Focus on Issues Open Letter to Thelma Thomas Davis
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Focus on Issues Open Letter to Thelma Thomas Davis

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As one who participated in numerous civil rights demonstrations and marches I read with sorrow and with pain your statement to some 6000 delegates and visitors at the annual convention of the Delta. Sigma Theta in New Orleans a few days after Andrew Young resigned as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

In your address as president of that predominantly Black sorority organization you said, in-part: “We have been patient and forbearing in their (Jews) masquerading as friends under the pretense of working for the common purpose of civil rights. This latest affront reveals clearly that their loyalties are not compatible with the struggle of Black Americans for equal opportunity under the law. Indeed, we question whether their loyalties are first to the State of Israel or to the United States. The loyalties of Black Americans have never been questioned.”

I decided to write this letter to you because you were the first, so far as I can gather, to articulate a feeling that apparently had lain dormant until Young’s resignation but which subsequently found voice among several other Black leaders.

I suspect that the fact that you and other Black leaders were so quick to question the motives and loyalties of “many” American Jews was because this thought was repressed, at least in terms of public statements, until a suitable excuse could be found to let it “all hang out.” In all candor I strongly feel that you and other Black leaders used, yes, used, Young’s resignation to release repressed hostility toward American Jewish leaders and Jewish organizations for real or imaginary grievances. The allegation of dual or prior loyalties is an old canard unworthy of your position as an educator.

I don’t recall that at any time during the civil rights struggle any Jew fighting alongside Black brothers and sisters was asked to sign a loyalty oath or to take a sincere-meter test before taking up a position on a picket line or participating in marches, or being beaten or arrested, or killed–as were the Michael Schwerners, along with the Medgar Evers.


One of the unfortunate consequences of discussing contributions by Jews to the civil rights movement under the conditions of trying to dispel allegations such as the ones you have raised is that it frequently tends to degenerate into a haggle on the part of both Blacks and Jews, each side fully equipped with a ledger of who did what, where, when and for whom. But the civil rights struggle was never reducible to a line item in a bookkeeping ledger or a promissory note of eternal unity by either side for deeds done.

The contributions made by Jews were not in the form of saleable commodities to be bought when needed or returned for credit, nor were they conceived as debts to the Black people which could be stamped “cancelled” at an arbitrary moment. No, the contributions of Jews to the civil rights movement are chapters in the annals of American history that cannot be obliterated by glib allegations about suspect motives and dual loyalties. Let’s have done with the approach of the accountant’s ledger. Neither Blacks nor Jews can rest on their Initial capital forever. It’s time to reinvest in the ongoing and as yet unconcluded struggle for civil rights.


But to accomplish that, the air must be cleared of allegations, suspicions and rancor. So let’s get back to your statement that Jews masqueraded as friends. I totally reject this allegation. I believe that you misunderstand the nature of alliances and coalitions, and it is a falsification of the relationship that existed between Jews and Blacks in the civil rights movement. Jews and Blacks built an alliance and a broad-based coalition. But both alliances and coalitions are limited to specific issues at specific times for the purpose of pursuing a common cause. Coalition partners do not have to agree with every nuance or statement made by those on whose behalf the coalition or alliance is constructed. Otherwise it would be a merger or a fusion of diverse elements rather than a unity of diverse but linked elements.

It was to the interest of Blacks to seek and accept Jewish support, and support in the general white community, because they could not go it alone, just as Jews need allies and alliances because they too cannot go it alone. When Black-white unity began to dissolve, Black militants resorted to the desperate tactic of “burn, baby, burn” and the “long hot summers” ensued.


But be that as it may. Your charge of dual or prior loyalty to the State of Israel or to the United States is sheer subterfuge and unfortunately on a par with many hate groups that also question the loyalties of Jews, and of Blacks and of all other minority groups. This is the wrong company for a Black leader to find herself in.

Why should you question the loyalty or the priority of loyalties of Jews? Would you question the loyalty of Catholic American who look toward the Vatican for spiritual guidance? Would you question the loyalty of Moslem Americans who look toward Mecca? Would you question the loyalty of Black Muslims who swear fidelity to Mohammed? Would you question the loyalty of those Blacks who support African liberation movements?

