This past spring, Trayon White Sr., a Washington, DC city council-member, sparked an outcry by blaming a late season snowfall on the Rothschilds, the famous Jewish banking dynasty, who, he explained, control "the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities." A few weeks later, at a rally held to support White on the steps of city hall, an even less familiar anti-Semitic trope was spoken into a megaphone. "What is the fake Jew that calls themselves Jews, the ADL, the JDL?" asked Abdul Khadir Muhammad, a representative for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. "Elissa Silverman," he continued, referring to a DC at-large councilmember who is Jewish, "talking about Brother Farrakhan can't come into DC no more. That will never happen. You got your nerve to say Farrakhan can't come back to DC. What nerve are you, you fake Jew?"
"Fake Jews" has a long history within anti-Semitic conspiracy thinking, and it should come as no surprise that the term was uttered by a member of the Nation of Islam (NOI). The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) designates the NOI as a hate group, citing its "theology of innate black superiority over whites and the deeply racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBT rhetoric of its leaders." Yet the group's legacy is complicated; it also has a long history of service work in poor black communities, and its adherents sometimes turn a blind eye to the bigotry of its leaders, says Dawn-Marie Gibson, an expert on the NOI at Royal Holloway, University of London.
The group's controversial head, Louis Farrakhan, has used variations of "fake Jew" on several occasions over the years. "You are not real Jews, those of you that are not real Jews," Farrakhan said in a 1996 speech. "You are the synagogue of Satan, and you have wrapped your tentacles around the U.S. government, and you are deceiving and sending this nation to hell." The term "synagogue of Satan," and the notion of people making false claims to Judaism, is drawn from the New Testament, says Aryeh Tuchman, associate director of the anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism. In the Book of Revelation, John the Apostle has a prophetic vision in which Jesus speaks to him of those who claim to be righteous: "I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee."
When Farrakhan speaks of "fake Jews," Tuchman thinks he...