[Make sure to order Frontpage Editor Jamie Glazov’s new book: Barack Obama’s True Legacy: How He Transformed America.]
In America, black antisemitism has its capital in southside Chicago, and its high priest is the sinister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam. Rev. Jeremiah Wright is not in the same league as Farrakhan, but he is no friend either to white people or to Jews, as both his church sermons and his comments to the media blaming Jews for preventing him from seeing Obama, make clear. Obama has managed until now to escape the charge of antisemitism, having been careful as a presidential candidate to distance himself from the controversial Rev.Wright. But one of Obama’s former girlfriends, Sheila Miyoshi (married name Jager), suggests that he was not bothered by black antisemitism. More on this story can be found here: “The Obama Factor: A Q&A with historian David Garrow,” by David Samuels, Tablet, August 2, 2023:
There is a fascinating passage in Rising Star, David Garrow’s comprehensive biography of Barack Obama’s early years, in which the historian examines Obama’s account in Dreams from My Father of his breakup with his longtime Chicago girlfriend, Sheila Miyoshi Jager. In Dreams, Obama describes a passionate disagreement following a play by African American playwright August Wilson, in which the young protagonist defends his incipient embrace of Black racial consciousness against his girlfriend’s white-identified liberal universalism. As readers, we know that the stakes of this decision would become more than simply personal: The Black American man that Obama wills into being in this scene would go on to marry a Black woman from the South Side of Chicago named Michelle Robinson and, after a meteoric rise, win election as the first Black president of the United States.
Yet what Garrow documented, after tracking down and interviewing Sheila Miyoshi Jager, was an explosive fight over a very different subject. In Jager’s telling, the quarrel that ended the couple’s relationship was not about Obama’s self-identification as a Black man. And the impetus was not a play about the American Black experience, but an exhibit at Chicago’s Spertus Institute about the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann.
At the time that Obama and Sheila visited the Spertus Institute, Chicago politics was being roiled by a Black mayoral aide named Steve Cokely who, in a series of lectures organized by Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, accused Jewish doctors in Chicago of infecting Black babies with AIDS as part of a genocidal plot against African Americans. The episode highlighted a deep rift within the city’s power echelons, with some prominent Black officials supporting Cokely and others calling for his firing.
In Jager’s recollection, what set off the quarrel that precipitated the end of the couple’s relationship was Obama’s stubborn refusal, after seeing the exhibit, and in the swirl of this Cokely affair, to condemn Black racism. While acknowledging that Obama’s embrace of a Black identity had created some degree of distance between the couple, she insisted that what upset her that day was Obama’s inability to condemn Cokely’s comments. It was not Obama’s Blackness that bothered her, but that he would not condemn antisemitism.
No doubt, Obama’s evolving race-based self-consciousness did distance him from Jager; in the end, the couple broke up. Yet it is revealing to read Obama’s account of the breakup in Dreams against the very different account that Jager offers. In Obama’s account, he was the particularist, embracing a personal meaning for the Black experience that Jager, the universalist, refused to grant. In Jager’s account, the poles of the argument are nearly, but not quite, reversed: It is Obama who appears to minimize Jewish anxiety about blood libels coming from the Black community. His particularism mattered; hers didn’t. While Obama defined himself as a realist or pragmatist, the episode reads like a textbook evasion of moral responsibility.
I believe Sheila Miyoshi Jager’s account; she has nothing to gain by such a story, while the calculating Obama, determined to leave her because he was sure that as a white woman, she would be a political liability as his wife, made sure in his own memoir, Dreams of My Father, to leave out the Cokely episode, including his failure to condemn Cokely for his charge that “Jewish doctors” were deliberately committing “genocide” on “black babies.” This variant on the medieval blood libel about Jews killing Christian children so as to use their blood in making matzos, was a charge so explosive that it could well have resulted in murderous attacks by credulous African-Americans on Jewish doctors. When Sheila Miyoshi tried to convince Obama to denounce Cokely, he refused. He had decided that if he condemned Cokely, he would lose more support among black antisemites than he would gain in Jewish support. Clearly, Obama did not share the anguish of Jews at such charges, an updated version of the medieval blood libels. He was perfectly willing to pass over in silence Cokely’s disgusting and absurd charge of “genocide” by “Jewish doctors” of “black babies.” Sheila Miyoshi was appalled at Obama’s indecent political calculus, and told David Garrow so; that, she said, was her reason for the breakup. Obama, ever the calculating arriviste, determined to rise high, felt no need to reassure Jews that he stood with them. Instead, his silence about Steve Cokely’s charge suggested he had no interest in condemning even the worst antisemitic charges if to do so might hurt him with a black electorate that was also predominantly antisemitic.
Obama’s betrayal of a longstanding American commitment to veto all anti-Israel resolutions at the UN Security Council, when instead of a veto he had Samantha Power abstain from voting on UN Security Council Resolution 2334, that declared Israeli settlements in the West Bank, where a half-million Israelis lived, to constitute a violation of international law, was bad. An American veto would have killed the resolution. With the Americans not vetoing it, UNSC 2334 passed by a vote of 14-0. But Obama had done worse than that, when as a thrusting young Chicago politician he refused to do the right thing; he never denounced Steve Cokely for his extreme antisemitism, reflected in his charge that “Jewish doctors” practiced “genocide” on “black babies.” Obama’s tolerance of the worst kind of antisemitism was then, and remains, a form of antisemitism.