A group of seven Black American civil rights leaders and trade union officials was due to arrive in Israel tonight on a one-week visit as guests of Histadrut. The visit is widely viewed as part of a belated effort by major Black organizations in the United States to heal the rift that has developed between Blacks and Jews since the resignation of Andrew Young as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations last August and the subsequent campaign by certain Black Americans to induce the U.S. government to deal with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
According to Avraham Allon, head of Histadrut’s international department, the visit is intended to discuss and clarity issues of mutual concern to the American and Israeli labor movements in light of recent racial tensions. It seems clearly aimed at countering the negative impressions created in Israel by the recent visit of Rev. Jesse Jackson who expressed strong pro-Arab and pro-PLO sentiments and the visit to Lebanon last month of a delegation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) which issued a report critical of Israel.
The Rev. Benjamin Hooks, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), had been slated to lead the delegation to Israel at the invitation of Histadrut, but at the last minute designated Althea Simmons, head of the NAACP’s Washington operations, to replace him. There was no immediate explanation for this change. The most prominent member of the delegation is Bayard Rustin, executive director of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, who previously assailed Jackson and the SCLC for their anti-Israel positions.
SEEK TO CLARIFY ISSUES
Before leaving New York, Rustin was quoted as saying: "Speaking for myself, I want to make it clear to the Israelis that there are great numbers of Black people who want the United States to give Israel whatever support it needs."
Other members of the delegation are Ronald Brown, vice president of Washington operations of the National Urban League; William Pollard, director of the civil rights department of the AFL-CIO; Robert Powell, first vice president of the Laborers International Union; Frederick O’Neal, president of the Actors and Artists of America; and John T. Smith, executive assistant of the United Steel Workers of America.
They will have talks with Histadrut Secretary General, Yeruham Meshel and will meet with President Yitzhak Navon of Israel and possibly with Premier Menachem Begin. They will visit Histadrut institutions and meet with Israeli workers, Jews and Arabs, Allon said.
He said that Histadrut maintains constant contact with American labor leaders, Black and white. Many in the group have been to Israel before but it was felt that at a time of disagreements between Blacks and Jews on the Palestinian issue, it was advisable to have open, heart-to-heart talks to clarify issues and problems, the Histadrut official said.
HOOKS AND JORDAN BREAK LONG SILENCE
Meanwhile, over the weekend, two of the most prominent Black American civil rights leaders — Hooks and Vernon E. Jordan Jr., president of the National Urban League — expressed sharp criticism of those Blacks who have jeopardized the amity between American Jews and Blacks by publicly embracing the PLO and urging the U.S. to reverse its policy of no contacts with the terrorist group without preconditions. their remarks broke a prolonged silence on the issue by both organizations.
Hooks, in an interview with the New York Times, chided Blacks who indulged in personal diplomacy in the Middle East as headline grabbers and declared that "if Americans want to involve themselves in foreign policy they should do it through the State Department. " Hooks observed that "It is certainly more headline-grabbing to make a trip to the Middle East but the way to accomplish results is to focus on where the power is, with President Carter and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance."
A stronger statement was contained in an address by Jordan prepare for delivery tomorrow at the annual meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Charities in Kansas City, Mo. The New York Times, which obtained an advance copy of the speech, quoted Jordan as saying that "Black-Jewish relations should not be endangered by ill-considered flirtations with terrorist groups devoted to the extermination of Israel."
CONCERNED WITH PRESERVING COALITION
Neither Hooks nor Jordan mentioned any Black leader or group by name. Hooks did not dissociate the NAACP from the call issued by its Board of Directors last month for the U.S. to negotiate with the PLO. But he disclosed that he has sent directives to the organization’s 1700 branches around the U.S. not to allow the dispute over Middle East policy to interfere with the relations between Blacks and Jews who have frequently acted in concert on civil rights and other domestic issues.
Jordan, too, seemed to be concerned mainly with preserving the Black-Jewish coalition on civil rights. He was quoted by The Times as saying in his prepared speech:
"The confusion of the past several weeks must not be allowed to polarize the civil rights alliance nor must they be allowed to heighten or to release feelings of racism, anti-Semitism or religious bigotry The only ones who benefit from Black-Jewish tensions are the enemies of both groups. It is time to strengthen the traditional, fruitful alliance between Blacks and Jews. That alliance must be based on mutual respect, concern for each group’s vital interests, and a refusal to categorize all Blacks or Jews for the actions or statements of some."
DISAPPOINTED WITH PLO RESPONSE
In Washington, meanwhile, Walter Fauntroy, chairman of the Board of the SCLC and the District of Columbia’s representative to Congress, defended his organization’s recent mission to the Middle East but expressed disappointment with the PLO’s response. In a speech to the House late Friday, Fauntroy said:
"While we are pleased with the PLO announced cease-fire in Lebanon, we are disappointed that they are not disposed at this time to declare a comprehensive moratorium on violence in Israel as well as the occupied territories, as a first step to ward meaningful negotiations at the peace table." He reiterated his announcement earlier last week that the SCLC has rescinded its invitation to PLO chief Yasir Arafat to visit the U.S. and has cancelled, for the time being, a series of educational forums on the Middle East and the Palestinian question.
In a related development last Thursday, President Carter declined any role in mediating the Black-Jewish dispute. Asked by a group of editors and broadcasters at a White House briefing if he would be willing to sit down with both groups in an effort to ease tensions, Carter replied, "I would be willing to do that in the future if necessary. My advice so far from American Jewish leaders is not to inject the White House into the dialogue that ought to take place, or is sometimes taking place between the two minority groups."