Urges Jews to Stay in Battle for Negro Rights, As 2 Communities Seen Polarizing
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Urges Jews to Stay in Battle for Negro Rights, As 2 Communities Seen Polarizing

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The chairman of the American Jewish Committee’s executive board said here today that Jews must not “withdraw from the battle for civil rights and Negro justice” even in face of Negro anti-Semitism as typified by black extremists in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville school conflict. Max M. Fisher, a Detroit industrialist, spoke at a testimonial dinner to Joseph L. Mailman, New York business leader and philanthropist, who received the AJ Committee’s 1968 Appeal for Human Relations Award.

Mr. Fisher said that even though “black racism is as viciously dedicated to anti-Semitism as white racism,” Jews must remain in the forefront of the civil rights struggle even “if Negro militants take it upon themselves to tell us to get out.” Jews, he said, “should be no more tolerate of black racism than any other racism” but “we must fight it by removing the causes,” he said.

A similar plea was made yesterday by an Orthodox Jewish leader who warned that the traditional Jewish concern for the underprivileged was threatened by erosion due to the upsurge of Negro anti-Semitism. Dr. Walter Wurzburger, rabbi of Congregation Shaaray Tefila in Far Rockaway, said at the 25th alumni convention of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University that “irrespective of all short-term considerations of expedience or enlightened self-interest, we must be guided by our religious tradition which regards involvement with the social and economic concerns of all men as a religious imperative.” Rabbi Wurzburger maintained at the same time that Jews “must not be so preoccupied with the welfare of others as to ignore their own needs for self-preservation as a viable group.”

The polarization of the Jewish and Negro communities, which previously shared mutual interests and aspirations as a result of their common experience with racial prejudice, was brought to a climax in New York City by the series of teachers’ strikes this fall. The strikes have closed all but a few of the city’s 900 public schools, and center on the conflict between the predominantly Negro Ocean Hill-Brownsville governing board and the United Federation of Teachers whose membership is largely white and about two-thirds Jewish.

It began last spring with the governing board’s transfer of white teachers, most of them Jewish. The board insisted that it was exercising its rights under the experimental decentralization program established by the New York City Board of Education, financed by the Ford Foundation and approved by the New York State Board of Regents. The teachers’ union, which professed support of decentralization, has demanded dismissal of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville governing board and an end to the decentralization experiment there. It claimed that the board’s action exceeded its authority and violated the teachers’ contract with the city.

The mounting acrimony in the conflict was led by earlier troubles over New York University’s appointment of John T. Hatchett, the Negro author of an allegedly anti-Semitic article, to head its Afro-American Student Center, New York Times reporter Bill Kovach said yesterday in a lengthy report on Negro-Jewish animosity in New York City. Hatchett has since been dismissed. Another factor is the anti-Israel position of some black militants. “These charges have triggered ugly taunts, dissemination of hate literature and much anger and sorrow,” Mr. Kovach wrote. “Many Negro and white leaders say Negroes are not basically anti-Semitic so much as they are anti-white,” he said. “Leaders of both the Negro and Jewish communities have been spurred into action in an attempt to develop a forum for Negroes and Jews to meet and discuss common problems.”

Mr. Kovach’s report indicated that the conflict ran much deeper than the school controversy. Among its causes, he listed the influx of Negroes into former all-Jewish neighborhoods; the increase of crime and different attitudes on “law and order” between the two communities; the move by Negroes into such fields as teaching and social work which had previously attracted large numbers of Jews; and the rise of the Black Muslims and other militant groups who have introduced the Arab-Israel Middle East conflict on the local scene.”


Jews are deeply troubled, Mr. Kovach reported, by the anti-Semitic epithets and literature distributed by black extremists. The United Federation of Teachers is circulating a sample, received at the JTA editorial office, which it said was distributed by the Parents Community Council of Junior High School 271 in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville district. It warned Jews to “Stay out, shut up, get off our backs or your relatives in the Middle East will find themselves giving benefits to raise money to help you get out from the terrible weight of an enraged black community.”

(The national director of inter-religious affairs of the American Jewish Committee, Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, was incorrectly reported yesterday to have charged the United Federation of Teachers and Albert Shanker, its president, with using the Jewish community in artificially introducing anti-Semitism into the school strike. He was referring to extremists on both sides of the controversy, not to the UFT or Mr. Shanker.)

“A careful study of the hate literature being circulated in the community has been made by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith (which) found no evidence of an organized effort behind the material,” Mr. Kovach reported. But Jewish backlash, in part motivated by the teachers’ union, has been bitter. It was manifested when Mayor John V. Lindsay was shouted down, cursed and threatened at a Jewish center in Brooklyn two weeks ago when he tried to address an audience made up largely of striking teachers on the Ocean Hill-Brownsville conflict. The rabbi of the congregation sharply rebuked the audience. Another Jewish group in Brooklyn was scolded by New York Sen. Jacob K. Javits for its intemperate behavior at another meeting.

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