Belafonte's Retraction of Remarks on Jews Causes New Flap

By Marc Morano | July 7, 2008 | 8:05pm EDT

( - Entertainer/activist Harry Belafonte has retracted some of the controversial comments he made at a civil rights march in Atlanta regarding Jews working for Hitler, but his retraction may have created even more controversy for the singer.

During an interview with Cybercast News Service at the Aug. 7 march, Belafonte asserted that Adolf Hitler's regime in Germany included Jews and that African Americans working in the Bush administration should be compared to Jews working for Hitler.

"Hitler had a lot of Jews high up in the hierarchy of the Third Reich," Belafonte said on Saturday. He went on to label African Americans working in the Bush administration as "tyrants."

On Wednesday, Belafonte told the Jerusalem Post: "I do regret the sentence was not structured more accurately." He added: "I, too, agree that Jews weren't 'high up.'"

But Belafonte's interview with the Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, which included the assertion that Jews claim "a high and pure morality," has caused more controversy and more demands for apologies.

"The point was not to attack Jews," Belafonte told the Jerusalem Post. "Sometimes, the Jewish people have laid claim to such a high and pure morality" that they react defensively when attacked. But the history of Jewish people "is a DNA that sits within the entire human family," Belafonte said.

On Thursday, Wyman Institute Director Rafael Medoff responded to Belafonte's assertion that the Jewish people claim "a high and pure morality."

Medoff said Belafonte's new statement "smacks of bigotry," and he called on Belafonte "to retract and apologize for his remarks."

"Hitler and his regime murdered six million Jews and launched a world war that caused more than 40 million deaths. How can that be compared to current U.S. government policy?" Medoff asked.

Belafonte used a 2002 book entitled "Hitler's Jewish Soldiers" to back his claim that Jews were involved in the Third Reich.

"Jews did have a role, some did, in the demise and brutal treatment of the Jewish people," Belafonte told the Jerusalem Post.

"Was it rampant? Absolutely not," Belafonte told the Post. "But these things happen, and people are not exempt from their behavior," he added.

"Let's not be dishonest about all of us. The more we know the truth, the better we'll be [at] improving humanity," he said.

But the book's author, Bryan Mark Rigg, repudiated Belafonte's attempt to use his book as the basis for his controversial statements.

"Belafonte continues to distort history. My book shows that a number of people of partial Jewish ancestry served in the German military, but they did not even consider themselves Jews," Rigg said in a statement released through the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.

"Moreover, the vast majority of them were drafted - they were forced to serve Hitler just as other Jews were forced to become slave laborers in Auschwitz and elsewhere," Rigg said.

"In fact, many of them were later dismissed from the German military and sent to forced labor camps, where they themselves were persecuted, and some were murdered. Belafonte should take the trouble to read the books he cites before claiming they support him. My book doesn't support him," Rigg added.

Belafonte was featured at the rally and march commemorating the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act. His controversial comments came in response to a question about his criticism of blacks working in the Bush administration.

The event included prominent Democrats like U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. Judge Greg Mathis of television fame called members of the Bush administration "thieves" and criminals" who needed to be "locked up" for allegedly stealing the last two presidential elections.

Belafonte's original comments about Jews "high up" in the Third Reich's hierarchy prompted the Anti-Defamation League and the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies to demand an apology earlier this week.

Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of the Institute for Holocaust Studies, said Belafonte was wrong about his assertion.

"The fact is that there were no Jews in Hitler's hierarchy. The policies of America and Israel are not similar to those of Hitler, and African-American conservatives are not comparable to Nazis," Medoff said.

Comedian Dick Gregory, also interviewed by Cybercast News Service during the Atlanta civil rights march, said that African-American conservatives "have a right to exist, but why would I want to walk around with a swastika on my shirt after the way Hitler done messed it up?"

'Atmosphere of fear'

In the Jerusalem Post interview, Belafonte stuck by his comparison of the Bush administration to Nazi Germany, calling the analogy "not inappropriate" because of the U.S. policy of "detaining suspects without charges [and] creating an atmosphere of fear."

These actions, Belafonte said, are "very much similar to the things that were done when Hitler was on the rise."

Belafonte then went on to explain why he believes Jewish groups would defend President Bush.

"I can understand why Jewish leaders would be prone to protect the image of George Bush and his administration," Belafonte told the Post, noting that the president supports Israel "even when there are questions of the humanitarian, the moral and the political [motivation] of things that are done to Palestinians."

Belafonte has received numerous awards from Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai Brith and Yeshiva University, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Noting that his wife is of Russian-Jewish heritage, he has visited Israel and he does "the best version" of "Hava Nagila," Belafonte said: "I've always been supportive of the right of Israel as a state, and I've always fought against anti-Semitism, even in my own community."

This is not the first time Belafonte's remarks have caused a backlash. In 2002, Belafonte called then-Secretary of State Colin Powell a "house slave."

Belafonte has also been criticized for his relationship with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. In 2002, Belafonte starred in the biographical documentary "Fidel." New York Times movie critic A.O. Scott described the film as "an exercise not in biography but in hero worship."

See Earlier Stories:

Bush, GOP Labeled 'Thieves' Who 'Need to Be Locked Up' (Aug. 8, 2005)

Entertainers Urged to Apologize for Nazi Comparisons (Aug. 9, 2005)

Harry Belafonte Calls Black Republicans 'Tyrants' (Aug. 8, 2005)

Belafonte's Racial Remarks Prompt Criticism, Anxiety (Oct. 24, 2002)

Critics Assail Fidel Castro's 'Sickening' Grip on Hollywood Celebs (Dec. 17, 2002)

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