Obama and ex-girlfriend ‘had furious argument over antisemitism’

New book contradicts the ex-president’s own account of the disagreement.


A new book about Barack Obama claims he and a former girlfriend had an explosive row about antisemitism.

David Garrow’s ‘Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama’ includes excerpts from detailed conversations with Sheila Miyoshi Jager, who lived with the former president during the 1980s.

Now a professor of East Asian Studies at Oberlin College in Ohio, Professor Miyoshi Jager claims the issue of race was ever-present during their lengthy relationship.

There is no specific mention of Professor Miyoshi Jager in Mr Obama’s biography, ‘Dreams of My Father’, where he rolled various ex-girlfriends into one character. But the former president proposed to her on more than one occasion, according to the professor, who was born to a Japanese mother and Dutch father.

Speaking to Mr Garrow for his book, she said the discord between them came to a head in 1988.

In his account, Mr Obama recalled going to see “a new play by a black playwright”. However, this is disputed by his ex-girlfriend, who recalls that they had been to see an exhibition about the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Chicago, where they lived.

Around that time, a scandal had erupted in the city over a black mayoral assistant called Steve Cokely, who was reported to have recorded several antisemitic lectures. The mayor defended his assistant until the position became untenable and he was forced to sack him. The case stirred up much ill feeling and many within the African American community sprang to Mr Cokely’s defence.

Professor Miyoshi Jager recalled that after leaving the exhibition, she questioned Mr Obama about why so many prominent black Chicagoans were defending Mr Cokely rather than denouncing his antisemitism.

She said a furious row erupted because “I challenged him on the question of black racism”.

However the incident was recalled differently by Mr Obama, who said his white girlfriend had questioned him about black anger.

He wrote: “I said it was a matter of remembering – nobody asks why Jews remember the Holocaust, I think I said – and she said that’s different, and I said it wasn’t, and she said that anger was just a dead end. We had a big fight, right in front of the theatre.

“When we got back to the car, she started crying. She couldn’t be black, she said. She would if she could, but she couldn’t. She could only be herself, and wasn’t that enough?”

The couple split up within weeks of the argument.

The book, which received mixed reviews, reveals that the professor’s father, Bernd Jager, was born in Holland in 1931. His father, Hendrik, played a major role in an underground network which sheltered dozens of Jewish children from the Nazis. The Jager family themselves took in a Jewish girl for three years and, consequently, are named on the Wall of Honour in Yad Vashem’s Garden of the Righteous.

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