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‘Real Housewives’ franchise needs to tackle antisemitism, not just racism

I’ve been a fan of Bravo’s “Real Housewives” from the start, especially the New York and New Jersey franchises. Small towns in their own ways, I’ve become good friends with a few of the housewives in real life over the years, too. In fact, if you squint hard enough, you may spot me in early episodes, chatting nonchalantly with other Friends-of-Housewives in the background as the cameras rolled.

I’m currently catching up on the 13th season of the “Real Housewives of New York” and proud to see that Bravo’s hometown franchise has welcomed its first black cast member, Eboni K. Williams.

Adding the first black “RHONY” cast member isn’t the only way Bravo is reportedly reckoning with race issues and ethnic diversity both on screen and behind the scenes.

“People haven’t talked about race and ethnicity to the extent that they’ve talked about it this season,” Bravo’s executive vice president of current programming, Shari Levine, told Vulture.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” which just aired the final “Reunion” episode of its own 13th season. The show followed its all-black cast, including fan-favorite Porsha Williams, her Black Lives Matter activism and her own arrest calling for the arrest of the officers responsible for the shooting of Breonna Taylor. Williams’ activism didn’t go unnoticed by Bravo execs. Page Six revealed this week that Bravo greenlighted a three-part series for her, spotlighting her activism and family life.

Bravo to Bravo for its reckonings on race. But the network has yet to reckon with a different kind of apparent bias from some of cast members: tacit antisemitism.

Student Minister Abdul Sharrieff Muhammad (pictured left, with Minister Louis Farrakhan) attended a Baby Blessing Dinner for Porsha Williams, and later posted a message praising Farrakhan's beliefs.
Facebook

At Williams’ Baby Blessing Dinner in September 2018 with then-partner Dennis Mckinley, Student Minister Abdul Sharrieff Muhammad, the Southern Regional Representative of The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and The Nation of Islam, posed for a photo with the couple. He then posted the picture with a post that read: “It was a honor to share some words based on what the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has taught us!!”

Around the same time, McKinley praised Williams along with a video on Instagram of Farrakhan and the message: “Let the dynasty begin….together we buil️d… The home is not a woman’s place, it’s her base. Her place is wherever her gift will take her if she is free to be who she really is.”

Last July, the Anti-Defamation League referred to Farrakhan as “the most popular antisemite in America.” In 2019, Facebook and Twitter suspended his accounts, citing his hateful rhetoric as a reason.

Sharrieff Muhammad denies Farrakhan is an antisemite, but does so while promoting the Nation of Islam’s three-volume “The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews,” which falsely asserts that Jews are responsible for the slave trade, that the Holocaust never happened, that Jews control the government, media and the economy, and many other conspiracies refuted by historians and condemned as purely antisemitic.

Farrakhan himself has an odd way of defending his hatred of Jews — and his homophobia. At his Million Man March in 2015, Farrakhan falsely claimed “Jews in Hollywood” had “single handedly made same sex marriage legal.” Then, speaking of Jews, he added: “You’re God’s chosen people?! You’ve lost your covenant status! You are not the chosen of God, you are the chosen of Satan!”

Phaedra Parks has called Minister Luis Farrakhan (pictured together) a "great mentor" and a "good friend."
Abdul Sharrieff Muhammad/Facebook

Sadly, Porsha Williams and former “RHOA” cast member Phaedra Parks helped promote the Million Man March. In a September 2015 Facebook post, Sharrieff Muhammad thanked “my dear Sister Phaedra and Porsha of The Real Housewives of Atlanta” for helping to “push” the event.

Parks, who is rumored to be rejoining the “RHOA” cast next season, has called Farrakhan a “great mentor” and “close friend.” She has even boasted of filming scenes with Farrakhan for “RHOA” which (thankfully) never aired.

I’m not accusing Williams or Parks of being antisemites. I can’t know what’s in their heart. And Parks has done her part to wish her “Jewish brothers and sisters” an easy fast on Yom Kippur.

But I also do not believe for a second that Andy Cohen, executive producer of the Real Housewives franchise and the face of Bravo — and the man who brought “Mazel” into the vernacular — is unaware of the unease many viewers would feel knowing these cast members’ close connections to Farrakhan and his ilk. Cohen himself is both Jewish and gay, two identities Farrakhan has deep contempt for.

Nevertheless, a 2015 photo of “RHOA” cast members at the Million Man March remains on the Bravo website. Perhaps Bravo’s 2021 “reckoning” can continue by removing that picture ASAP. And if Williams is to focus on activism as her new three-part series suggests, perhaps she can begin by taking a closer look at the company she keeps.

Melanie Notkin is the author of “Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness.” 

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