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Behind the Headlines Black and Jewish Leaders Striving to Restore the ‘old Alliance’

A survey of the views of Black Congressmen indicates that many feel the once strong alliance of Blacks and Jews deteriorated during 1984 but that the alliance still endures, according to the World Jewish Congress.

One Jewish view of the condition of those relations was expressed by Israel Singer, WJC executive director, who told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that “we have not yet arrived at the point we would like to be with the Black community,” and he described details of Jewish-sponsored programs to increase understanding among Blacks about Jews and Israel.

The report, described as the first of its kind, was based on individual interviews conducted over a five-month period with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. The report surveyed the attitudes of the Black Congressmen on social and political issues affecting relationships between the two groups.

The findings were assessed at the first of a series of private meetings between Black and Jewish leaders, held in the House of Representatives, convened by Edgar Bronfman, WJC president, and Rep. Mickey Leland (D. Tex.), chairman of the Caucus. Bronfman said the purpose of the survey and of the meeting, “was to lay the groundwork for encouraging mutual understanding on the leadership level and for promoting substantive cooperation between the two communities.”

The report is based on interviews with 16 of the 21 members of the Caucus in the 98th Congress. The survey, conducted by Dr. Kitty Cohen, faculty member of the American University in Washington, D.C. and a consultant to the WJC, was commissionned by the WJC and the interreligious and community relations department of the World Zionist Organization.

BLACK COMMUNITY’S PERCEPTION OF JEWISH COMMUNITY

The image of the Jewish community, as perceived by the Black community, is of an ethnic community economically well-off, politically organized, powerful and part of the ruling establishment. But the Jewish community, though considered part of the white community, is still remembered as an ally in the civil rights movement and still a strong partner in the social change process.

The majority of the Black Congressmen attribute the deterioration in relations to Jewish reactions to Democratic Presidential contender Jesse Jackson’s hateful and scornful remarks involving Jews and Israel.

The Congressmen are aware of differences with Jews on affirmative action and on quotas. The Congressmen feel that Jews see quotas as a ceiling to their aspirations but Blacks see quotas as a means of achieving the goal of social justice. Blacks see quotas as a floor.

The respondents are almost unanimous in believing that joint Black-Jewish efforts can help influence policy-making on such issues as appointment policy to the Civil Rights Commission, and appointment of minority representatives to the Supreme Court. The Caucus members share the conviction that the two communities can achieve more together than they can separately.

Impediments to cooperation between the two groups are seen mainly in the misconceptions they hold about each other, and lack of mutual understanding. Other obstacles are priorities differences, an obvious example being Jewish preoccupation with Israel.

All agreed that there is social discrimination against Jews but some said it is not as bad as in the past and not as bad as that against the Blacks. Most agreed that Jews, directly or indirectly, discriminate against Blacks.

Israel’s ties with South Africa are cited for the negative view in the Black community of the ties between the American Jewish community and Israel.

Notwithstanding the negative perception by Blacks of Israel as a theocracy, most of the Black answers reflect a positive view of Israel as a democracy and as a nation whose problems are not primarily racial. They unanimously support aid to Israel, differing only in the amount of aid they favor.

Most Congressmen proved to be unaware of Israeli opposition to apartheid. Many pointed out that American Blacks are simply unaware of Jewish opposition to apartheid.

Jackson’s primary campaign was seen as having a positive impact on the Black community but the respondents understood it had a negative impact on Black-Jewish relations. Jackson’s position both on international issues, such as Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, and on domestic matters, relating to his “Hymietown” remark and Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan — and the media’s major reporting on such matters — increased tension between Jews and Blacks.

DISAPPOINTMENTS IN THE JEWISH COMMUNITY

Singer, in his comments to the JTA, said Jews were “somewhat disappointed at the lack of a Black outcry about Farrakhan, both in Congress and in the Black community.”

Singer said “we Jews don’t fear that kind of phenomenon. We attack (Rabbi Meir) Kahane when Jewish racism lifts its ugly head, often and early, and we expect the same from our co-dissidents in the Black-Jewish dialogue.”

He added that Jews understood “the fear” Blacks have about “the thugs” around Farrakhan. “What we are trying to do in this dialogue is to strengthen the center and the intelligent moderates in the Black community by meeting them halfway and even further on their concerns, domestic and international.”

On specific actions, Singer said there are students visiting Israel this summer, and there are scholarship programs for such visits by Black students. He said a program was in place for this fall for visits to Israel by groups of American Black leaders, including Congressmen, to observe at first hand the process of absorption of Ethiopian Jewish newcomers.

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