Chivalry’ rationalisation  of Lynching.×738.jpg  [↑]

15.  [↑]

17.  [↑]

18.  [↑]

19.  [↑]

20.  Professor Ben Carrington notes “David Baddiel ‘Blacked up’ (evoking the barely coded racist imagery of the minstrel shows) with a pineapple on his head out of which Jason Lee’s dreadlocks were growing – the ‘joke’ being that Jason Lees ‘dreads’ resemble a fruit on top of his head. This joke was then carried out with increasing frequency for the rest of the series, with young children sending in drawings of Jason Lee adorned with various fruit on his head. The pineapple joke was then taken up by football fans in the terraces who chanted songs about Jason Lee’s hair and significantly transcended the normally insular world of football fandom and entered into the public domain as both a descriptive term  and a form of ridicule (‘Pineapple Head’) for any black person with dreads tied back.” featured in P108 Fanatics Power Identity ed Adam Brown (1998) [↑]

21.  In the era in which the damage that neoliberalism was doing to western societies went largely unacknowledged, the corporate media largely pushed the line that the joke in Ali-G was that Black-street culture was being adopted by people who could not claim similar oppression or even exploitation.  This reading features in Tara Atluri’s ‘Off Colour Jokes: The Ambivalence of ‘Race’ Based Humour’.  However particularly with regard to this incident she also notes,  Cohen’s character plays with “race’ in ways that dilute the severity of real racial injury… One may laugh at his refrain, “Is it Cos I’s Black” as a mockery of Black subjects who air “race’ based grievances that are thought of as being as comical as Ali’s false claims.” Pages 221-222  [↑]

23.  “Today the mayor defended his remarks, made on Tuesday night after a party marking the 20-year anniversary since Chris Smith became the first MP to come out as gay.  His office accused the Standard of “harassment of a predominantly lesbian and gay event”. and “The Mayor’s office said the Standard had provoked Mr Livingstone by attending an event on Tuesday (to mark the 20th anniversary of the former minister Chris Smith coming out as gay) which it would not normally attend. “The Mayor took the Standard’s relatively unusual actions in this regard to be harassment of a predominantly lesbian and gay event,” it said.”  [↑]

26.  “Ken Loach – an artist so sensitive he is capable of making the film I, Daniel Blake – ends up lending a spurious legitimacy to Holocaust denial.”  [↑]

33.; &  [↑]

34.  [↑]

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Gavin Lewis is a freelance Black-British mixed-race writer and academic. He has published in Britain, Australia and the United States on film, media, politics, cultural theory, race and representation. He has taught critical theory, film and cultural studies at a number of British universities.
All posts by: Gavin Lewis | Email

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