Jeremiah Wright: Messenger of Intolerance


Jeremiah Wright, the pastor emeritus at Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC) in Chicago, is once again at the center of a controversy after making inflammatory statements about Jews and Zionists.


Wright blamed Jews for the fact that he has been out of touch with President Barack Obama in an interview with the Daily Press, a Newport News, Virginia-based newspaper, on June 9. Wright noted that "them Jews aren't going to let him talk to me."


In the same interview, Wright asserted that Israel is committing ethnic cleansing in Gaza, which he described as "a sin and a crime against humanity," and expressed his belief that the Obama Administration would have sent a U.S. delegation to the 2009 Durban Review Conference in April if not for fear of losing "the Jewish vote, the A-I-P-A-C vote, that's controlling him."

Wright later stated that he misspoke and that he did not mean to refer to Jews, but rather Zionists. "I'm not talking about all Jews, all people of the Jewish faith, I'm talking about Zionists," Wright said. 

Wright's initial comments and subsequent effort to distinguish between Jews and Zionists is reminiscent of his past inflammatory comments, which propelled him into the spotlight during Obama's primary run, and which he maintained had been taken out of context by the media and others.


Wright was thrust into the national spotlight in early 2008, at the height of then-Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign. As the media investigated Obama's longtime membership at TUCC and his relationship with Wright, at the time TUCC's pastor, several of Wright's sermons and writings became the focus of attention.


In his statements, Wright expressed support for Louis Farrakhan, the anti-Semitic leader of the Nation of Islam; accused Israel of committing state terrorism; asserted that the U.S. brought the 2001 World Trade Center attacks upon itself; and charged that the U.S. government invented the HIV virus as a means of "genocide against people of color."


The media's focus on TUCC raised questions reaching beyond Wright's views on domestic and foreign policy issues. Themes of white supremacy and black repression in Wright's sermons and in the church's guiding principles, along with TUCC's motto "Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian," compelled some critics to charge that the church promoted divisive, separatist views.


Though Wright refrained from responding to criticism and making public appearances throughout much of the election year, he did conduct a round of appearances in response to Obama's March 18, 2008 speech on race relations in the U.S.  In Obama's speech, titled "A More Perfect Union," he distanced himself from Wright and some of his past statements.


During interviews, sermons, and televised speeches held over the course of one week in April 2008, Wright addressed issues surrounding religious and racial diversity, emphasized that his sermons has been distorted by the media for political purposes, and portrayed the controversy surrounding his past sermons as an attack against the Black church.

Wright also denied accusations that he is divisive when discussing race relations, stating, "I am not one of the most 'divisive'… the word is 'descriptive." He claimed that real-world conditions, not his commentary, are responsible for the nation's ills.

Under scrutiny for the inflammatory comments about Israel and Zionism that had marked some of his past speeches, Wright was repeatedly questioned about his views on the subjects during these April 2008 talks.


At an appearance that same week at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, Wright refused to denounce Farrakhan's comments about Zionism being a gutter religion when asked about them during the question and answer session. Wright emphasized that Farrakhan made the comment about Zionism, not Judaism, and stated, "He was saying the same thing UN resolutions say, same thing Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu are being vilified for." (Former U.S. President Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu frequently compare Israel's treatment of Palestinians to South African Apartheid).


He further said he would not denounce Farrakhan, adding that "Farrakhan is not my enemy, he didn't put me in chains, he did not put me in slavery, and didn't make me this color."


When asked about his own views on Israel, Wright challenged the questioner's assertion that he has likened Israeli policy to apartheid ("Where did I liken them?... Jimmy Carter called it apartheid; Jeremiah Wright didn't liken anything to anything"). He stated, "My position on Israel is that Israel has a right to exist, that Israelis have a right to exist." However, he then cited The Link, an anti-Israel publication from Americans for Middle East Understanding, posing the question, "Have you read the Link?"


Wright also addressed Israel and the Israeli-Arab conflict during an appearance at Michigan State University a few months earlier. During his talk on February 7, 2008, Wright described the creation of the state of Israel as "a political decision made in 1948 to solve a European problem of European Jews by putting them in somebody else's country."


