By Wesley Muhammad, PhD. -Guest Columnist-

Mark Potok, Southern Poverty Law Center

Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center and Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League would have us believe that Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam are anti-Semites, by which they mean “haters of the Jewish people.”

Yet, they have never produced evidence supporting such a charge: no case of discrimination against Jewish persons by the Minister or any member of the Nation; no synagogue that he has desecrated; no good that has been denied a Jew due to his efforts. The Minister’s only cited offense to Jewish people has been telling the documented truth about the pernicious actions of “a party from among them.” But the question today is not only, “How is it that Potok and Foxman can condemn a man who has done nothing to harm any Semite or Jew?” But also: Why won’t Potok and Foxman condemn Jews who are demonstrably guilty of racism and anti-Semitism at the same time?

India is home to distinct groups referred to in Western literature as “Black Jews” and “White Jews.” The latter consists largely of Sephardic or “Spanish” Jews who migrated to west India from the Iberian Peninsula in the early sixteenth century as well as Iraqi Jews who migrated in the last decades of the eighteenth century.

Abraham Foxman, Director of the Anti-Defamation League

The “Black Jews” have an ancient pedigree within the subcontinent. The Bene Israel (“Children of Israel”) from Bombay claim to be descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. According to their recollection, the Bene Israel’s ancestors were part of the population of the northern kingdom of Israel who were not deported or killed when the Assyrian monarchs destroyed the kingdom in the 8th century B.C. They later left Palestine by boat in 175 B.C. but were shipwrecked off the Konkan coast of western India where they made their new home. Isolated from the rest of World Jewry for two millennia, the Bene Israel had neither the Hebrew Bible nor the Talmud, but they retained the practice of circumcision, observed the Saturday Sabbath, confessed the Shema or confession of the Hebrew faith, (partially) observed kosher laws and maintained the distinguishing Israelite practice of wearing the side-locks of hair in front of the ears (Lev. 19:22). The “Black Jews” of Cochin on the Malabar coast in the southwestern part of India also trace their origins back to ancient Palestine. Their ancestors arrived from Jerusalem soon after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D., according to their history.

The White Jews have denied the “Black Jews” whom they met already in India this authentic Israelite heritage. They spread propaganda that the “Black Jews” were really converted native Indians, manumitted slaves of “true White Israelites,” or the offspring of ancient White Jews and local women. This propaganda–strenuously denied by the “Black Jews” as slanderous lies–accompanied a cruel system of Jewish Apartheid set up by the White Jews and enforced by the British colonial government. The Iraqi Jews of Bombay disallowed the Bene Israel burial in their cemetery and they excluded them from beds reserved for Jews at a hospital to which they donated. Exalting in their “whiteness” and zealously identifying with the British colonial masters and other Europeans, the White Jews of Cochin had contempt for the “Black Jews,” deeming them to be an “inferior race.” They treated them as such. The “Black Jews” were required to “walk submissively to Whites.” They could not chant certain hymns, nor read from the Torah in the synagogues. When a White “rabbi” visited a Black synagogue he must be allowed to lead the service, but no “Black Jew” could lead service or even lead prayer in a White synagogue. They suffered the indignity of not being allowed to sit on benches in the synagogues. Instead they were forced to stand or sit on the floor in the back room. As Nathan Katz and Ellen S. Goldenberg note (Jewish Social Studies 50 [1998]: 165):

According to the Bible (Gen 8:4) the people who will eventually become the Jews (Israel) entered history from the Caucasus regions of the mountains of Ararat and Armenia

“Jewish apartheid was a long, dark chapter in Cochin history … The ‘whites’ dictated every aspect of life in Cochin even though at one point they constituted fewer than one-third (of the congregation) … Whenever ‘white’-ruled powers were challenged, the … colonial officials intervened on the ‘whites’ behalf.”

Neither Jewish support for American Jim Crow, as documented by The Secret Relationship between Black and Jews, Volume II, nor the State of Israel’s unconscionable support for South Africa’s apartheid regime were novel or uncharacteristic of White Jewry.

After the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 many of India’s “Black Jews” migrated there and found the same racism. In the New York Times and the Indian press the Bene Israel voiced their frustration in 1951:

“In Bombay we were told that there is no colour bar in Israel, but in a shop in Beer Sheba we were told that we should eat only black bread as we were black and the white bread was only for white Jews.”

“Although we were all comfortable in Bombay because of the love of Holy Land and because of the many promises held forth, we left India. But when we reached here, the ‘white-skinned’ Jews, known as Ashkanuazys, several of whom had been formerly Nazis … called us by different names such as ‘Indian bare-footed beggars’ and ‘hungry junglis’.”

The White Jews’ cruel maltreatment of their Black co-religionists in India turns out to be more than racism in general: it is bona fide Anti-Semitism.

