When and how did it become acceptable to make a false accusation that someone is racist?
For adherents of religions that revere the Ten Commandments, with their injunction not to bear false witness against one’s neighbor, such accusations are divinely prohibited. For those who find moral instruction elsewhere, the problems with such false accusations are readily accessible to reason. False accusations of racism erode respect for truth and for the gravity of the charge. They risk boomeranging. They injure innocent people and make it harder to fight genuine racists like the ones in Charlottesville, Viriginia.
It’s a relevant question, because such false accusations sadly seem increasingly common.
Consider the case of Daniel Loeb, a hedge fund manager who lives in New York and who is chair of the board of Success Academy Charter Schools. An article by the advocacy director of the Alliance for Quality Education, Zakiyah Ansari, and by the executive director of New York Communities for Change, Jonathan Westin, falsely claimed that Mr. Loeb "has a history of racist and bigoted remarks." They wrote, "racism’s 21st Century makeover means white supremacists can blend in as polo-wearing millennials, billionaire hedge fund managers and top political donors."
I don’t know Daniel Loeb personally, but I know enough about him to know that there’s no way he’s a "white supremacist." Why would any "white supremacist" devote vast amounts of volunteer time and charitable money to charter schools devoted largely to improving the education of minority children? Why would a "white supremacist" have supported Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, as Mr. Loeb did?
The accusation makes no sense. Yet the Ansari-Westin article was tweeted out by the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, who described it as "important." And the New York Times devoted not one, not two, but three news articles over a five day period to what it described in a headline, inaccurately, as Mr. Loeb’s “racial remark about black leader."
Mr. Loeb’s treatment follows the pattern the press has set in covering Donald Trump. In a July 2016 New York Times column headlined "Is Donald Trump a Racist?" Nicholas Kristof concluded, "I don’t see what else to call it but racism." Times columnist Charles Blow describes Mr. Trump as "a Nazi/white nationalist apologist if not sympathizer . . . The accommodation of racists is his creed." A third New York Times columnist, Bret Stephens, describes Mr. Trump as "a man we knew to be a casual bigot," and writes, "The president’s newfound (or long-hidden) Confederate sympathies are an extension of his other ethnic antipathies."
Again, it makes no sense. Why would a "racist" choose a cabinet and campaign and White House staff full of blacks, Jews, and Asians? I suppose he might have done it as an elaborate deception technique to disguise his true intentions. But that sort of conspiracy-minded thinking, in which evidence that undermines a theory magically becomes evidence that supports it, is usually found in the minds of racists, not anti-racists.
I used to think this problem started with the 1987 nomination by President Reagan of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., falsely claimed, "Robert Bork's America is a land in which . . . blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters." The Senate rejected Bork’s nomination.
Now, though, I think this ugly line of attack originated on Nov. 19, 1975, when the U.N. General Assembly passed its resolution contending, falsely, that "Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination."
The American ambassador at the United Nations at the time, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, exhibited admirable clarity and prescience in his speech in reaction. He said, "The terrible lie that has been told here today will have terrible consequences. . . . The harm will arise first because it will strip from racism the precise and abhorrent meaning that it still precariously holds today. How will the people of the world feel about racism and the need to struggle against it, when they are told that it is an idea as broad as to include the Jewish national liberation movement?"
Moynihan was emphatic and consistent afterward that the "Zionism is racism" resolution hadn’t been an Arab initiative but was rather advanced by America’s great geostrategic rival at the time, the communist Soviet Union, as part of a broader strategy of tarring America and its ally Israel with the stain of racism. In a Oct. 3, 1991, letter that is in the volume edited by Steven Weisman, Moynihan, by then a senator from New York, called it the "Big Red Lie."
The Soviet Union was defeated and, lo and behold, at precisely the same time, the U.N. repealed its "Zionism is racism" resolution. Yet the tactic of a false accusation of racism lingers, a nasty relic of the communist past, like pollution in Lake Baikal or radiation levels at Chernobyl. For those concerned about malevolent Russian influence on contemporary American politics, here would be a fine place to take a stand.
Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of "JFK, Conservative." Read more reports from Ira Stoll — Click Here Now.
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