Here is a transcript of the full Jewish News election interview with John James. This has been edited for clarity. Read our feature about James.
What is your relationship to the Jewish community in Michigan?
I’m honored to count members of the Jewish community among our grassroots supporters at all levels. The community is well represented, not just in my campaign but in my normal everyday life. In fact, I live in a neighborhood, Farmington Hills, that is very heavily Jewish. Florine Mark lives directly across the street. Florine Mark is a very prominent Jewish businesswoman and she is my next-door neighbor, actually a very firm supporter of my opponent, but we’re friends in spite of that. And you know, that’s OK. It’s OK to support different political parties and have agreements and disagreements. She still invites my kids to come over and play in her pool and I’ve been over at family dinners.
What is your message to Jewish voters? How will you represent them if elected senator?
I will represent them, I believe all of us, regardless of our race, color, creed or religious affiliation. I’ll make sure that, whether you approve of me or disagree with me, you can be proud of me. I think that making sure that we have people who can bring nonpartisan solutions to the table, people who look for the commonalities that could benefit the people in the state of Michigan rather than what divides us, is what we need the most.
I think experience is what matters, especially when you’re talking about emerging from the physical health and economic health crisis of COVID. Being in situations where I’ve been in charge of people’s lives and livelihoods and businesses, I think that benefits all people in the state of Michigan.
I also believe that representation matters. And this is something that I believe is very critical for the Jewish community. The African American community and the Jewish community have been very tight for as long as at least my father can remember. My father tells me stories about people who helped him break through the automotive logistics industry [who] were his Jewish friends. And you see a lot of pictures of the civil rights movement, and folks who were marching right beside African Americans were our Jewish brothers and sisters. And even now, today as we have our racial strife in the streets, both anti-Semitic and racial violence against African Americans, I think that our communities are just getting tighter.
What are your thoughts on the recent UAE/Bahrain/Israel peace deal?
What a historic achievement. Peace in the Middle East — for as long as I’ve been alive that’s kind of been a dream. And we’re getting close to that dream with this agreement.
I think this is definitely a massive stepping-stone to do what we can to protect and preserve stability in a region that’s been rocked by war for thousands of years, and particularly violent in the past couple decades. I said to a crowd of 5,000 recently, “There must be no space between the United States and our ally Israel. We must protect our allies.”
I think there’s some speculation that there may even be an opportunity to expand a similar peace deal with Saudi Arabia, which would be great. I think that Jews, Christians, Muslims and even folks who are not affiliated, we can and should agree that peace is best for the world.
What do you think about concessions to Palestinians as a part of this agreement?
In general, you make concessions as an act of good faith. I think that making concessions when the Palestinian Authority can demonstrate that it’s willing to work towards peace in the region and ensure that whatever concessions are made is not then turned around to fund terrorist operations or terrorist salaries or organizations or ends. A two-state solution that is essentially determined by the Israeli foreign policy, I think needs two willing partners for peace.
Recently, there was an ad from a Jewish PAC that linked you to anti-Semitism. The ad talked about the swastika that appeared in your 2018 campaign ad, and a recent comment you made about “genuflecting” to Jewish voters. What do you think the Jewish community in Michigan should know about this ad and those incidents?
They should first and foremost know that that’s what happens when people are desperate. They lie. They can’t find legitimate things, so they start to make up things along racial and anti-Semitic lines. And I think this is further indicative of how desperate my opponent and his supporters have become. They had to resort to this type of hateful rhetoric to try to beat a political opponent.
My experience as a Black man in this country, I do believe it gives me insight into how we can bring people together to overcome racism, rather than allow partisanship or politicians to divide us. I hate no one. But I’m willing to run in this toxic environment knowing that people are going to lie about me. There are so many people who need help. We shouldn’t trivialize the serious issue of anti-Semitism. That ad did. Throwing it around, I think that making that such a serious hateful term, during an election year, I think it’s low. Even Michele Obama said, “when they go low, you go high.”
And that’s what I’m trying to do right now. If you actually read through that article [an article published in the Detroit Free Press about the ad], it actually exonerates some of those false accusations. It actually goes through and says, “Hey, we may disagree with John James on policy, but there’s nothing here that shows he’s antisemitic.” And there’s not. You see every aspect of my life. I exhibit love for everyone, African Americans, Jews, whites, Hispanics, throughout every aspect of my life. I hate no one. Absolutely any racism, or antisemitic or bigotry in this country has to be eliminated. And the folks who put that ad up I think should be ashamed of themselves.
In terms of the swastika in the 2018 campaign ad, you’ve apologized for that, is that correct?
I’ll just be frank with you, that was stock footage of a classroom or a school hallway that we presume had stuff about World War II on it. That oversight made by our media company, I took full responsibility for it, because as a leader, I believe that we take responsibility and you don’t shift the blame. That might’ve been a bit odd for people to see from someone running for office, but in the military and business, the leader takes responsibility the unit does and fails to do.
