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Response to Lenni Brenner who lectured on the subject of

The Jewish Role in the African Slave Trade

on March 1, 2000 at Wellesley College in Massachusetts

 

Based on an audiotape of a lecture given yesterday by Mr. Lenni Brenner at Wellesley College, which in part dealt with the issues raised in our publication, The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, we hereby respectfully respond to the criticisms he advanced during the lecture.

 

The improper use of the word "Secret" in the title:

Addressed later.

 

Theodore Wiener's role in the abolitionist movement "is ignored":

It should be noted that none of the Jews who set up trade in John Brown's neighborhood were "abolitionists" in the activist sense of the term. Indeed most abolitionists cared little about African humanity but did want to end a practice which depressed white wages. Undoubtedly, most, like Lincoln, would have opted for the deportation of the African to anywhere outside of America and Europe. The three Jews mentioned by Brenner, August Bondi, Theodore Wiener and Jacob Benjamin, wanted nothing more than to sell their wares to whichever side of the dispute had ready cash. They were not abolitionist ideologues by any reckoning. They became accidentally involved in an on-going border war which pitted pro-slavery forces against abolitionists, neither of whom welcomed Blacks as equals in mind, body or rights.

In his lecture, Mr. Brenner appears to be confusing the revenge massacre on slave owners in Missouri by Brown's party, with the later and far more notorious raid on Harper's Ferry in which Brown intended to lead Blacks in a cataclysmic revolt which would end slavery forever. This event, and not the one Brenner discussed, is the one that is generally recognized as one of several harbingers of slavery's demise.

The Jews in question had, by this time, deserted Brown and did not participate with him on that fateful day in October 1859. Prior to the raid Bondi had fallen out of favor with Brown, who doubted Bondi's fidelity to the cause. Bondi himself describes an incident in the fall of that year when Brown camped nearby with eleven former slaves he was moving to Canada:

He would not let me know of his presence and instructed all to whom he applied for supplies...to be closedmouthed and never inform me...of his presence, as he well knew that we, Free State men, did not sanction an increase in the colored population [in the north], and I suppose he never forgot my opposition to his negro insurrection plans...

Brenner's apparent ignorance of these events and sentiments are mystifying. We have posted a more comprehensive response to similar distortions proffered by the Forward newspaper in association with the American Jewish Historical Society at http://www.blacksandjews.com/JewishAbolitionists.Bondi.html.

 

Christopher Columbus' Jewishness:

The ethnicity, religion, class or "caste" of Cristobol Colon has been in dispute for a long time. No less of a figure in Jewish culture as Simon Wiesenthal ("Nazi hunter" cum Black scholar persecutor) has written a whole book, Sails of Hope, in which he purports to "prove" that Columbus was in fact a Jew. The point of the chapter in The Secret Relationship, however, was to illuminate the much more interesting and indisputable fact that the financing of the infamous slaving voyages of the Italian/Spanish/Jewish admiral was provided by Jews.

Columbus received permission from Isabella and Ferdinand and little else--the cash came from rich "court Jews" in the merchant "caste," as Brenner, more or less accurately, would say. Columbus' letters of his progress were addressed to his Jewish sponsors--not to the royals--and the 100 or so Red slaves taken by Columbus from the "New World" were sold at auction by Jewish merchants associated with his sponsors. Jewish traders often used gentile captains and crew on the very risky trans-Atlantic ventures for obvious reasons. Columbus, whether a Jew or not, is hardly more than a courageous functionary of a Jewish enterprise.

 

Alleged misuse of a quote by the "anti-Semite" Fyodor Dostoevsky:

The quote in question, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, on page 171 of The Secret Relationship, was written in 1877 concerning the practices of Southern American Jews:

[They] have already leaped en masse upon the millions of liberated Negroes, and have already taken a grip upon them in their, the Jew's own way, by means of their sempiternal; "gold pursuit" and by taking advantage of the inexperience and the vices of the exploited tribe...the Negroes have now been liberated from the slave owners [but] they will not last because the Jews...will jump at this new little victim.

This observation could be considered an understatement. Dostoevsky describes a very real phenomenon by this "caste" of Jews who dominated the petty economy in the American South. It is a matter of Black/Jewish folklore that Jews "were the only ones who would do business with Blacks," the practice being "beneath" every other ethnic group engaged in business in the South. It is a matter of historical certainty that Blacks were viciously exploited at all levels of the Southern economy.

