NEW YORK (Jul. 29)
Dr, Thomas , W. Matthews, leader of a black self-help group who is currently touring the Soviet Union, was described by Jewish spokesmen here today as “naive” and “unfamiliar with the facts of Jewish life” in Russia. Richard Maass, chairman of the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry offered that explanation of Dr. Matthews’ remark at a Moscow press conference yesterday that according to statistics furnished him by Soviet authorities, which he accepts, Jews in the USSR are better off than blacks in America. Dr. Matthews, who heads the National Economic Growth and Reconstruction Organization (NEGRO), and Rabbi Meir Kahane, national chairman of the Jewish Defense League, met in Harlem last May to announce what they termed at the time a “brotherhood relationship” between their organizations. But today, the JDL’s general counsel, Bertram Zweibon, called Matthews “stupid” and described him to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency as “an agent of Nixon.” Zweibon denied that there was ever any “brotherhood” pact between JDL and NEGRO, only a “dialogue” which he said would not be affected by Matthews’ Moscow remarks because the JDL likes to “enlighten ignorant people.”
According to reports from Moscow, Matthews said he didn’t think the Russians had anything to apologize for as far as their acceptance of the Jewish people was concerned. “I can go on record as saying that the statistics (given) us about the number of Jewish people in professional and technical positions–if they are correct and I don’t know of anybody who challenges them–(indicate) a high percentage of the Jewish people are in such positions.” He added. “If that is correct, I would say that Soviet society is offering Jewish people more than American society is offering black people.” Maass said Matthews’ response was typical of “naive” people unfamiliar with the facts who hear “one side of the story.” He said Matthews had listened to Soviet officials but probably met no Jews and accepted what he was told. He said that Matthews apparently does not understand that the complaints of Soviet Jews are not against the system but against the obstacles that prevent them from living Jewish lives. He said Matthews might alter his views if he had statistics on the lack of rabbis, Yiddish newspapers and Jewish cultural institutions in Russian, if he was aware of the discrimination against Jews in universities and employment in the Soviet Union.
Jerry Goodman, a specialist in Soviet Jewish affairs who will become executive director of the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry next month, told the JTA that in some instances individual Jews may be better off in the Soviet Union than blacks in this country. But, he said, what Dr. Matthews failed to recognize was that Soviet Jews are being deprived of their people hood by Soviet authorities while American blacks are regaining their people hood through the actions of local and state governments, though the process is slow. He said that black leaders like Bayard Rustin and the late Martin Luther King Jr. had recognized this fact.
Zweibon told the JTA that “Matthews should have learned by this time that man does not live by bread alone. He has forgotten that it was not unheard of for whites to tour the South and report statistically on the wholesome condition of blacks in that area, both before and after the slave period. The issue has never been one of economics but one of freedom.” The JDL spokesman said Matthews was “carrying the ball” on Nixon’s program of “black capitalism.” He said his remarks in Moscow were in line with the Administration’s desire to make the issue of Soviet Jewry a “silent issue.”