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Israeli Embassy Honors Blacks, Jews Who Worked Together for Civil Rights

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In its annual ceremony to commemorate the work of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Israeli Embassy last week honored blacks and Jews who have long worked together to further civil rights.

Last Friday’s commemorative event, the embassy’s 10th annual program honoring the slain civil rights leader, took place in the wake of public denunciations by black leaders of anti-Semitic statements made by officals of the Nation of Islam.

The event was co-sponsored by the embassy and the Religious Action Center of the Reform movement and was partly funded by the Barbara Streisand Program for Black-Jewish Cooperation.

The program served both as an awards ceremony and as a forum to praise the long history of black-Jewish cooperation that has been undermined of late by acerbic anti-Semitic remarks made by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and his followers and that mainstream black leaders have sought to redress.

“We cannot continue to allow large audiences to hear words of bigotry,” said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), recipient of the embassy’s 1994 Civil Rights Leadership Award.

Racist speech, she said, should be met with “careful rebuttal and moral teaching.”

Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly of the District of Columbia spoke of the long friendship between the African-American and Jewish communities in the fight for civil rights.

“The more (racists) attempt to malign and divide us, the more we will come together as a community to combat hatred,” Kelly told the audience of 200 persons.

Addresses were also delivered by Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s ambassador to the United States.

Both speakers lauded King’s work to foster civil rights in America.

“I think of Moses when I think of Dr. King,” said Rabinovich. He observed that both men led their people on a journey to the promised land but did not live to see them get there.

But while Jews arrived in the Land of Israel, Rabinovich said, blacks have not yet reached their promised land.

Saperstein praised King as “an essential part of the moral glue that bound together black and Jewish communities.”

An award for black-Jewish relations was given posthumously to the family of the late Rabbi Eugene Lipman, a pioneer of civil rights activities in the Reform movement and founder of its Joint Commission on Social Action.

Lipman, who died Jan. 14, took part in anti-segregation marches with King.

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