NEW YORK (Apr. 5)
New York Mayor David Dinkins defended Jesse Jackson, Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu, while at the same time criticizing Israel for its relations with South Africa, in a speech he delivered on black-Jewish relations Tuesday night.
“There has never been an absolute consensus between our two communities,” Dinkins said. “What we have had is a remarkable degree of agreement on the ends we seek, if not always the means by which we would arrive at those ends.”
The mayor was addressing a select crowd of prominent Jewish and black community leaders, who were assembled at Hebrew Union College to view a new photo documentary exhibit, “Blacks and Jews: the American Experience, 1654-1989.”
While Dinkins made reference to the “historic alliance” between black and Jewish Americans — including the 1909 formation of the NAACP, the civil rights cases of the 1940s and ’50s, the ’60s marches and the deaths of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman — he also addressed some of the black positions and issues that have been sore points in the black-Jewish relationship.
The issue of Jesse Jackson’s attitudes and various public statements about Jews has been of particular concern to Jews nationwide.
While Dinkins admitted that Jewish apprehension over Jackson’s “Hymietown” remarks “is understandable,” he said that the black politician had “humbled himself” at the 1984 Democratic National Convention.
“It is not productive to continue to raise issues for which Rev. Jackson has apologized,” the mayor said.
UPSET JEWISH COMMUNITY
Dinkins also defended South African black leaders Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu, both of whom recently upset the American Jewish community by equating the struggles of the Palestinians and black South Africans.
Mandela, shortly after his release from prison, made a public appearance with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat.
“It is legitimate for Jews to be concerned about those comments, and to seek a dialogue on this and other issues,” Dinkins said. “But displeasure with the comments can be expressed in a way that will not lead to any interpretation that the Jewish community is displeased with the anti-apartheid struggle.”
Dinkins noted African-American dismay over Israel’s past relations with South Africa, saying Israel cut its military ties to the apartheid regime only after objections were raised in the United States.
“Israel can be a true ‘light unto the nations’ and lead the fight against apartheid by imposing full sanctions and divestment,” Dinkins said.
At this point in the program, a note was passed to Paul Steinberg, HUC vice president and dean of faculty, from HUC President Dr. Alfred Gottschalk. It was announced afterward that the college would be awarding Mandela an honorary degree and would like Dinkins to sponsor it.
According to Dinkins aide Herb Block, the honoring of Mandela was unexpected. “I don’t know for sure whether they decided on the spur of the moment or not, but it was definitely a surprise.”