Black Jew’ of India. From Maurice Fishberg, The Jews: A study of race and environment (1911)

Contrary to the propaganda of the White Jews, the authentic Israelite heritage of India’s “Black Jews” has been supported by genetic discoveries. DNA tests conducted in 1998 confirmed that both the Bene Israel and the “Black Jews” of Cochin possess in high frequency the so-called “Cohen Gene” (CMH), a specific Y-chromosome haplotype that, with other indicators, evidences ancient Semitic/Hebrew ancestry. An admittedly sensationalist news report (Times of India July 20, 2002) got it basically correct:

“More than 2,000 years after they first claimed to have set foot in India, the mystery of the world’s most obscure Jewish community–the Marathi-speaking Bene Israel–may finally have been solved with genetic carbon-dating revealing they carry the unusual Moses gene that would make them, literally, the original children of Israel.”

The “Black Jews” of India therefore represent an authentic vestige of ancient Israel. This fact helps us to understand Emory University professor Sander L. Gilman’s observation that, “The general consensus of the ethnological literature of the late nineteenth century was that the Jews were ‘black’ or, or least, ‘swarthy.’ This view had a long history in European science.” (The Visibility of the Jews in the Diaspora [1992]).

Whence cometh the White Jews? The Iraqi or “Baghdadi Jews” of Bombay have a distinguished history. The Jewish community of Iraq goes back to the Babylonian Exile (beginning 586 B.C.) when large numbers of Judeans (from Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel) were deported to Mesopotamia by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. These Judeans, according to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (100 A.D.) and the Egyptian historian Manetho (third century B.C.), originated from the Hyksos, those “Shepard kings” who ruthlessly ruled Egypt for a century (c.  1630—1523 B.C.) before being run out by the Egyptians and back to Canaan where they founded the city of Judea.

David Sassoon (seated) and his sons Elias David, Albert (Abdallah) & Sassoon David.

The Jews who remained in Babylon rather than return to Israel, i.e. the Iraqi Jews, went on to give the world the Babylonian Talmud, that magnum opus of Jewish hate. It was also an Iraqi Jew in India, the leader of Bombay’s “Baghdadi” Jewish community, David Sassoon (1792-1864), who controlled 70 percent of the opium trade, the drug which he and Britain’s military forced upon China with the Opium Wars. David Sassoon and his sons grew fabulously wealthy from the opium trade and the misery of the Chinese, becoming the “Rothschilds of the East.” One son, Sir Victor Sassoon, was described (New York Sun February 2, 1940) as “the wealthiest white man in the Far East.” As the Sassoon’s grew wealthy forcing pharmaceutical death upon China, in India they were discriminating against the Black Bene Israel.

Ultimately, their origin–and that of the Ashkenazi or East European Jews–is in the Caucasus Mountains, not Canaan/Palestine. The linguistic and genetic evidence confirms this. Applying a wide range of analyses Eran Elhaik from John Hopkins University, in his important study “The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry” (Genome Biol. Evol. 5 [2012]), concludes:

“Our (principle component), biogeographical estimation, admixture, (identity by descent), (allele sharing distance) and uniparental analyses were consistent in depicting a Caucasus ancestry for European Jews … Overall, the similarity between European Jews and Caucasus populations underscores the genetic continuity that exists among Eurasian Jewish and non-Jewish Caucasus populations.”

Michael Bradley’s conclusion (Chosen People from the Caucasus [1992]) is therefore confirmed:

“(Jews) were not Semitic at all in any cultural or ethnic way. They merely adopted a Semitic language … Therefore, when Jews imply a claim to a Semitic ‘racial’ and cultural heritage by labeling their critics ‘anti-Semitic,’ they are abusing the evidence and simultaneously denying their own Caucasus roots.”

But the White Jewish racism against the “Black Jews” of India is Anti-Semitism. Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center and Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League should condemn the White Jews of Cochin and Iraqi Jews of Bombay for their historic hate against demonstrable (Black) Semites.

One final note: One of the distinctive religious practices of the Bene Israel is their core ceremony called Malida, also called Eliyahu HaNavi Orus, “Fair of Elijah the Prophet.” The Biblical Elijah is considered the guardian prophet of the Bene Israel and mediator between the individual Bene Israel and God. He is their hope for both individual salvation and community redemption. This ceremony is performed in the village of Khandalah, in Konkan, India, where it is believed that an apparition of Elijah appeared to the Bene Israel and they witnessed him ascend to heaven in his fiery chariot.

He who has ears, let him hear.

Dr. Wesley Muhammad is an Historian of Religion who earned a Bachelor’s degree (1994) in Religious Studies from Morehouse College and a Master’s degree (2003) and Doctorate (2008) in Islamic Studies from the University of Michigan. He has authored several scholarly studies on the Teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, including “The Truth of God: The Bible, The Qur’an and the Secret of the Black God” as well as “Black Arabia and the African Origin of Islam.”