Jews Still Cautious About Jackson Following Reconciliation Speech
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Jews Still Cautious About Jackson Following Reconciliation Speech

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Jewish observers of the black-Jewish relationship are cautiously welcoming the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s recent condemnation of anti-Semitism and praise of Zionism as a “liberation movement.”

While his unequivocal statements in Brussels last week at a conference on anti-Semitism earned him plaudits, many Jews are waiting for Jackson to repeat his statements in the black community before they jettison their doubts about his positions.

Jackson has earned the enmity of Jewish leaders for his relationship with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and his espousal of Palestinian national rights, which was underlined when he was photographed embracing Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasir Arafat in 1983.

During the 1984 presidential campaign, he referred to New York as “Hymietown.” Jackson apologized for the remark later that year at the Democratic National Convention.

In his speech last week at the World Conference on Anti-Semitism and Prejudice in a Changing World, organized by the World Jewish Congress, Jackson told a capacity crowd of more than 1,000 that “racism and anti-Semitism are scientifically and morally wrong.

“We must stand up to anti-Semitism and racism wherever we see it with clarity and discipline, by putting forward the information that proves it false,” he said.

Whether or not this effort at reconciliation with the Jewish community portends change in black-Jewish relations “depends on whether he delivers the same message to black audiences, particularly black students on college campuses,” said Julius Lester. Lester is a black convert to Judaism and a professor of Judaic studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.


“Jackson’s weakness over the years has been programmatic. He doesn’t see himself as someone who articulates the program, but as someone who articulates the vision. Part of that vision should be delivering that same message to the black community,” said Lester.

But it is important not to allow the opportunity presented by Jackson to get lost in a flurry of criticism, said Kenneth Stern, a program specialist on anti-Semitism and extremism at the American Jewish Committee.

When black leaders “do something positive and somewhat courageous, we should commend them and build upon it,” he said. “One speech is just one speech unless people build upon it. There will be new openings for dialogue through him, and there are concrete things that the communities can do together.”

The issues on which black and Jewish leaders should focus together, said Stern, are minority rights and social policy issues.

But according to Murray Friedman, author of a forthcoming book called “What Went Wrong: The Creation and Abandonment of the Black-Jewish Alliance,” to be published by the Free Press in 1993, Jackson has not yet proven his opposition to anti-Semitism.

“Only a few weeks ago he invited (rap singer) Sister Souljah to his Rainbow Coalition convention, and she delivered her message, which seems to advocate interracial violence,” he said.

“For Jews to fully accept Jackson as a collaborator, he has to disallow such behavior, and people who are blatantly anti-Semitic and anti-white,” said Friedman, who is also Middle Atlantic States regional director of the AJCommittee.

Still, he said, Jackson remains “a force of enormous influence in the black community, so it’s important for us to remain in contact with him and give him an opportunity to evolve.”

Zionist Organization of America leaders also were not satisfied with Jackson’s statements in Brussels. “There is unfortunately much more to be desired of Rev. Jackson,” said W. James Schiller, the group’s president.

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