American Jewish Congress Hears Criticisms of Black Nationalists, ‘isolationist’ Jews
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American Jewish Congress Hears Criticisms of Black Nationalists, ‘isolationist’ Jews

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Black nationalists who seek to drive whites from the struggle for racial justice, and Jews looking for excuses to withdraw from the civil rights movement, were sharply criticized here today, by Dr. Kenneth B. Clark, of New York, Negro rights leader, and Rabbi Arthur J. Lelyveld, president of the American Jewish Congress, They joined in condemning “isolationists in both camps” who believe Jews and Negroes must now “go it alone.” They spoke at a meeting of the national governing council of the AJC here. Shad Polier, chairman of the council, presided.

In urging that Jews concern themselves “not so much with anti-Semitism as with the social injustices that cause racial and religious tension,” Rabbi Lelyveld declared: “We do not protect our Jewish future by abandoning our Jewish principles. Those who seek to save their skins may end up losing not only their skins but also their souls.”

Rabbi Lelyveld was apparently taking issue with Bertram H. Gold, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, who has called for a Jewish coalition with the Negro middle class to combat anti-white hostility, including anti-Semitism. “This is the old-line approach to anti-Semitism, which seeks to overcome it by arguing it down,” Rabbi Lelyveld said. “My own proposal is to enter into an alliance with those who are just as angry with injustice and inequality as I am.” Our task is not merely to promote harmony between middle-class Jews and the deprived Negro masses, but rather to build a society that will eliminate poverty and injustice and close the ‘affluence gap’ between white and black in America. Preoccupation of other agencies may be with ameliorating anti-Semitism. Our emphases must be on the social problems that generate it.”

Dr. Clark told the AJC leaders: “Those black nationalists who seek to preempt the civil rights struggle for themselves are among the most pathetic victims of the virulence of American racism. “If I were white,’ I should consider it absurd that anyone could tell me that, by virtue of my color. I am disqualified in asserting and working for Jewish and human dignity. I would consider myself demeaned if I were intimidated into removing myself from this struggle by black or white racists.”


Dr. Clark proposed joint Negro-Jewish action programs “to meet the racist challenge of black power” in three major areas of Negro-Jewish contact: education, consumer-merchant relations, and housing. On education, he urged that Jews and Negroes in major cities join forces “to remedy the criminally inefficient and intolerable education now being provided Negro children in predominantly Negro ghetto schools. “This problem cannot be remedied by the blind-alley approach of the black nationalists who are insisting upon all-black schools in all-black communities. This is not a job for Negroes alone. It is a job for all concerned and committed Americans.”

On consumer-merchant relations, he proposed that Jewish groups organize “merchant associations that would assume primary responsibility for policing the methods, techniques and practices of all merchants doing business in Negro communities.” On housing, he called for Negro-Jewish cooperation “in insisting on more effective government activity in slum clearance and code enforcements.”

Dr. Clark said that anti-Jewish and anti-Israel black extremists were exploring the possibility of linking up with right-wing reactionary. anti-Semitic white groups. “Anti-Semitism, among those portions of the black nationalist movement which seem addicted to it, may reflect not only a pattern of racial cynicism and the method of racial racketeers but also a specific symptom of the general problem of racism in America,” he said, He continued:

“The problem of anti-Semitism among Negroes in general is not a serious issue which requires serious concern or any special program to deal with it. Anti-Semitism among black nationalists, however, may present the problem of understanding and exposing the relationship between such groups and white ractionaries and segregationists.

“Anti-Semitism among Negroes is a barometer of Negro morale. Increased expressions of anti-Jewish feeling among Negroes may be interpreted as an indication of low morale. Systematic anti-Semitism among Negroes or whites — or even among Jews — is a manifestation of the systematic disease of racism.”

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