That Dostoevsky was an anti-Semite is probably as correct as the fact that many of the Jewish writers that are quoted in The Secret Relationship are racists in their historical treatment of Black African slaves as chattel and Jewish dealings in Black slavery as merely business ventures. Having stated that, it is also true that we would not have used the quote had it not been used by a prominent Jewish scholar and Brandeis professor, Stephen J. Whitfield, in an article published by the American Jewish Historical Society.

In his criticism, Brenner does not seem willing to address the larger issue raised by the Dostoevsky quote. Stephen Whitfield did address the issue, however, in at least two of his published works, including his book Voices of Jacob, Hands of Esau: Jews in American Life & Thought (Archon Books, 1984); and his article "Commercial Passions: The Southern Jew as Businessman," American Jewish Historical Society, vol. 71, no. 3 (March 1982). Please allow us to quote from page 344 of the latter:

Most of the immigrant peddlers came from the German-speaking parts of Europe, where the word Judentum was virtually synonymous with Handel (commerce), an association compounded by General Grant's Order Number 11 [see description in The Secret Relationship, pp. 165-68], which briefly in 1862 sought to eliminate financial speculation by banning "the Jews, as a class" from the Department of the Tennessee. Many of the peddlers who criss-crossed the region settled down, opening stores in order to supply other peddlers who needed to replenish their supplies. The establishments that were created and the retailing that resulted often made their owners the nuclei of the communities formed in the interstices of the plantations and farms that dominated the Southern economy. [emphasis ours] [1]

When W.E.B. DuBois made his famous statement in The Souls of Black Folk: "The Jew is the heir to the slave baron," he was referring to this dominant economic Jewish presence, and by inference, to the depressed and exploited condition of the post-slavery Blacks.[2]

It also should be noted that Wiesenthal Center hireling Harold Brackman, who teamed with Wellesley College professor Mary Lefkowitz, to "attack" The Secret Relationship and Prof. Tony Martin, similarly charges The Secret Relationship with using an "anti-Semitic" quote which addresses the very same economic phenomenon referred to by Dostoevsky. But in his 1977 dissertation, "The Ebb and Flow of Conflict," Brackman uses the very same quote as is presented in The Secret Relationship. On page 273 he quotes Frederick Law Olmstead's A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States (1856):

...a swarm of Jews, within the last ten years, has settled in nearly every southern town, many of them men with no character, opening cheap clothing and trinket shops; ruining or driving out of business, many of the old retailers, and engaging in an unlawful trade with the simple negroes, which is found very profitable.

The pervasive Jewish involvement in the underdevelopment of the post-slavery Black economy is only hinted at by these two quotes, and the subject has not yet been adequately addressed within the context of the Black/Jewish relationship. [The Secret Relationship presents what scholarship is available on the subject on pages169-176.]

 

The Secret Relationship should not have pointed out Jewish marijuana growers:

Mr. Brenner seemed to get quite a bit of enjoyment out of our mention that some Jews were growers of hemp or marijuana. He states emphatically that hemp was used for making rope and he discounts the possibility that it might have been used as a drug. He surmises that The Secret Relationship has succumbed to the "puritanical" propensities of the Nation of Islam in pointing out this fact. As the organizer of the Coalition for Narcotic Law Reform Brenner may be more sensitive to these issues of drug use and abuse than most. By pointing out that the growing of marijuana was widespread in early America, Brenner raises another issue that is of critical import to the Black/Jewish relationship. The use of cocaine by plantation owners to stimulate and compel unpaid labor among Black slaves has been widely reported. By the turn of the 19th century the New York Times, then [and now] owned by Jews, credited "Jew peddlers" with being marketers of the drug. It has been long known that liquor has been pushed on enslaved Africans to keep them in a state of mental debilitation during periods of work furlough, most commonly after the autumn harvest. Its role in the demise of the Red nation is well-documented, as is the role of opium in the far east. The mind-altering and calming properties of marijuana could not have escaped the notice of white slave holders, who were forever seeking ways to control their "ferocious" Africans. We could more accurately say that Americans, including Jews, were growing marijuana to make the rope to lynch the Africans and for the dope to keep them high.