Mayor Richard Hatcher of Gary, Ind. also called into question the loyalty of Jews when he told a Black leadership conference in New York last week that he rejects “the notion that any foreign power should dictate the foreign policies of the United States. ” The point here, it seems to me, is that the term “foreign power, ” in the context of his remarks, is a code word for Israel and that American Jews and friends of Israel are thereby suspect if they dare question American policy toward Israel.

Would Hatcher say the same about the Palestine Liberation Organization which is demanding that the U.S. change its official policy toward that group? Would he question America’s NATO allies who seek to determine or redirect U.S. foreign policy on various trade and arms issues? Would he question the Soviet Union which seeks to dictate U.S. foreign policy? Would he question any of the friends of all the above and other interest groups to sway American foreign policy? Would he question the loyalty of those Black Americans who seek to determine U.S. policy toward Black Africa?

As to your assertion that the loyalty of American Blacks was never questioned, I agree. Of course the loyalty of Black Americans was never questioned: not by the lynch mobs, not by the Ku Klux Klan, not by the segregationists, not by the goons who busted Black workers trying to organize unions, not by the hate mongers. Nor was Black loyalty questioned by the local cops and the FBI who tailed and surveilled, arrested and killed, and forced into silence and exile so many militant Black leaders and spokesmen.

No the loyalty of Black Americans was never questioned, just their right to live as human beings, in dignity, and to enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”


There is one more issue I must raise with you: that of talking to the PLO. Aside from fundamentally different assessments of that organization–the Jewish people and Israel see it as a pure and simple terrorist outfit while some Black leaders see it as the vanguard of the Palestinian people–the issue for Israel and the Jewish people has never been one of talking or not talking to the PLO.

The fact is that the PLO has “talked” to Israel and the Jewish people and to many non-Jews–but from behind the barrel of a submachinegun, a hand grenade, a bomb, and a Kalichnikoff rifle How does one, whose life is ebbing away in a kibbutz, at Avivim, or in the center of Kiryat Shemona or Jerusalem, or on a lonely beach near a highway between Haifa and Tel Aviv, or on a hijacked airliner, talk to a person who has committed this atrocity, this barbarism, this act of unspeakable violence?

How many Black Americans spoke to racist club-wielding goons? How many Black Americans thought of talking to the killers of Medgar Evers? How many Black Americans engaged in a dialogue with the murderers who snuffed out the lives of the young children in a church in Birmingham, Alabama? And–how many Jews asked Black Americans to talk to any of these racists and murderers?


The fact is that the PLO is unique as a terrorist organization. No other group that espoused individual terrorism as a method of overthrowing an oppressive regime, no other group that employed terrorism under extreme conditions such as the underground movements in Europe during World War II, ever engaged in killing unarmed children, men and women, including non-Jews who happen to be boarding or on a plane that is hijacked.

The fact is that the PLO uses terrorism not because it is the vanguard of the Palestinian people but because it has no base or broad support among them. The PLO engages in acts of terrorism as a substitute for mass action and as a substitute for an authentic expression of the real needs of the Palestinian people. The PLO is not an organizing force among the Palestinian people. Rather it seeks to usurp all power for itself.

This is the opposite of the civil rights Black leadership which mobilized and inspired people on all levels. There is no recorded authenticated instant where Black leaders engaged in terrorist assaults even upon their most vicious opponents Incidentally, I don’t recall any Palestinians on civil rights marches or demonstrations, nor do I recall any leaders of the PLO expressing solidarity with current Black struggles and objectives in the United States.


The danger in getting involved with the PLO–a foreign power–is that those doing so are getting involved in a cause which is not their own, methods and traditions of struggle not their own, and objectives not their own.

It might be well, in this regard, to recall the statement by Eldridge Cleaver in his tract, “On the Ideology of the Black Panther Party: “For too long Black people have relied on the analysis and ideological perspective of others… There are those who are all too willing to do our thinking for us, even if it gets us killed. However, they are not willing to follow through and do our dying for us. if thoughts bring about our deaths, let them at least be our own thoughts, so that we will have broken, once and for all, with the flunkeyism of dying for every cause and every error–except our own.”

Those were fiery, passionate words, and I say, Right On. But right on with Blacks and Jews in solidarity for a cause that has not yet been achieved, for a cause whose day is ripe, for a cause that will enrich both Jews and Blacks by making democracy more vital. Blacks and Jews need each other to attain this goal. So let’s get on with it for the sake of preventing the “fire next time” that may engulf both of us.

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