WASHINGTON (JTA) — Barack Obama posed for a photo in 2005 with Louis Farrakhan, the virulently anti-Semitic leader of the Nation of Islam movement, and the photographer said he suppressed its publication at the request of a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The future president was the U.S. senator from Illinois at the time.
The Trice Edney News Wire first published the photo on Jan. 20. It quotes the photographer, Askia Muhammad, saying that after snapping the picture at a meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus, an unidentified member of the caucus asked him immediately not to run the photo.
Muhammad said he gave the disk containing the photo to Farrakhan’s chief of staff.
As there was already talk in 2005 of Obama running for president, Muhammad said he and others did not want to harm the Democrat’s chances. It isn’t clear who was employing Muhammad at the time, but he had previously worked for the Nation of Islam publication, The Final Call.
Jewish leaders have repeatedly denounced Farrakhan as an anti-Semite, noting his speeches accusing Jews variously of conspiring to control the government, the media and Hollywood.
Farrakhan apparently referred to the photo in 2016 toward the end of Obama’s second term, saying he had met privately with Obama and had a photo of them together. He didn’t specify the date of the meeting. The newly released photo shows Obama and Farrakhan with members of Farrakhan’s family and the Rev. Willie Wilson, an organizer of Farrakhan’s Million Man March in 1995.
Farrakhan expressed support for Obama’s candidacy in 2008, and Obama’s pastor at the time, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, had praised Farrakhan on multiple occasions. That made Farrakhan an issue during the primaries campaign that year, and Obama’s rival at the time, Hillary Clinton, called on him to repudiate Farrakhan. Obama did so during a primaries debate.
Talking Points Memo, which also reported Thursday on the photo, solicited comment from Obama. A spokesman directed the liberal news site to an interview Obama gave in 1995 when he was first running for the Illinois state Senate, and after he had attended Farrakhan’s Million Man March on Washington, D.C.
“What I saw was a powerful demonstration of an impulse and need for African-American men to come together to recognize each other and affirm our rightful place in the society,” Obama told the Chicago Reader, describing his impressions of the march. “There was a profound sense that African-American men were ready to make a commitment to bring about change in our communities and lives.”
But he continued: “But cursing out white folks is not going to get the job done. Anti-Semitic and anti-Asian statements are not going to lift us up. We’ve got some hard nuts-and-bolts organizing and planning to do. We’ve got communities to build.”