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Was Michael Jackson a racist?

Date

The Michael Jackson soap opera keeps bubbling along with reports that his doctor Conrad Murray will soon be charged with involuntary manslaughter for the pop star's death. And in less two weeks, This Is It, the film showcasing his pre-concert rehearsals that has become the top grossing music-documentary of all times will be released on DVD, reaching millions of additional teenage viewers.

One song performed by Jackson in the movie is They Don’t Care about Us, a 1995 release that features the racially notorious lyrics, “Jew me, sue me, everybody do me/ Kick me, kike me, don't you black or white me.” It reminded me of the hubbub that flared then and the ongoing controversy of whether Jackson was an anti-Semite.  

The self-proclaimed King of Pop immediately denied the accusations, telling Diane Sawyer of ABC News that the song is a cry against bigotry and that "It's not anti-Semitic because I'm not a racist. I could never be a racist. I love all races. My accountants and lawyers are Jewish. My three best friends are Jewish: David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg. These are friends of mine. They're all Jewish. How does this make sense?''

Yet, even close friends such as Steven Spielberg publicly stated they were not happy about Jackson using such a hurtful slur and found the track offensive. In fact, Spielberg was so angry at Jackson that he refused to join him at an apologetic press conference that the singer planned to do at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

Consider this: in a song that has “They” in its title, clearly indicating a group rather than an individual, and is supposedly about all kinds of prejudices, the fact that Jews are the only group that is singled out casts doubt on Jackson’s denial that he was pointedly critical of Jews. In response to the barrage of criticism, Jackson apologised for using the anti-Semitic slang and recorded a new, re-worded version. However, the insensitive lyrics were reinstated for the video release, even though Jackson gave his assurances that the song would not appear again with those offending words.

Moreover, the apology wasn’t enough for Dawn Steel, former president of Columbia Pictures who wrote in the LA Times: "Oh, please, Michael! Why does your apology feel so facile, so much a part of a strategy to clean up your image? I for one don't buy it. The images and words and sounds you create don't just go away. They are indelibly etched into our consciousness, the damage is done. Your public relations problem might go away, but how can I forgive you for teaching my child the word kike . . . You are an adult. You must act like one. Stop blaming everyone else. Stop seeing yourself as a victim who has been misunderstood."

In various ways, the claim by Jackson that he was unaware that these lyrics would have such a distressing impact was a defence that many found hard to believe. Patrick Mcdonald of The Seattle Times observed: “It makes you wonder: Is there no one in the Jackson camp who confronts him when he does something stupid? He may have lived a sheltered life, but there really is no excuse for using terms like "Jew me" and "kike" in a pop song, unless you make it clear you are denouncing such terms, and do so in an artful way.”

This was not Jackson’s last brush with allegations of anti-Semitism. In 2005, telephone answer machine messages left by the singer to his former adviser Dieter Wiesener were aired on American TV, in which Jackson blames the Jews for his financial woes and declares "They suck. They're like leeches . . . I'm so tired of it . . . they start out the most popular person in the world, make a lot of money, big house, cars and everything. End up penniless. It is conspiracy. The Jews do it on purpose.”

Jackson never publicly responded to the revelations, though his attorney at that time Brian Oxman did not dispute that Jackson left the "leech" message”. Jackson’s former spiritual confidant Rabbi Shmuley Boteach was disgusted by the comments and issued a statement that said, "I watched in sadness the tragic and catastrophic decline of Michael Jackson since disowning him more than four years ago. But even I never believed that he would fall so low and become a racist, bigoted anti-Semite. I pray that Michael finally seeks out the serious spiritual and psychological help he needs to rediscover the inspiration he once brought millions."  At the same time, Jackson's Israeli fan club told the press in 2005 that they did not believe the tapes reflected the true nature of Jackson's beliefs.

Interestingly, these scandals did not prevent the Jewish Museum in Vienna from displaying a life-size photograph of Jackson in a 2009 exhibition titled "Typical! -- Cliches of Jews and Others," examining the use and abuse of ethnic stereotypes in popular culture. Jackson’s 2002 image was used to show how the performer, through his surgical transformation demolished stereotypes and, literally cut himself away from the restrictions of physical definition.

And the Jewish connection does not end here. A continuing mystery is whether his two children, Prince Michael and Paris, are indeed Jewish? Given that their mother Susan Rowe, who was married to Jackson, is Jewish, according to Jewish law, the 12 and 11-year-olds are Jews. In 2005, Debbie Rowe did in fact disclose that she and the children were Jewish, releasing that information because she was concerned Jackson was embracing the teaching of The Nation of Islam.

And the saga continues . . .