I apologize to anybody whom I may have hurt because personally that doesn’t represent me. The swastika is an evil symbol that only should be remembered so it never gets repeated. That hopefully is not misconstrued. I took responsibility for it because I think that’s what leaders do. Every other aspect of my life I’ve exhibited that there’s no room for hate in my heart or in this nation and I will work to end antisemitism, bigotry and hate to the greatest extent of my ability for the rest of my life.
Do you have any comments on the ‘genuflection’ comment that you made earlier this summer?
I think the Jewish community has done a stellar job of making both parties earn their vote. I think that woman have done a stellar job of making both parties earn their vote. And I think that when politicians are uncertain of how you’re going to vote, it makes them work. I believe that in the African American community, just kind of as a generalization, when 90 to 95 percent of us vote in one party, it pretty much guarantees that neither party will have to work for your vote.
I believe that women and the Jewish community have been very smart to demand that our politicians account to them, demand that our politicians speak about their issues and come up with solutions. And that is something that I believe the African American community must in the future do a much better job of doing, holding our political officials accountable for failing the African American community for so long.
Both parties have failed. Like I’ve said many times, I think that the Democratic Party has neglected the Black vote and the Republican Party hasn’t done enough to earn it. I have put forth effort to be accessible, to say the same thing at a rally in Freeland, talking about being an African American male in this country, [than] I would, say, in Detroit. Not fitting in anybody’s red box or blue box, but being my own man. By having folks who force political parties to earn their vote every election cycle, I think that is how we do a better job to fix our communities. That’s what I was saying. That wasn’t meant as a disparagement of anyone. It was actually a compliment, because I do believe the Jewish community does a much better job of demanding accountability from our politicians. I think that the African American community would do well to demand the same accountability from our politicians.
President Trump hasn’t condemned the QAnon movement, which includes antisemitic supporters, and he initially didn’t condemn neo-Nazis that participated in the Charlottesville rally. [Editor’s note: This interview took place prior to the discussion of the Proud Boys at the first presidential debate.]
Some Jewish voters are worried about these kinds of associations. Do you think that Trump and his supporters have an uneasy alliance with people who support anti-Semitism, and do you think this needs to be addressed?
I can only speak for myself. I have denounced antisemitism and hate in all of its forms. I denounced neo-Nazis, old Nazis, any haters of any kind on both sides. The way I’m going to represent Michigan is the vehement expulsion from anywhere in my orbit any antisemitic behavior, any hate in our words or deeds that rise to a level of hate speech. I’m a big fan of civil rights and loving everybody.
I can’t speak for President Trump, nor will I try. But I will speak for myself that I hate bigotry in all of its forms. I do not believe that President Trump is antisemitic, but I’m only going to speak for myself on this one.
You introduced Trump at the recent rally in Freeland. Trump has called Black Lives Matter “a symbol of hate”. Do you have any concerns about associating with him as a Black person and advocating for Black people in Michigan?
I also got up on stage in front of a mostly white crowd and spoke of the feeling of having guns drawn on me in my parked car in a parking lot because they perceived me as a threat. I also talked about the feeling that I get when I got pulled over and I feared for my life. And we got cheers for that.
Regardless of a rally and why people are there, I had the opportunity to speak my truth to people who are enlightened by it and maybe better for it. I think that taking this opportunity to interface with folks and bring that unity that everybody so badly needs, to be that representative who understands both sides of what we need. I think the people we have right now representing us are people who talk about bipartisanship but don’t have any of that in their lives.
I think that being raised by two Democrats from the Jim Crow South taught me how to think independently and with those values of faith, family, God and country and service before self. Those values don’t belong to any political party or religious affiliation. I think they’re the basis of humanity in this nation. Those are things that I believe resonate with most folks.
So regardless of the reason why people were there, regardless of who’s in power in the Presidency or what political affiliation they have, I want people to know that my message of unity, my message of progress for everyone, of getting rid of this financial anxiety, socioeconomic mobility and the stress that people feel these days, that’s what I’m all about. I’m going to use whatever platform I have to speak hope to people and to show people that there is a better future out there. And that future comes not by tearing each other down but by building each other up. I’m using every platform and every opportunity I have to tell people that if we seize our own power, it’s going to be okay.
Of course I believe that Black lives matter. I’m a Black man. But I believe that movement has been hijacked by leftists who have not been honoring the sacrifices of people who have come before us. I do not believe that it honors the sacrifices of the civil rights leaders who came before us, nor does it shed a positive light on George Floyd’s death. I think that being able to hold bad actors accountable in the police force and supporting our police, making sure that we increase public safety all around our country, is what we should be focused on.
But you have some people who protest racial strife by kneeling on a sideline, you have other people who protest racial inequity by sitting on the front of the bus. You have some people who protest by marching across the bridge in Selma. And I’m using this opportunity to run for change, for legislation, because I’m as frustrated as fearful as anybody else. But I think that taking this opportunity to actually fix things is what I’m called to do. I’m excited to have the opportunity.