Blacks fight anti-Semitism

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., foreground, and President Johnson meet at the White House in 1966. (LBJ Library Photo by Yoichi Okamoto)

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., foreground, and President Johnson meet at the White House in 1966. (LBJ Library Photo by Yoichi Okamoto)

NEW YORK, Dec. 31 (JTA) — The Jewish people are under attack. Horrific expressions of anti-Semitism are spreading across the United States and the world. These attacks, both verbal and physical, are occurring at all levels of society, from the highest ranks of government to individuals on the street. This January, as we honor the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., we ask blacks to embrace his legacy and to join Jews in defeating the injustice of anti-Semitism. Even as King struggled to achieve equality for black Americans, he did not hesitate to express total disdain for anti-Semitism, especially when it reared its ugly face in his own community. King championed the civil rights of Jews, spoke out for the human rights of Soviet Jews and reminded the world of those Jews who endured beatings and humiliation and gave their lives for the civil rights movement. The Jewish community cannot alone fight the battle against anti-Semitism. Blacks and Jews have a long shared history of working together to effect social change, as when Jews stood by their African-American brothers and sisters in the civil rights era. King said, “In the struggle for human rights, as well as in the struggle for the upward march of our civilization, we have deep need for the partnership, fellowship and courage of our Jewish brother.” Now the Jewish community needs the partnership, fellowship and courage of black Americans. The civil rights of Jews are now at stake. A recent national poll by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding found that 77 percent of blacks and 73 percent of Jews agree that they should work together on civil rights. Anti-Semitic incidents are up dramatically in the United States, including a 24 percent increase on college campuses in 2002. In England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Turkey and other countries throughout Asia and Europe, synagogues are bombed, Jewish schools are torched and members of the Jewish community are forced to hide their yarmulkes and Star of David pendants. Were King alive today, he would speak out vociferously against this new wave of anti-Semitism. He also would not tolerate the moral laryngitis that many political leaders seem to suffer in the face of these despicable acts against the Jewish people. King invoked the immortal words that “a people who fight for their own rights only are as honorable as when they fight for the rights of all people.” He acknowledged the interdependence of our two communities, black and Jewish. “Every Negro leader is keenly aware, from direct and personal experience, that the segregationists and racists make no fine distinctions between the Negro and the Jew. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” King said. In this spirit, we appeal to black Americans to stand in solidarity with their Jewish brothers and sisters who face the scourge and evils of anti-Semitism. Rabbi Marc Schneier is founder and president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding; Russell Simmons is the group’s chairman.

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