Synagogue Council, Community Relations Council Hit Black ‘reparations’ Demands

The Synagogue Council of America and the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, representing a great majority of the American Jewish community, issued a joint statement today rejecting the demand of the National Black Economic Development Conference for $500 million in reparations for “200 years of slavery” and its threat to seize churches and synagogues and hold them in ransom. The joint statement, issued for the guidance of synagogues and other communal institutions, described the demands and the tactics as objectionable on both “moral and practical grounds.”

The statement was issued after James Forman, leader of the Negro organization, had disrupted services at New York’s Riverside Church to air his demands and his followers had threatened to disrupt services at Temple Emanu-El in New York. (A group of 10 black militants was arrested in Los Angeles for interrupting services in the First Methodist Church there to voice the demand for reparations.) After a meeting with Catholic, Protestant and Jewish clergymen, Mayor John V. Lindsay offered to send police to any church or synagogue in the city which feared a possible demonstration by the militants.

The joint statement today admitted that religious and communal institutions had not done all they should for racial and economic justice but declared that the reparations demand was not “the answer to the inequities and injustices of our society.” It stressed that “what is required is massive government action in the areas of employment, housing, education, health and welfare.” This it said was why the signatory organizations urged support of the Kerner Commission Report.

The statement urged congregations and communal institutions to “redouble their efforts” to effect restoration of state and Federal budget cuts in the areas of employment, housing, education, health and welfare and “indicate their support of higher taxes, if necessary, adequately to finance these measures.” The joint statement also urged the synagogue and community to “strengthen communication with black communities, both on the clergy and lay levels, and to contribute to the support of indigenous self-help projects.” The two organizations said they and their national constituent agencies were prepared to assist synagogue and communal institutions in the implementation of these goals.

The joint statement condemned the tactics used by the Black Economic Conference to further its demands, charging that they “involve disruption of divine services, demands for ‘ransom’ and threats of violence.” It noted that “violence does not contribute to the fashioning of a better society,” warning that “violence only breeds more violence and nourishes repression, not justice.” The statement affirmed that “the ‘revolution’ in our cities and on our campuses does not create its own morality. The exegesis which enables some religious leaders to suspend Biblical injunctions against violence, arson and murder and to invest these with a special grace when committed in the name of the ‘revolution’ has no sanction in Jewish tradition.”

The two coordinating bodies said they issued their statement at this time “not only to clarify our position in regard to the demands and the tactics of the Black Economic Development Conference, but to urge that reprehensible actions not be permitted to divert our attention from the hard tasks which require our efforts and resources if our moral and religious professions are to be taken seriously.” The Synagogue Council of America speaks for six national rabbinical and synagogue organizations. The NJCRC, in addition to the Synagogue Council members, includes six national Jewish civic organizations and 81 Jewish councils in cities throughout the United States.

The Black Economic Conference’s demand for $500 million in “reparations” was endorsed by the board of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, but the Foundation did not approve the tactics announced by Mr. Forman and employed at Riverside Church. Rabbi Marc Tannenbaum, director of the inter-religious affairs department of the American Jewish Committee, who is president of the Foundation, in a personal statement, rejected the “revolutionary ideology and racist rhetoric” of the manifesto and the “tactics of disruption of churches and synagogues.” Rev. Lucius Walker, executive director of the Foundation, said it would seek $270,000 to finance the conference.

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