Quotas Perceived Differently Black Leader Urges Jews to Question Role in Opposing Affirmative Action
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Quotas Perceived Differently Black Leader Urges Jews to Question Role in Opposing Affirmative Action

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Vernon Jordan, the former president of the National Urban League, yesterday appealed to American Jewish organizations to “question their role in opposition” to affirmative action programs and asked whether the Jewish community benefitted by having its organizations “act as the point men” on an issue which, he said, Jews themselves remain divided.

The Black and Jewish community’s differing perceptions on affirmative action “are based on our different historical experiences,” Jordan declared. “Many Jews see quotas as a ceiling to their aspirations; Blacks see quotas as a floor–a way, perhaps the only way, to get representations in schools and jobs. So let us agree to disagree on this issue.”

Jordan’s remarks were contained in a speech delivered at Hunter College last night to the 39th annual meeting of the New York Chapter of the American Jewish Committee, attended by some 225 people. His address contained a call for rebuilding the “historic alliance” between Blacks and Jews, whose current relationship he described as a kind of “armed truce.”


While Jordan said he has never personally identified the Jewish community as an “anti-affirmative action bloc,” he acknowledged that “there is a perception that this leading agenda item is fought by the Jewish community, primarily because some Jewish organizations are in the forefront of opposition to affirmative action.”

According to the civil rights activist, one of the aspects that serves to “maintain tension and impede reconciliation” on the affirmative action issue “is the apparent failure of Jewish organizations that oppose affirmative action to effectively implement their own definition of appropriate affirmative action; namely the reaching out to recruit, train and otherwise prepare disadvantaged Blacks to compete on equal terms in the marketplace.”

Continuing, Jordan said, “If that concept is endorsed, there should be evidence that it works. But there is insufficient evidence, even in companies owned and operated by individuals who are members and even activities in the community organizations that endorse such an approach.”

In order to “avoid the charge of hypocrisy, those organizations and their members must aggressively implement their definition of affirmative action… Absent that, it will continue to be court decisions and civil rights enforcement that result in Black educational and economic opportunities and not the good intentions of people who do not implement their stated beliefs,” Jordan asserted.

Jordan also spoke of the Democratic Presidential campaign of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the tensions that have enveloped the Black and Jewish communities. While he did not indicate in his remarks an endorsement of the Jackson candidacy, he asked for “imaginative sympathy” in viewing the Jackson campaign. “Blacks are voting for Jackson just as Jews flocked out of their ghettos in the early years of this century to vote for the first Jewish candidates,” he said. He described those first Jewish candidates as “radicals,” adding that their outspoken advocacy of what was then perceived as “Jewish interests… would be embarrassing to sophisticated Jewish voters in the 1980s.”

Those first Jewish candidates “pioneered a trail blazed by passion and commitment,” Jordan said. “Today we have to respect them and the people who voted for them, just as we should respect the positives in the Jackson candidacy and the fundamental goodwill of Jackson’s supporters and voters.”

“Despite its radical rhetoric, the Jackson campaign is a conservative movement in that it directs Black energies to working within the political system, using the democratic mechanism provided by our consitution to effect change,” he said.


Nevertheless, Jordan noted that many “Jews have been rightly disturbed by the ‘Hymie’ remarks, the belated and inadequate apology, and the rhetoric of Minister (Louis) Farrakhan. Many Blacks have been just as disturbed by those incidents.” He also acknowledged that some Jews “who would be more tolerant of the Jackson candidacy cannot bring themselves to overcome his views on Israel and the Mideast.”

He said that most Blacks support Israel and regard the Palestine Liberation Organization as a terrorist group. “But what is at issue is the degree to which unswerving support for current Israeli government policies is seen as the litmus test for Black-Jewish reconciliation. And I would argue that the litmus test has to be broader. If Blacks are willing to overlook enmity to affirmative action, in rebuilding our coalition, Jews should be willing to accept a broader range of opinion of Israel as well.”

“Instead of despairing about the deterioration of Black-Jewish relations or the unfairness of the perception many Jews and Blacks have of each other, we should see the current situation as an opportunity to rebuild a relationship free of the romanticism and paternalism of the past — a healthy, equal partnership based on mutual respect and understanding,” he declared.

Jordan was introduced by R. Peter Straus, the incoming president of the New York chapter of the AJCommittee. He also called for a reconciliation between the Black and Jewish community. “Are we to listen to the Meir Kahanes and Louis Farrakhans,” he said, “or should we harken to the seminal lessons of history and the urgings of our better instincts?”

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