After the first World War, Jews again took an active role in the drug trade in the inner cities of America. Perhaps Brenner is not aware of the work of Robert A. Rockaway, who is a senior lecturer in the Department of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University. He is a critic of the Nation of Islam and The Secret Relationship, and yet he makes a remarkable claim about Jewish drug dealers in America's inner cities:

After the first World War, Jewish gangsters became major figures in the American underworld and played prominent roles in the creation and extension of organized crime in the United States. During Prohibition fifty percent of the leading bootleggers were Jews, and Jewish criminals financed and directed much of the nation's narcotics traffic. Jews also dominated illicit activities in a number of America's largest cities, including Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis, New York, and Philadelphia. [3]

The article, published by the American Jewish Historical Society, goes on to explain the role of these gangsters in the financing of the Jewish war against the Palestinians. Rockaway dismisses the Black victims of this assault by these Jewish gangsters with the perverse quip, "But he was good to his mother." We would encourage further research into the role of ingestible substances like cocaine, liquor, tobacco, marijuana in the demise of the Red Indian and the Black African and the extent of its connection to Jewish peddlers, merchants and gangsters.

 

The Secret Relationship avoids discussing the Jewish role in the Arab slave trade in order to avoid admitting Muslim involvement:

As with nearly all of the dozens of books and hundreds of articles written on the subject of Blacks and Jews, The Secret Relationship geographically focuses on the "New World." The primarily Black and American audience for this subject has a primary interest in the circumstances of their own enslavement, which we now know places Jews at the center. The Secret Relationship follows the canonical boundaries for the subject it addresses. Of the thousands of books written on the general subject of slavery, it might also be noted, nearly all avoid discussion of the Jewish role, even as Brenner himself showed their role to be variously, "dominant," "central," and/or "important."

Brenner might have made the same complaint about the fact that the book does not address the extensive Jewish involvement in the White Slave Trade either. The Secret Relationship failed to quote Jewish sources such as Edward J. Bristow, from the first page of his Prostitution and Prejudice (New York: Schocken Books, 1983), where he wrote that

Between 1880 and 1939 Jews played a conspicuous role in "white slavery," as the commercial prostitution of that era was dramatically called. Not only was this Jewish participation conspicuous, it was historically unprecedented, geographically widespread, and fraught with collective political dangers.

Given this history, the fact that Israel today is a major center of White Slavery [New York Times, January 11, 1998] should surprise no one.

We would heartily encourage a detailed examination of the Jewish role in the Arab slave trade, as Brenner suggests, especially because those books published on the subject ignore the Jewish complicity. Any work on that subject, or on the allegations of "slavery" in Sudan today, would have to include such salient comments as those by Harold Brackman, again, from "The Ebb and Flow of Conflict," p. 96:

Jewish merchants also participated in the trans-Saharan trade with the Negro states of the Central and Western Sudan. Black slaves formed one of the commodities (though not the most important one) that the medieval Sudan exported to Moslem North Africa; for this reason, they very likely also formed one of the items of commerce dealt in by these camel-riding, merchant Jews. Actually, the involvement of Jews in the traffic with the Sudan seems to have antedated the rise of Islam by many centuries, having its beginnings in the era when their fellow Semites, the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians, established the North African trading communities which were the first to cultivate commercial relations with the Blacks to the south.

In his lecture Mr. Lenni Brenner has stated the obvious: that Jews were "central" to the slave trade in some areas, "dominant" in still others, "important" in yet others. The first two thirds of his Wellesley College lecture was drawn almost entirely from the many Jewish sources quoted in The Secret Relationship itself, though, predictably, the historical and cultural nuances so important to Black readers were ignored. As a Jew, it is refreshing that Brenner irrefutably endorsed the central thesis of The Secret Relationship, as well as confirmed the fact that the administration of Wellesley College is well-deserving of its international reputation as an intellectual lynchmob, having targeted Professor Tony Martin for being Black while stating openly what is now widely known.

But Brenner's opinion is of use only in its novelty. He is one of only a few Jews who will publicly admit to at least a part of what is now known about Jewish slave dealing. For his efforts, however, we would give him a C-, mostly because, despite his performance, quite a bit of the relationship between Blacks and Jews still remains SECRET to him.

 

Notes:

1. Stephen J. Whitfield, Voices of Jacob, Hands of Esau: Jews in American Life & Thought (Archon Books, 1984)pp. 241-42.

2. The Souls of Black Folk was written in the late 1800's and published in 1903. Under Jewish pressure DuBois reprinted The Souls of Black Folk in 1953, changing the word "Jew" to "foreigner."

3. Robert A. Rockaway, "Hoodlum Hero: The Jewish Gangster as Defender of His People," American Jewish History, Vol. 82, Numbers 1-4, 1994-95, p. 215.

 



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