Black media pundits and activists have been quick to drag political commentator Van Jones for taking it upon himself to speak on behalf of all Black people this week with a bizarre apology for the rising antisemitism that preceded Kanye West’s recent outbursts.
The media personality and Kim Kardashian BFF seemingly assumed the role of Black America’s leader when he appeared as the keynote speaker on Monday evening at the Wall Street Dinner, held by the UJA-Federation of New York, a philanthropic organization dedicated to connecting various groups in order to strengthen Jewish communities.
In a video of the speech uploaded to Twitter by the UJA, Jones detailed the work of his godmother, Dottie Zellner, a white Jewish woman and civil rights activist in the 1960s. He said she understood the impact of the Holocaust in Europe and felt the need to fight racial injustice in the U.S., so she participated in Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee-led sit-ins.
“We had 300 years of slavery, 100 years of Jim Crow terror, and a bunch of crazy Black and Jewish kids went down one summer and broke the back of Jim Crow,” Jones said, seemly forgetting that Jews are also not a monolith and are made up of multiple races and ethnicities.
“The light that we don’t talk about and because we don’t talk about it…the haters say whatever they want to. And it’s time for us to tell the truth,” Jones continued. “The reason this country is a democracy at all is because Black and Jewish people have loved each other and helped each other and supported each other and stood up for each other. That’s why you have a democracy here because the best in your community and the best of our community stood together. That’s why you have a democracy here.”
The room erupted in applause.
However, The Forward senior political reporter Jacob Kornbluh tweeted additional comments that were not captured in the UJA’s clip.
“@VanJones68 apologizes to the Jewish community ‘for the silence of my community’ and allowing ‘an African American icon praising Hitler and Nazis, and we act like we don’t know where that hatred came from.’ But he says ‘the silence is over,’” Kornbluh tweeted.
Jones repeated, “Ye, nah.. Ye, nah,” Kornbluh added, referring to Kanye West, before he said, “You’re going to see a change going forward.”
Kornbluh later tweeted a clarification that Jones “did not apologize for alleged Black silence about Kanye.”
“To the contrary: he stressed that many in his community are speaking out forcefully. In speech, he said he was sorry that he + others didn’t do more before Kanye,” he wrote.
Jones thanked him for the clarification, writing, “If I HAD said Black folks weren’t holding Kanye/Ye accountable, that woulda been a lie—coz zillions of us HAVE condemned Ye. Let’s stick together and get louder vs hate.” (Jones’ publicist declined to provide his full comments to The Daily Beast, saying in an email, “This was a private event for the UJA and all that is available for the public is what is already in the public domain.”)
However, Kornbluh confirmed to The Daily Beast that Jones did, in fact, say that he apologized “for the silence of my community” as a “wave of hatred” was building against the Jewish community.
“As a result, we now have the shock to you, the pain to you and the humiliation to us of having an African American Icon praising Hitler and Nazis, and we act like we don’t know where that hatred came from,” Jones said, according to Kornbluh. “And I want to say very clearly, when it was a drip, we did not turn it off. And now it is a flood and I want to say to you, I apologize for the silence of my community. The silence is over.”
Members of the Black community were not having it, scoffing at Jones’ generalizations about the community operating as a monolith and his lack of community engagement.
“It’s the way black people have BEEN speaking out about K*nye even BEFORE the antisemitism, and when it happened we spoke about that too!!! I wanna know how Van Jones bald-headed ass can breathe with all that brown-nosing,” tweeted writer Meecham Whitson Meriweather.
“This is why we just can’t deal with Van Jones because this is utter bullshit!” wrote TV personality Bevy Smith. “First off many of us on this platform spoke out against that sick tirade, but I also want to know did he call out his Jewish friends for not speaking up about police brutality & systemic racism?”
“Dear Everyone, Van Jones is not the spokesperson for black people. Thank you,” actress Aonika Laurent tweeted.
“I would like to apologize to the Black community for Van Jones,” wrote HuffPost opinion editor Stephen Crockett Jr.
Others jumped in to comment on Jones’ ironic association with people who have shared alleged anti-Black sentiments.
“I found the Black people Van Jones represents,” civil rights activist Bishop Talbert Swan wrote along with a picture of Jones posing next to anti-Black commentator Candace Owens, who’s Black and donned matching “White Lives Matter” shirts with West during Paris Fashion Week. (The Anti-Defamation League has associated the phrase as hate speech. Owens was also suspended from GoFundMe during the racial reckoning of 2020 for “a repeated pattern of inflammatory statements that spread hate, discrimination, intolerance and falsehoods against the black community at a time of profound national crisis,” the site said.)
“Who is ‘we,’” voting rights advocate Maya Contreras asked Jones on Twitter. “Many of us have spoken out against antisemitism — for decades and will continue to do so. Speak for yourself, and maybe tell some of your crew below to speak up too.”
Contreras also posted pictures of Jones with members of the Trump family.
“I wonder why @VanJones68 didn’t blame those who’ve spent the most personal time around Kanye for his behavior? Like his ex wife, ex mother ‘n law and super rich friends?” African American political activist Yvette Carnell posted.
However, the kicker was Black-equity writer Michael Harriot’s essay in The Grio, describing Jones as “CNN’s tearmonger-in-chief.”
“Who is more qualified to accurately gauge the sentiments of the Black community than the guy who told his community to give Donald Trump ‘his due’ for being the ‘uniter-in-chief,’” Harriot wrote. “Maybe Jones missed all those tweets condemning Ye’s antisemitism because he was invited to so many cookouts. Instead of browsing Black Twitter, he could’ve been busy workshopping the chant he debuted during his speech.”
“I can recall how angry the entire Jewish community was when Ye was just anti-Black. Actually, I can’t, but I’m sure they said something at the NAACP Image Awards, so it’s only right that we reciprocate as a group,” Harriot continued. “We are so lucky that one of the leading voices of reason in the African-American community offered the mea culpa that we refused to give.”
Jones’ spokesperson did not comment any further on the issue Wednesday.
In a previous interview with The Daily Beast, he accused his critics of hiding behind social media to make negative comments about him.
“People say stuff about me on Twitter that they’d never say to my face,” he said. “When I DM them they’re all apologetic.”