Left-Wing School Board President Goes Full Farrakhan, Says Jews Ran the Slave Trade

'No one's hands are clean,' Rochester City School District's Cynthia Elliott says in response to Hamas attack

Cynthia Elliott, Louis Farrakhan (, Win McNamee/Getty Images)
November 9, 2023

A liberal school board president in upstate New York is defending Black Lives Matter's embrace of Hamas by arguing that Jews are to blame for the slave trade, a long-debunked anti-Semitic trope that Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam first advanced in the 1990s.

Under the direction of school board president Cynthia Elliott, Rochester City School District has disseminated teacher training resources from Black Lives Matter at School, a left-wing group that aims to "address racial justice in education." After the group released a statement blaming Israel for Hamas's Oct. 7 terrorist assault on the Jewish state, parental rights group Parents Defending Education asked Elliott and the district's other school board members if they will continue working with Black Lives Matter at School. Elliott responded by arguing that the Jewish people's "hands" are not "clean," citing the "Jewish nation and their involvement in slavery" as proof.

"First, not one hand of any individual, living or dead, is clean," Elliott wrote in an Oct. 28 email obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. "But I would ask that you study the history of the Jewish nation and their involvement in slavery—financing the slave ships to bring Africans into the Americans and the Caribbeans. As I said, no one's hands are clean."

Elliott's response reflects the explosion of anti-Semitic rhetoric in America's colleges and K-12 schools. A public school district in Massachusetts, for example, sent its teachers a resource arguing that "Israeli terrorism" is "significantly worse than that of the Palestinians." A public high school teacher in New York City, meanwhile, made headlines when he described Hamas's attack as a "successful military campaign."

Farrakhan, a notorious anti-Semite who has called Jews "termites," first espoused the claim that Jews dominated the slave trade in 1991, when he released a Nation of Islam book titled The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews. The book argued that Jews dominated the Atlantic slave trade and routinely raped black women—claims that the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and the American Historical Association condemned as both anti-Semitic and false.

"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 said in a 1995 resolution. "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."

Marc Caplan, who authored the Anti-Defamation League's 1995 rebuttal to Farrakhan's book, echoed the association's resolution, telling the Free Beacon that Farrakhan's claims were "so poorly considered and inadequately documented" that they "couldn't withstand logical consideration."

"Both the anti-Semitism that motivated the book's production and the inadequacy of its reasoning is confirmed by the fact that Farrakhan himself was unable to reproduce the actual arguments of the book when interviewed about it—even in soft-ball interviews," Caplan said. "This indicates … that historical analysis was never the point of the book."

Neither Elliott nor her school board colleagues responded to requests for comment.

Black Lives Matter at School in its Oct. 17 statement called Hamas's terror attack "the direct result of decades of Israeli settler colonialism, land dispossession, occupation, blockade, apartheid, and attempted genocide of millions of Palestinians."

"Palestinians are reminding us that decolonization is not a metaphor or abstraction, but requires real, daily struggle," the group wrote.

A number of Black Lives Matter chapters have similarly dismissed and even glorified the terrorist assault, which killed scores of Israelis, including innocent women and children. A coalition of 26 local chapters called the attack a "desperate act of self-defense," while the Chicago chapter shared an image glorifying Hamas gunmen on paragliders. The movement's Phoenix branch similarly praised Hamas "freedom fighters" for their acts of "resistance."

Those statements do not appear to have persuaded Elliott to cease her school district's involvement with Black Lives Matter at School. Elliott in her email to Parents Defending Education said that while she doesn't "endorse many of the tenets by Black Lives Matter organization, the slogan is paramount for the uplift of a people who this world castigates, marginalizes and kills every day."

"And, lastly, know that I don't condone what the Hamas terrorist has done, but as I continue to say, no one's hands are clean in this world," Elliott added.