He said he identified with Carter, Tutu and Jim Wall of Christian Century, saying that like them he would be "labeled as anti-Semitic" for citing U.N. resolutions and international court findings pertaining to Israel and the Palestinians.


Wright served as the pastor at TUCC from 1972 until he retired in 2008.

In His Own Words

"Them Jews aren't gonna let [Obama] talk to me. I told my baby daughter, that he'll talk to me in five years when he's a lame duck, or in eight years when he's out of office."


"The Jewish vote, the A-I-P-A-C vote that's controlling him that would not let him send a representation to the Darfur [Durban] review conference that's talking this craziness because the Zionists, they will not let him talk to somebody who calls a spade what it is.  Ethnic cleansing is going on in Gaza. The ethnic cleansing of the Zionists is a sin and a crime against humanity. They don't want Barack talking like that because that's anti-Israel." 

An interview with Newport News, VA-based 

newspaper The Daily Press June 9, 2009


"Part of the fight going on now in terms of the religious arguments and tension and polarization and hatred among the fundamentalists especially in each of the major world religions has to do with the political [rather than religious], especially as it pertains to the political decision made in 1948 to solve a European problem of European Jews by putting them in somebody else's country."

                                                                                                      From a lecture at Michigan State University,

February 7, 2008


"We supported Zionism shamelessly while ignoring the Palestinians and branding anybody who spoke out against them as being anti-Semitic."

From a sermon at Howard University in

Washington, D.C., January 15, 2006


"The Israelis have illegally occupied Palestinian territories for almost 40 years now. It took a divestment campaign to wake the business community up concerning the South Africa issue. Divestment has now hit the table again as a strategy to wake the business community up and to wake Americans up concerning the injustice and the racism under which the Palestinians have lived because of Zionism. The Divestment issue will hit the floor during this month's General Synod. Divesting dollars from businesses and banks that do business with Israel is the new strategy being proposed to wake the world up concerning the racism of Zionism."

From Wright's Pastor's Page message

Trumpet Newsmagazine, July 2005


"Last year's conference in Africa on racism, which the United States would not participate in, because somebody dared to point the racism which still supports both here and in Israel. I said that dirty word again. Every time you say Israel, Negros get awfully quiet on you, 'cause they scared. Don't be scared. Don't be scared. You don't see the connection between 9-1-1-0-1 and the Israeli-Palestinian? Something wrong, you wanna borrow my glasses?"

From a sermon, September 1, 2002


"We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon and we never batted an eye…We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done oversees is now brought right back into our own front yards. Americans chickens are coming home to roost.'"

From a sermon, September 16, 2001


On Louis Farrakhan


"Louis said 20 years ago that Zionism, not Judaism, was a gutter religion. He was talking about the same thing United Nations resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter's being vilified for and Bishop Tutu's being vilified for. Everyone wants to paint me as if I'm anti-Semitic because of what Louis Farrakhan said 20 years ago… Louis and I don't agree on everything….He is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st centuries, that's what I think about him…Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy, he didn't put me in chains, he did not put me in slavery, and didn't make me this color."

From an appearance at the National Press Club

in Washington DC, April 28, 2008


"… Farrakhan is not my enemy, Farrakhan did not enslave Africans. He never raped a black woman, and Farrakhan didn't make me this color. Let's be clear."


"[Farrakhan] made some anti-Semitic remarks. Well, you all got water boarding you say is fine, you're killing folk… in Guantanamo there's a secret part of that camp where you been torturing folk… let's talk about that! We're not talking about that, what we keep up in the public is, oh you know Jeremiah Wright… in 1984 I went to… Tripoli and got to know Farrakhan."


From a lecture at Michigan State University,

February 7, 2008


"Everybody may not agree with him, but they listen…His depth on analysis when it comes to the racial ills of this nation is astounding and eye opening. He brings a perspective that is helpful and honest."


"Minister Farrakhan will be remembered as one of the 20th and 21st century giants of the African American religious experience. His integrity and honesty have secured him a place in history as one of the nation's most powerful critics. His love for Africa and African American people has made him an unforgettable force, a catalyst for change and a religious leader who is sincere about his faith and his purpose."


From Trumpet Newsmagazine's cover story on

Farrakhan, who received the magazine's annual "Lifetime Achievement 'Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. Trumpeter' Award," November/December 2007

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.