Jackson is Trying to Mend His Fences with the Jewish Community
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Jackson is Trying to Mend His Fences with the Jewish Community

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For the past year the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose 1984 presidential campaign was plagued by allegations of anti-Semitism, has been making overtures to the Jewish community.

Jackson has met with Jewish leaders privately and in public forums, spoken before Jewish organizations such as the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and given interviews to Jewish newspapers.

“It is a different Jackson in 1988 than in 1984,” observed Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. “One has to recognize and welcome that certain sensitivity he is now showing.”

Jackson has “gone out on a limb like that not just once, but several times, so there is a clear-cut pattern of an effort to reach out to the Jewish community, and the community ought to respond,” added Rabbi David Saperstein, co director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

But while Jewish leaders applaud Jackson’s efforts, they remain skeptical to what extent he can put his past problems with the community behind him. Jackson, said Marc Perl, Washington representative of the American Jewish Congress, carries a “significant amount of baggage” that Jewish voters are unlikely to forget.


The heaviest load in this baggage remains Jackson’s association in 1984 with the Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan, whose preaching is marked by virulent anti-Semitic rhetoric. In a recent New York Times article, Jackson said “the simple fact is that Farrakhan is not connected to my campaign in any way. That’s all that’s need to be said.”

But most Jews disagree.

“What Jews want and will continue to want is for Jackson to repudiate Farrakhan. There’s a feeling that he has yet to do this,” said Hyman Bookbinder of the American Jewish Committee.

Frank Watkins, Jackson’s press secretary, said as a religious leader Jackson “does not repudiate the personhood of anyone, even an enemy, let alone the personhood of a friend and ally in the ’84 campaign, at least to a certain extent, because there is always the possibility of redemption.”

Even if Jackson can put Farrakhan behind him, his views on the Middle East still disturb Jewish voters, many of whom see Israel as a litmus test for support of a candidate. Jackson no longer refers to Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasir Arafat, whom he publicly embraced in 1978, as an ally, but he remains critical of U.S. military assistance to Israel and Israel’s occupation of the settlements.

According to Watkins, Jackson advocates a four-point approach to the Middle East: a secure Israel within “internationally recognized boundaries”; Palestinian self-determination and justice including the right to determine their own representation; respect for Lebanon’s territorial integrity, with U.S. assistance in helping them to rebuild; and normalizing ties with other Arab countries. Ann Lewis, former executive director of Americans for Democratic Action who has advised Jackson on Jewish issues, said Jackson’s views on the Middle East agenda has many points in common with Jews.


Jackson’s struggle with the Jewish community is symbolic of the delicate relationship between Blacks and Jews. Although they share a history of oppression and fought side by side in the civil rights movement, stereotypes and antagonisms persists, analysts noted.

Jackson may be politically, as well as religiously, unable to repudiate Farrakhan, without risking the support of Blacks who see Jews as wealthy establishment figures. At the same time, articulating a softer tone on Israel would offend the “Third World crowd” who support international “nationalist movements” such as the PLO and the African National Congress seeking to overthrow the government of South Africa, according to analysts.

“He can give a little on (issues such as the Palestinians and Farrakhan), but he can’t just suddenly shed all these things without being accused of pandering to the Jews,” said Bookbinder.

Watkins suggested that those Jews who remain skeptical of Jackson are “perpetuating a political problem and are not interested in learning the facts. What is he (Jackson) expected to do to end the skepticism?”

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