NEW YORK (Mar. 15)
American Blacks and Jews must restore their mutual trust and cooperation — based on similar heritages of oppression and more agreement than they realize on the domestic political agenda — a leading Black activist and a noted rabbi declared here last week.
But implicit in restoration are obstacles, as was acknowledged by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, chairman of the National Rainbow Coalition and a candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1984 and perhaps 1988, and Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, director of international relations for the American Jewish Committee and a fellow civil rights leader.
Tanenbaum spoke for himself, although the program originally was announced on American Jewish Committee stationery.
The obstacles were addressed also by members of the interracial audience of about 2,000 at Queens College, attending “The Religious Leader as Political Activist,” the first of three public forums scheduled by the 18-month-old Queens (N.Y.) Black-Jewish People to People Project.
Following the speakers’ presentations on the need to find common ground, questioners brought up Black-Jewish disputes over quotas as a vehicle for affirmative action, the infamous “Hymietown” remark during Jackson’s Presidential campaign and his support of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
THE QUOTA ISSUE
The speakers handled the quota issue swiftly. “Blacks and Jews have very different reactions to the word ‘quotas,'” Jackson said in his prepared remarks. “For Blacks, a quota can be a door to opportunity. For Jews, the quota systems has meant a ceiling on success.” He noted that both groups support increased job opportunity.
Tanenbaum agreed that the goal was shared and contended that the real problem was lack of enforcement of current laws.
FARRAKHAN ISSUE NOT RESOLVED
The Farrakhan issue was not resolved, as Tanenbaum called on Jackson to distance himself from the man who has criticized Judaism as a “gutter religion” and has close ties with Libya. Jackson called the issue peripheral.
Saying Jackson can contribute significantly to American social and economic justice, the rabbi nevertheless declared: “I think you’re fooling yourself if you think the issue of Louis Farrakhan is marginal altogether . . . In Madison Square Garden, 25,000 people give him a standing ovation when he utters the most vile anti-Semitic bigotry . . . We are not dealing with a minor phenomenon.”
The rabbi proclaimed that support of Farrakhan is an “ideological problem of a very profound nature. We have got to deal with that as almost a pathology. If the Vatican and the Catholic Church after 1,900 years after preaching that kind of stuff . . . has the courage to face it and say it is wrong . . . we have the right to ask that in appropriate way, that it be rejected with no ands, ifs or buts.”
If Blacks and Jews “really want to turn the corner,” he said, Jackson should feel free to discuss what Tanenbaum called the racism of Kach Knesset member Meir Kahane, and Jews should feel free to bring up Farrakhan.
Jackson said the conflicts over Farrakhan and the “Hymietown” remark — for which he said he has apologized — should not be the “litmus test” for the Black-Jewish relationship.
Pressed on the issue by Tanenbaum’s statement and another questioner, Jackson said that “anti-Semitism and racism should be rejected, no ifs, ands or buts.”
Jackson said that the mainstream Black community, like mainstream U.S. Jewry, does not share the views of the extremists. “Just as you say to trust you, you must trust me,” he said. “Almost nobody Black believes in (Farrakhan’s racism),” he stated.
SPRINGBOARD FOR IMPROVING RELATIONS
He said Blacks have complaints, too, against whites and Jews — about racist advertisements, about Israel’s sale of arms to South Africa and “some rather outstanding Jewish names that are in the media who represents (sic) real, serious threats to life and limb and resources, but we refuse to make that a centerpiece of our relationship, and I hope we never will.” There was no elaboration on the comment about the media.
Speaking to a questioner who was the leader of the Jewish students at Queens College, Jackson advocated looking to common issues — such as human rights and funding for education — as a springboard to improving relations between Jewish and Black students there.
The Jewish leader noted that he has failed in attempts to establish a dialogue with the Black student leader, who coincidentally was the previous questioner. Jackson asked the Black leader to approach the Jewish leader, and bade them to shake hands. The audience applauded.
Jackson said the task of the Black and Jewish communities was “to take the bits of pieces of broken relationship which will never be whole by definition and to . . . coalesce around a common agenda. That’s our choice, and it may be our only chance.”
Those issues were in general the domestic agenda of the Democratic Party, he and Tanen-baum agreed.
Jackson said that even during the height of the Black-Jewish coalition in the 1960s there were disagreements, “but we simply chose on a scale of 10, that we agreed on seven out of 10, and let’s move on . . . You maximize the plusses, minimize the minuses and move on.”
‘A CHALLENGE TO COME TOGETHER’
Speaking afterward to reporters, Jackson evaluated his joint appearance with Tanenbaum as “a challenge to come together” for Blacks and Jews. The rabbi said, “We’ve determined the time has come to make a breakthrough in Black-Jewish relations.”
Jackson noted that a Government Accounting Office report on arms sales to South Africa by recipients of U.S. aid, thereby violating a U.S. embargo, would mention Israel. He said all nations listed ought to feel U.S. pressure to stop.
Tanenbaum said that in considering the report, due for release April 1, it is important to note that Israel is only a minor arms supplier to South Africa.
Jackson indicated he was leaning toward seeking the Democratic nomination for President in 1988, and said he would announce his decision in late spring. Preceding the event, several dozen members of the Jewish Defense Group and Jewish Defense Organization protested outside the college auditorium. They chanted and held signs proclaiming Jackson was an anti-Semite and supporter of the PLO.
Security personnel scuffled with them briefly over where they were allowed to stand. No injuries were reported.