Jewish Group Decries Public Enemy's 'Swindler's Lust'

Anti-Defamation League says track has anti-Semitic overtones; rap band's label denies it.

A leading Jewish advocacy group has accused Public Enemy of espousing

anti-Semitism in the single "Swindler's Lust."

The accusation by the Anti-Defamation League, which complained about

the song in a letter to the rap band's label, Atomic Pop, is reminiscent

of an incident a decade ago in which Public Enemy's Professor Griff (born Richard Griffin)

was dismissed from the group after telling a Washington Times

reporter that he held Jews responsible for the "majority of wickedness

that goes on across the globe."

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said

the lyrics to "Swindler's Lust" (RealAudio excerpt)

are rife with anti-Semitic overtones that blame Jews for the plight

of poor blacks. References to banking and millions of people dying are

code words, according to Foxman, for such bigoted assertions as the

notion that Jews control financial and other industries.

Professor Griff was brought back into the studio for last year's He

Got Game, a soundtrack album for the film by the same name, but he

plays only a minor role on There's a Poison Goin' On, the album

on which the song appears. He has, however, joined Chuck D in a new

rock band called Confrontation Camp.

Foxman said the rock band's name, a play on "concentration camp," is

another insulting appropriation of Jewish history.

"We don't have the luxury to play games," he said. "The gas chambers at

Auschwitz [one of the concentration camps where Jews were

systematically murdered during the Holocaust] did not begin with bricks.

The gas chambers began with ugly words, hateful words, and they were

permitted to evolve into bricks because people found excuses for them."

Neither Public Enemy leader Chuck D (born Carlton Ridenhour), his manager,

Walter Leaphart, nor Atomic Pop president and chief executive officer

Al Teller wished to comment on the charges, an Atomic Pop spokesperson

said Wednesday (June 23).

But the spokesperson, Liz Morentin, wrote a letter to Foxman Tuesday

saying there are no anti-Semitic references in the song.

"We support artistic freedom, and we are aware that art is always

subject to interpretation," Morentin, the label's vice president for

media relations, said Wednesday, quoting from her letter.

Shortly after the song was first released, as a downloadable single,

Chuck D said he was unconcerned that the track would spur allegations

of bigotry. "I'm a wordsmith," he said. "I knew I was going to raise

some attention. There was no harm intended towards anyone."

He went on to say, however, that African-American musicians have been

wronged historically by a variety of people, including Jews and other

blacks.

"The truth is the truth," he said. "I think ['Swindler's Lust'] is a

hell of a title. People gotta check out the song and tell me whether

I'm right or wrong."

The title itself was one of the ADL's complaints. Foxman said Wednesday

the band added insult to injury by titling the song with a pun on the

celebrated Holocaust novel and Academy Award-winning film "Schindler's

List," which tells the story of a German businessman's efforts to save

thousands of Jews from death at the hands of the Nazis.

The spare cut, "Swindler's Lust," is a scathing attack on the music

industry, with references dating back to the early blues era. Chuck D

claims the industry has been run by executives whose greed is

detrimental to artists. It includes the couplet, "Laughin' all the way

to the bank/ Remember dem own the banks."

"[Allegations of] controlling banks and controlling the industry have

been classical canards of anti-Semitism fed ... into the black

community," Foxman said.

He also criticized the lyric, "Mo' dollars mo' cents for the Big Six/

Another million led to bled claiming their innocence," saying the

proximity of the words "six" and "million" are a thinly veiled

reference to the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Morentin brushed aside those interpretations. She said the "Big Six"

was a shorthand music-industry term for the six corporations that

long dominated the record business; the six companies recently were

reduced to five (Universal, Sony, Time Warner, BMG and EMI) with the

merger of Universal and PolyGram.

"Another million," she said, refers to the Million Man March

demonstration of 1995, which brought a massive gathering of black men

to Washington, D.C., to demonstrate racial pride. Morentin added that

the line about the banks has to do with a record label's role as de

facto banker when it lends artists money to make records.

Foxman called the label's response "completely unacceptable."

Ironically, the ADL's criticism comes five months after a spokesperson

for the league said the organization had investigated the song and

found nothing wrong with it.

The lyrics do not specifically mention Jews, which at the time was an

important distinction to Myrna Shinbaum, ADL director of media

relations.

"We listened to 'Swindler's Lust' and found no apparent anti-Semitism,"

Shinbaum said. "ADL believes it is just as important to say what is

not anti-Semitism as what is."

But Foxman, who first denounced the track in a June 17 letter to Teller,

said the ADL did not have a copy of the lyrics until recently, and

the group could not accurately discern them by listening to a downloaded

copy of the song.

The song was reissued in May as part of Public Enemy's album There's

a Poison' Goin' On.