This article by Mark Paoletta first appeared at The Washington Examiner and was republished with permission.
Last week, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) attacked the Republican Party for removing Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from the House Foreign Affairs Committee for her blatantly antisemitic public comments. But before attacking Republicans on this matter, Jeffries needs to own up to his past support for a notorious antisemite and why he lied about this past support when he was a newly elected member of Congress.
As a college senior serving on the Black Student Union executive committee at Binghamton University, Jeffries strongly defended a notorious antisemite, his uncle, professor Leonard Jeffries, who spews hatred, racism, and bigotry.
After Hakeem Jeffries was elected to Congress, he was dishonest about his previous support for his uncle’s antisemitic comments. Nor does it appear he has ever repudiated his support of his uncle’s views.
In an infamous July 1991 speech, Leonard Jeffries claimed there was a “conspiracy, planned and plotted and programmed out of Hollywood, where people called Greenberg and Weisberg … put together a system of destruction for black people.” Professor Jeffries also claimed that “rich Jews” financed the slave trade. Professor Jeffries also reportedly said in a classroom that “Jews are dogs.” According to one report, professor Jeffries “teaches his controversial hypothesis that African Americans are warm, humanistic ‘sun people’ and that European Americans are cold, materialistic ‘ice people.’ People of African descent, Jeffries states, have ‘core spiritual values’ that people of European descent lack.”
In an August 1991 article by Kenneth Stern reviewing professor Jeffries’s record, Stern wrote, “Dr. Jeffries preaches Jew-hatred like a religion,” and noted that Jeffries’s July 1991 speech “demonstrate[d] the centrality of antisemitism to his teaching.”
Shortly after this racist and antisemitic speech 1991 speech, which attracted national attention and eventually led the City College of New York to fire him, Binghamton University’s Black Student Union invited professor Jeffries to speak at the university in February 1992. In response to the uproar that followed, BSU’s board, including Hakeem Jeffries, held a press conference on campus to defend its invitation and “rebut charges Jeffries is antisemitic.” Hakeem Jeffries stated, “We have no intention of canceling a presentation that contains factual information, proven through scholarly documents and texts.” The Black Student Union also lauded professor Jeffries as a “renowned historian” and “well-versed intellectual.”
According to a news report, Leonard Jeffries’s speech at Binghamton “again placed the blame for the denigration of blacks in the movies … on ‘anti-black’ Jewish movie moguls … and reiterated his claim that ‘rich Jews’ played a significant role in the African slave trade.”
Leonard Jeffries’s antisemitism continued well after his speech at Binghamton. In 1994, the Associated Press quoted professor Jeffries saying that “Jews were like ‘skunks’ and ‘stunk up everything.’” When asked about his comment, professor Jeffries said that “he did not remember it,” adding, “Isn’t there free speech in America?”
In 2012, the Anti-Defamation League quoted Jeffries saying that year, “The evil genius of the Jewish community was to put together their powers to make business their religion and make it part of their culture.”
Leaders of several universities’ African American studies have been critical of professor Jeffries. Professor Henry Louis Gates at Harvard University calls him “the fringe.” Professor Michelle Wallace at City College said, “Leonard Jeffries is not rational. It’s not possible to absorb ‘sun people’ and ‘ice people’ into a rational view. My view of Leonard Jeffries is that he’s a maniac.”
When Hakeem Jeffries was elected to Congress in 2012, he tried to erase from history his support for his uncle’s virulent antisemitic teachings. In a 2013 profile of Hakeem Jeffries in the Wall Street Journal, Jeffries dodged questions about his uncle’s views, claiming, according to the reporter, that he “disagree[d] with many of his [uncle’s] theories,” though he did not specify which ones. In this same interview, Hakeem Jeffries claimed that as of 2013, he “hasn’t looked at his uncle’s controversial speeches.” That seems almost impossible to square with his statements at the 1992 press conference that professor Jeffries’s views are based on “factual information, proven through scholarly documents and texts,” and specifically rejecting charges his uncle is an antisemite.
Jeffries’s dissembling on this topic permeates the 2013 interview. For example, he claims that he had a “vague recollection” of the controversy surrounding his uncle and that his mother “made a very deliberate, concerted effort to shield us from a lot of the controversy that took place.” On the controversy surrounding Jeffries’s 1991 speech, Hakeem Jeffries claimed, “My brother and I were away at school. There was no internet during that era, and I can’t even recall a daily newspaper in the Binghamton, New York, area, but it wasn’t covering the things that the New York Post and Daily News were at the time.”
Not true. Hakeem Jeffries was literally in the newspaper for inviting professor Jeffries to speak shortly after his notorious July 1991 speech and then held a press conference to rebut charges that professor Jeffries is antisemitic. Local newspapers in Binghamton also covered his uncle’s controversy before Hakeem Jeffries and his Black Student Union colleagues invited him to speak.
Now that he is the leader of the House Democrats, it is time for congressman Jeffries to level with the public about where he stood in 1992, why he tried to paper over his past support for antisemitism, where he stands now, and to denounce the antisemitic views of professor Jeffries specifically.
Mark Paoletta is a partner at Schaerr Jaffe and a senior fellow at the Center for Renewing America. He most recently served as general counsel for the Office of Management and Budget in the Trump administration and, before that, was counsel to Vice President Mike Pence.