Biden nominee says she erred in inviting anti-Semitic lecturer

Kirsten Clarke, Biden's nominee for top civil rights position, says she would not 'give platform again' to anti-Semitic lecturers.

Ron Kampeas, JTA ,

Joe Biden
Joe Biden

Kristen Clarke, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to head the civil rights division at the Justice Department, said it was a mistake to have invited the author of an anti-Semitic screed to speak at Harvard when she headed a black student group there.

In 1994, Clarke as the leader of a Black Student Association invited Tony Martin, author of a book called “The Jewish Onslaught,” to speak and defended him afterward. Jews on campus at the time were appalled by the invitation.

In his address, ostensibly meant to address The Bell Curve controversy, Martin excoriated Jews and Judaism, trashing the Torah, the Talmud, and the writings of Maimonides as being racist texts.

"There was a Jewish monopoly over Blacks being cursed," Martin said during the 1994 address, claiming that Jews had been the first to develop racist theories.

“Giving someone like him a platform, it’s not something I would do again,” Clarke told the Forward on Thursday.

At the time, Clarke defended Martin’s claims, saying: "Professor Martin is an intelligent, wellversed Black intellectual who bases his information of indisputable fact.”

Biden announced his choice of Clarke last Monday, which earned praise from the Anti-Defamation League.

The following day Tucker Carlson, a Fox News Channel host, uncovered 1994 stories in the Harvard Crimson about the Martin controversy. Subsequently, statements from left-wing Jewish groups backing Clarke defended her, despite her history of controversial statements.

“This week, Kristen Clarke acknowledged she made a mistake when, as a student at Harvard, she gave a professor who promoted antisemitic conspiracy theories a platform,” Bend the Arc: Jewish Action said Thursday on Twitter. “She unequivocally denounces anti-Semitism — and acts upon that commitment in fighting religious discrimination.”

Also praising Clarke on Thursday for her work combatting anti-Semitism were the National Council of Jewish Women, the Jewish Democratic Council of America, and Joel Rubin, the American Jewish Congress executive director.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, who directs T’ruah, said in an interview that Clarke’s statement this week was a “model of teshuvah,” or repentance, and derided those on the right who would stigmatize someone for something they said as a teenager.

“It’s not accidental that people on the right are specifically going after women of color and trying to dig up anything from their past even if it’s something that happened when they’re 19,” Jacobs said.

Along with her invitation to Tony Martin to speak on campus, as an undergraduate at Harvard in 1994, Clarke also drew criticism for her letter to the student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, in which she claimed that blacks are genetically superior to other races, and are endows with "greater mental, physical, and spiritual abilities."

In 2018, Clarke appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight, advocating for the use of racial quotes in hiring in private companies, saying that appearance should be taken into account along with job competence when companies select candidates.