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The Myth of Jews and Slavery

One of the enduring myths against the Jews is that they played a key role in the slave trade. The lie has once again been resurrected. In addition to being accused of having been part of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and of owning slaves, Jews are also charged with being involved in creating the Jim Crow laws that mandated racial segregation, sharecropping, the labor movement, unions and general mistreatment of black people in the U.S.

If we are to respond to this fabrication, we need to know the facts. This canard of Jewish involvement in the slave trade has been debunked by a number of historians as well as the Council of the American Historical Association (AHA). Historian Seymour Drescher, a noted expert on slavery and antislavery movements, found, “It is unlikely that more than a fraction of 1 percent of the twelve million enslaved and relayed Africans were purchased or sold by Jewish merchants even once… At no point along the continuum of the slave trade were Jews numerous enough, rich enough, and powerful enough to affect significantly the structure and flow of the slave trade or to diminish the suffering of its African victims.”

On January 5, 1995, the Council of the AHA passed a policy resolution relating to the alleged role of Jews in the slave trade. It read as follows:

“The AHA deplores any misuse of history that distorts the historical record to demonize or demean a particular racial, ethnic, religious, or cultural group. The Association therefore condemns as false any statement alleging that Jews played a disproportionate role in the exploitation of slave labor or in the Atlantic slave trade.

The AHA Council’s action was taken in response to a statement on this issue submitted to the Council by historians David Brion Davis (Yale University) and Seymour Drescher (University of Pittsburgh), noted experts on the history of slavery and antislavery movements. The Council decided to publish the Davis-Drescher statement, along with its own policy resolution, in the March 1995 issue of Perspectives. In addition, the Council’s policy resolution and the Davis-Drescher statement were released to the press on February 8, 1995. The Davis-Drescher statement follows:

“During the past few years there have been a number of egregious assaults on the historical record in institutions of higher learning and at educational conferences. These assaults implicate Jews as a dominant group in the Atlantic slave trade and the enslavement of Africans in the New World. The claims so misrepresent the historical record, however, that we believe them only to be part of a long anti-Semitic tradition that presents Jews as negative central actors in human history. In such scenarios, Jews are the secret force behind every major social development from capitalism to democracy, every major cataclysm from the Medieval Pandemic of the plague through the French and Russian Revolutions to the collapse of Communism, and now, incredibly, appear for the first time, as the secret force behind slavery. Unfortunately, the media have given the latest charges wide currency, while failing to dismiss them as spurious. As professional historians, who have closely examined and assessed the empirical evidence, we cannot remain silent while the historical record is so grossly violated.

“Atlantic slavery was an intercontinental enterprise extending over nearly four centuries. Ethnically, the participants included Arabs, Berbers, scores of African ethnic groups, Italians, Portuguese, Spaniards, Dutch, Jews, Germans, Swedes, French, English, Danes, white Americans, Native Americans, and even thousands of New World people of African descent who became slaveholding farmers or planters themselves. Since Portugal and Spain barred Jews from their empires, and since, by the 16th century most of the Jews who weren’t either killed or converted in Western Europe had fled eastward, it was impossible for Jews to play more than a marginal role in a vast system that attracted tens of thousands of pagans, Muslims, Catholics, and Protestants. Even in Holland and the Dutch colonies, where Jews were allowed to make their main “contribution” to New World slavery as merchants and planters, they always formed a minority. Similarly, Jews played only a nominal role in the slave system in the American South. Never more than a tiny fraction of the white population, they never formed more than a minuscule proportion of slaveholders.”

*Excerpt from Alex Grobman, License to Murder: The Enduring Threat of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (Noble, OK: Balfour Books,2011). See also

Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society, and on the advisory board of The National Christian Leadership Conference of Israel (NCLCI). He lives in Jerusalem

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