Harry Belafonte, now aged 88, is one of those maddening souls for whom the noble cause of civil rights is inextricable from its ignoble opposite – the enthusiasm for unfree societies and totalitarian ideologies.
Belafonte was a protégé of the great singer Paul Robeson – who, similarly, saw no contradiction between his activism on behalf of racial equality in the U.S. and his devotion to Stalinist tyranny in the USSR.
For a long time Belafonte seemed to many a reasonable, admirable figure. He was active in the U.S. civil-rights movement and spoke at the historic 1963 March on Washington. But as the years went by, he became increasingly outspoken in his support for tyrants. During the Cold War, he allowed himself to be used as a tool by the East German government. He’s also been a key player in the Africa-aid racket, raising billions in the West – supposedly to feed the poor – that have ended up in the pockets of dictators.
Historian Ronald Radosh has rightly called Belafonte an “unreconstructed Stalinist.” Last year Mona Charen called him “a die-hard communist” who “never met a communist government he didn’t like, including the genocidal regime of Mengistu in Ethiopia.” Indeed, when Belafonte had a twenty-minute conversation with Mengistu in 1985, they talked mostly about human-rights violations in South Africa – which, horrendous though they were, could not hold a candle to Mengistu’s atrocities.
He’s also frequently praised the Castro regime, saying in one 2002 interview that “there’s much about the Cuban government, the Cuban people and what they have achieved that many of us here are still trying to achieve.” At one Havana appearance, he condemned American “censorship.” And he’s raised money for a fund, named for the Soviet atom spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, that claims to provide “for the educational and emotional needs of children of targeted progressive activists, and youth who are targeted activists themselves.” Addressing a 2000 rally in Cuba honoring the Rosenbergs, he praised the Castro regime as exemplary of “the principles the Rosenbergs fought and died for.”
He loves the current Venezuelan government, too. During a 2006 visit to Venezuela, he called George W. Bush “the greatest terrorist in the world” and told Hugo Chávez on a national broadcast that “[n]ot hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people … support your revolution.”
Not long after President Obama’s re-election, Belafonte told Al Sharpton on MSNBC that Obama should behave “like a Third World dictator” and put his opponents “in jail.” All this, and still he’s routinely fêted as a humanitarian and social activist; indeed, the older he gets, the more honors he accumulates, and the more the media are inclined to treat him as a pillar of wisdom and virtue.