There seems to be a certain amount of ignorance about Jackie Walker’s claim that Jewish people had been “chief financiers” of slavery.
Certain… elements have tried to force on us a claim that Ms Walker’s information came from National of Islam cleric Louis Farrakhan, who used the same words in the 1990s or thereabouts, to accuse Jewish people of financing transatlantic slavery.
I challenged these people to provide corroborating evidence, linking Ms Walker to this source. They have not done so.
I am therefore grateful to the person on Twitter who linked me to the interview excerpted below, in which Ms Walker revealed that her comments were based on her own research, related to her own family history and a very specific part of the transatlantic slave trade.
I have highlighted in bold some passages that I believe certain people should consider very carefully – certainly before they make any more rash claims.
What exactly did Jackie write on Facebook?
My aim was to argue that there are no hierarchies of genocide; there is no way to quantify or qualitatively describe the indescribable, the indescribably inhumane acts that are part of our histories. When a friend raised the question of “the debt” owed to the Jews because of the Holocaust I replied “Oh yes – and I hope you feel the same towards the African holocaust? My ancestors were involved in both – on all sides as I’m sure you know, millions more Africans were killed in the African holocaust and their oppression continues today on a global scale in a way it doesn’t for Jews… and many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which is of course why there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean. So who are victims and what does it mean? We are victims and perpetrators to some extent through choice. And having been a victim does not give you a right to be a perpetrator.”
Yes, I wrote “many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade”. These words, taken out of context in the way the media did, of course do not reflect my position. I was writing to someone who knew the context of my comments. Had he felt the need to pick me up on what I had written I would have rephrased – perhaps to “Jews (my ancestors too) were among those who financed the sugar and slave trade and at the particular time/in the particular area I’m talking about they played an important part.” The Facebook post taken by itself doesn’t, and can’t possibly reflect the complexity of Jewish history, of the history of Africa, the history of people of the African diaspora and the hundreds of years of the slave trade. The truth is while many peoples were involved in this pernicious trade it was the rulers of Christian Spain and Portugal that ordered the massacre and expulsion of thousands of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula who forced Jewish communities to seek refuge in the New World and the Caribbean. It was European and American Christian empires that overwhelmingly profited from the kidnap, enslavement and death of millions of Africans and I’m happy to make explicit and correct here any different impression my Facebook post gave. The shame is, at a time when antisemitism has been weaponised and used against certain sections of the Labour Party, nobody asked me before rushing to pin the racist and antisemitic label on me.”
“If my historical understanding is shown to be wrong by future research I will of course adapt and change my views as necessary. For the record, my claim, as opposed to those made for me by the Jewish Chronicle, has never been that Jews played a disproportionate role in the Atlantic Slave Trade, merely that, as historians such as Arnold Wiznitzer noted, at a certain economic point, in specific regions where my ancestors lived, Jews played a dominant role “as financiers of the sugar industry, as brokers and exporters of sugar, and as suppliers of Negro slaves on credit, accepting payment of capital and interest in sugar.”
No people are exempt from truth. No people are better, more moral than any other. None deserve higher protection from the eye of history. All of us are subjects, products of material historical development. As Kagan & Morgan point out, “Jews in the Atlantic constituted a stateless minority, a ‘nation within a nation,’ the counterpoint to imperial cultures of early modern Europe; and yet from the fifteenth century onwards, Jews were also key participants in the effort to expand European empires into the western hemisphere and the broader Atlantic world. In short, they were, as Jonathan Israel has noted, simultaneously agents and victims of empire.”
This was the point I was attempting to make on Facebook, in a comic-strip, abbreviated, inadequate, deficient sort of conversational way. This was my point, as the Israel Advocacy Movement could see even as they decided to weaponise my words. No peoples have a monopoly of suffering or virtue. No peoples are special or free of the complexity of history. That is as true in the Middle East now as it ever was anywhere, in all places, with all peoples, across the diversity of our globe and so it will remain until, and unless, we achieve the goal of all internationalists – the liberation of humanity.
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