 

44 comments

  • Dvir he's dead.
    He can't defend himself, he can't apologise and we'll never know what was going on in his mind (and I'm resisting the impulse to say that's a good thing (probably)).
    So hey, let it rest eh?

    Commenter
    David
    Location
    Leongatha
    Date and time
    January 13, 2010, 10:22AM
    • Snap out of it Dvir. Get some objectivity while your getting a life.

      Commenter
      zac48
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      January 13, 2010, 11:17AM
      • So you have run out of supposedly anti-semitic cartoons and are now going after demented dead pop stars.

        Dude, not everyone is trying to victimise you.

        Commenter
        bellastarkey
        Date and time
        January 13, 2010, 11:24AM
        • Judaism is a religion, not a race. If they didn't join or practice the Jewish faith, how can they be Jewish? "Jewish law" only matters to insiders. How can it matter to outsiders what "Jewish law" says. And Israelis are hardly a race either - the country itself is such a polyglot of different countries, & the mother & her parents weren't born there either. Whether they like it or not, Israelis from the region are of Arabic descent.

          Commenter
          PMCD
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          January 13, 2010, 12:26PM
          • Actually, PMCD, they're of Semitic descent, as are the Palestinians. Not everyone from that region is Arabic. Just for two examples, you have the Semitic ethnic group and the Persian ethnic group (which are based more around the languages they speak than their racial make-up).

            While it's highly debatable, you can also make a case for being an ethnic Jew (or Hebrew), if only because of the extremely low incidence of positive conversion (ie. conversion to) in Judaism. As such, particular physical characteristics tend to be common in Jewish (in the religious sense) communities. However you're right, that doesn't mean that "Jewish law" applies to any person who doesn't practice Judaism, regardless of their racial make-up.

            None of this changes the fact that most of Dvir's columns, including this one, tend to be irrelevant, borderline paranoid nonsense, of course.

            Commenter
            S
            Date and time
            January 13, 2010, 1:20PM
            • Dvir...
              First Family Guy now Michael Jackson. You are really tackling the big issues confronting the Jewish people.
              You are embarrasing yourself and the community I belong to and you represent.
              Perhaps you can address real violent anti-Semitism that occurs throughout the world or even discuss the minaret ban in Switzerland and the impact that has of religous freedoms.
              You're an educated man Dvir, time to put the lightweight issues to bed.

              Commenter
              Jay
              Location
              Melbourne
              Date and time
              January 13, 2010, 3:32PM
              • Here goes the propaganda machine again. Do you remember the rubbish about Schindlers list, the estate agent who used the title of the film as an advertising ploy and was pilloried.
                So was Shakespeare an "anti-semite" for creating the character Shylock or Dickens for Fagin.
                Am I anti-Australian for saying Blamey was a fool, or that Menzies was a sychophant toward the British? Am I racist for saying Anthony Mundine is a loudmouth and lastly am I an anti-semite for criticising illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and its policies in Gaza. Please say I am Dvir, and and reveal the real nature of your problem. Your byline says you cover "the Jewish world and Israel from a local and global perspective". Perhaps less naval-gazing and a more broad, universal perspective may improve your copy. Jackson is dead and was clearly sick, and as such an easy target. Shakespeare lives on in language and is revered for his understanding of human nature. Why not do an article on him too! Maybe that's your problem. He's too big a target and you can't!
                Rhett Orric

                Commenter
                Rhett Orric
                Location
                Gold Coast
                Date and time
                January 13, 2010, 3:36PM
                • THIS JUST IN - Jackson 5 alleged to be anti-boogie-ists as they urge public to "blame it on the boogie". Ha! I knew it all along.

                  Commenter
                  Sensationalist
                  Location
                  LaLaLand
                  Date and time
                  January 13, 2010, 3:47PM
                  • wow, mate you see what you did wrong here, you wrote a article about anti semitism without bringing up WW2.

                    Please remember to also write in WW2 references for sympathy.

                    wah wah im a jew everyones an antisemite. wah wah.

                    Commenter
                    blue
                    Location
                    bris
                    Date and time
                    January 13, 2010, 4:18PM
                    • Dvir, you are sounding like a paranoid nutter. The song was 12 years ago and Jackson is dead. Do you google "jew" every morning to look for outrage?
                      If he were a true anti-semite would he have had kids with a jew?
                      You are ridiculous. as I have said before, every one of your rants diminishes the real problem of anti-semitism as people will just roll their eyes and think "whinging jew". But I guess that statement is anti-semetic, we are only allowed to say whinging pom...

                      Commenter
                      vap
                      Date and time
                      January 13, 2010, 4:19PM

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