Hip-hop mogul to visit Israel

The JTA reports,

Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons is planning to visit the Jewish state.

Simmons, who also is chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which promotes black-Jewish ties, will go to Israel on a “fact-finding mission” in the late spring, the foundation said. The group’s president, Rabbi Marc Schneier, said Simmons, the founder of Def Jam Records who is widely credited with bringing hip hop into mainstream America, “feels it’s now time for African Americans to fight for the civil rights of Jews to combat the evil of anti-Semitism.”

Schneier, who pointed out that Israel is the only country in history to have taken blacks out of Africa for freedom, added that Simmons also is curious about the emergence of hip-hop culture in Israel.

Little does anyone recognize that Simmon’s street cred is already spread as thin as the pate on his cracka-ass water crackas. The man’s seen as an Uncle Tom, quite akin to the way MLK was viewed by militant Blacks during the civil rights era, whereas King’s organization, The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was founded and run by Jews (for more on this, see Schneier’s Shared Dreams, which my father edited), and was thus discredited by Black leaders such as Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver as being a product (and thus MLK a representative of) the same establishment that was oppressing Blacks. This is an inherently racist presumption, but not an altogether unfounded one, if not for the fact that, but 100 years prior, the first Secretary of State, Attorney General, and Surgeon General of the slave-trading American Confederacy were frum Jews. This should be irrelevant, of course, considering more Jews fought in the Union army than the Confederate (and that Blacks too fought for the Confederacy), but all is fair game in the war of ideas, and our opponents never fail to draw on discredited observations.

Jewish people have always had an interest in civil rights. You can mark the beginning of our oppression with Egypt or Eden and chase us through ghetto after ghetto til we land smack in the US. During the civil rights era, great American-Jewish leaders like Abraham Joshua Heschel walked side by side with Martin Luther King, and aspiring youngsters like Arthur Waskow risked life and limb staging sit-ins with Black friends at segregated amusement parks and restaurants in the south. You can’t look at MLK getting hosed down by the pigs in Birmingham and say he was an establishment puppet. You’d be asking for either your head or your eyes examined, or perhaps your ass examined by my foot.

But then there’s Russell. Russell and Schneier. The Baller and the Hamptoner Rebbe. Hardly a Heschel or King. The only thing Russell and Martin have in common is the mouthpiece—Russell’s a media mogul, and much like his overarching competitors Rupert Murdoch and Sumner Redstone, he uses the media at his disposal to push his own agenda, “targeting young consumers through urban and hip-hop culture.” This approach has been predominantly used to hawk any number of commercial products to the urban youth market (such as Simmon’s own line of Phat Farm clothing), but more recently, utilizing the draw of popular hip hop artists, Russell’s been packing seats at his Hip Hop Summits, attempting to reinvigorate the interest of Black youth in American politics. But he’s only gotten so far just yet, and many see the Hip Hop Summit Action Network as Simmon’s own vein attempt to parlay his way to the top of the Black leadership ladder. I can’t say I’m displeased to know his agenda involves improving Black-Jewish relations—but, well, it’s an agenda nonetheless, and one that may not stem from the most righteous foundations.

Even if, say, BET (a Simmons-related enterprise) runs this story, and perhaps MTV picks it up, such a move comes off no better to the average viewer than Whitney Houston’s little attention ploy last year, particularly now that the kids are all rockin’ kaffiyehs in the ghetto* (thanks to artists like Mos Def and Common). In the end, this will sadly do no more than improve Russell’s relations with the Jewish community alone.

It all comes down to brand positioning, really. Simmons is not being discredited for being “in bed” with the Jews, but rather because his record clearly shows that he’s just pandering for power, and not really struggling for his people, nor, in this case, ours necessarily. A fair number of Jews do, undeniably, hold a place of power in an industry which Simmons’ has an evergrowing stake in and there is no nose quite like a brown-nose. Likewise, the celebrity rabbi Schneier is likely just using Simmons to advance his own name and his own non-profit. Hi-profile celebrity press, such as this, is sure to wow the pants off potential funders. And so the stones are laid on the Tower of Babel.

Hence, acts such as this, by so-called leaders, who have no constituency and thus no real power beyond shuffling pyramids, contribute to the prolefeed, but affect no real change at all. The event is packaged as ground breaking, or of import, but in reality is superficial at best, and counterproductive at worst. Russell Simmons is a Black leader and Marc Schneier is a Jewish leader only insomuch as their press releases state so. Their symbolic gestures don’t mean shit to the man in the street and serve no one’s interest other than their own.

You want some real ethnic understanding? Listen to Chuck D and get a clue.

*If only we could get some of those kids to read this stuff.

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