Everything Jeremiah Wright knows about being black, he learned from Jews in high school

The ZOA’s Mort Klein is pushing ahead with his calls on Barack Obama to quit his church. In addition to the organization’s press release from last week, Klein now also has an Op-Ed. In each case he veers off course a bit in trying to argue that Obama’s pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., has no grounds for harboring any racial bitterness.

In the press release, as a parenthetical P.S., Klein is quoted as saying:

(Obama excuses some of Wright’s statements by saying, “Wright was a child of the 60′s.” In fact, Rev. Jeremiah Wright went to high school in Philadelphia from 1955 to 1959. The high school he attended was my own alma mater, Central High School. Central, the second oldest public high school in the country, was a magnet school attracting the elite, most serious academic students in the city. The school was 80% Jewish and 95% white. My experience was that the African-American students were treated with the same respect as the white students. The African-American students loved Central as much as the white students did. Many of them come to Central’s reunions. Also, it is interesting to note that Rev. Wright’s father was a prominent pastor and his mother was a teacher and later vice-principal of the Philadelphia High School for Girls, also a distinguished academic high school.)

What started out as a tag-on turns into the lead in Klein’s Op-Ed. Here’s the opening few graffs:

The whole world now knows that for nearly 20 years, Senator Barack Obama has attended Chicago’s Trinity United Church and that his pastor is Rev. Jeremiah Wright. In his speech on race on March 18, Senator Obama criticized some of Rev. Wright’ statements but also essentially excused and rationalized Wright’s sermons. He summarized the reality for many African-Americans growing up in past decades – inferior, segregated schools; discrimination; lack of economic opportunity, inability to provide for one’s family – before stating, “This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up.” Half right. African-Americans suffered, many even horrifically, in the past. But Rev. Wright was not one of them.

How do I know?

It happens that, as a Philadelphian, I attended Central High School – the same public school Jeremiah Wright attended from 1955 to 1959. He could have gone to an integrated neighborhood school, but he chose to go to Central, a virtually all-white school. Central is the second oldest public high school in the country, which attracts the most serious academic students in the city. The school then was about 80% Jewish and 95% white. The African-American students, like all the others, were there on merit. Generally speaking, we came from lower/middle class backgrounds. Many of our parents had not received a formal education and we tended to live in row houses. In short, economically, we were roughly on par.

I attended Central a few years after Rev. Wright, so I did not know him personally. But I knew of him and I know where he used to live – in a tree-lined neighborhood of large stone houses in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. This is a lovely neighborhood to this day. Moreover, Rev. Wright’s father was a prominent pastor and his mother was a teacher and later vice-principal and disciplinarian of the Philadelphia High School for Girls, also a distinguished academic high school. Two of my acquaintances remember her as an intimidating and strict disciplinarian and excellent math teacher. In short, Rev. Wright had a comfortable upper-middle class upbringing. It was hardly the scene of poverty and indignity suggested by Senator Obama to explain what he calls Wright’s anger and what I describe as his hatred.

New Republic honcho Marty Peretz is impressed by this take on Wright; N.J. Jewish News editor Andrew Silow-Carroll – not so much.

My two cents: Wright has supplied Klein with plenty of decent ammunition to make his case that Obama should quit the church (after all, the candidate himself suggested that he might have done so, if not for the fact that his longtime pastor was retiring). But this attempt to challenge the idea that Wright might be carrying some legitimate racial grudges around is ridiculous – especially coming from Klein, who runs an organization that raises money and lobbies in D.C. based on the premise that we here in America can feel solidarity with Israelis living thousands of miles away.

It would be like if I wrote an Op-Ed saying, “It’s true that there are many Israelis who have been killed in terrorist attacks. Yet that can’t be why Mort Klein is so angry about Palestinian incitement. Take it from me. I went to high school just a few blocks away from his home in suburban Philadelphia. And it’s a really nice neighborhood – there’s been no terrorist attacks there. So, yes, Israelis might have a right to be angry about terrorism, but not Mort, everything is swell where he lives.”

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