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Black Group, Jdl Pledge Common Action for Soviet Jews, Black-jewish Relations

May 19, 1971
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The leader of a black self help group and the national chairman of the Jewish Defense League met today and pledged “brotherhood.” The unprecedented meeting between a black organization and the JDL, termed by Rabbi Kahane as a “turning point in Black-Jewish relations,” took place in the Harlem headquarters of NEGRO (National Economic Growth and Reconstruction Organization). This was the second time in one week that an alliance with a non-Jewish group had been made by the Jewish Defense League. Last Thursday, Rabbi Kahane and Joseph Colombo Sr. president of the Italian American Civil Rights League, held a joint press conference in which they announced their alignment to combat “any form of discrimination and persecution.” During a 20-minute private conference preceding the glatt kosher luncheon, Dr. Thomas Matthew, leader of NEGRO, and sponsor of the meeting, and Rabbi Kahane agreed to set up a joint committee to discuss problems between black and Jewish communities, Dr. Matthew outlined NEGRO’s two-point program for cooperation with the JDL. Included in his program was a proposal to send a black commission to the Soviet Union on June 15th for the purpose of studying the conditions of the Soviet Jews and to report their findings back to the black community. Dr. Matthew told newsmen his group would then start working actively for the release of Soviet Jews, on the condition that they do not emigrate to Israel for two years.

“Although we want to help the Soviet Jews.” Dr. Matthew said, “we do not want to upset the balance of Arab-Israeli relations. We would therefore suggest that upon their release, the Soviet Jews go to a neutral country, where they would stay for two years. During those two years, hopefully, the Arab-Israeli crisis would be resolved and the Soviet Jews would then be free to emigrate to Israel, if they would so desire.” Dr. Matthew told newsmen that while his group advocated immediate action on behalf of Soviet Jewry, it did not condone the JDL’s harassment tactics of Russian officials. “America is the home of black people,” Dr. Matthew said, “and anyone who is the guest of our home will receive protection and respect. Soviet citizens who are guests in America should not be harassed, and NEGRO will provide courtesy escorts for them if they should so desire.” Commenting on Dr. Matthew’s remarks, Rabbi Kahane told newsmen that while he was enthusiastic about NEGRO’s proposals for the establishment of a joint committee, he could not agree with its stand on the harassment of Soviet officials. “The Soviet diplomat is not a guest in America,” Rabbi Kahane declared, “and as far as we (JDL) are concerned, will not walk the streets of America freely. We would understand the harassment of South African diplomats by blacks and find it reprehensible that the South Africans aren’t given the same discourtesy by the black community as the one accorded the Soviets by the Jewish community.”

Despite this disagreement over harassment of Russian officials, the meeting and luncheon following was marked by extreme cordiality and warmth. Dr. Matthew pointed to the platters of glatt kosher food and to the Israeli music playing on the record players. Chuckling, Dr. Matthew said his group had searched “long and hard” for a record with “Hava Nagila” on it and had finally found one–recorded by Harry Belafonte. Rabbi Kahane smiles and said the kosher food looked just fine–“guaranteed heartburn.” The cordial meeting was marred by an episode that took place earlier outside NEGRO’s headquarters. A black man who identified himself as James Earl Lawson, president of the Harlem Council for Economic Development, a militant black group, warned newsmen that “there was a death threat” hanging over “the participants inside” and that the meeting “may have the greatest repercussions in Jewish communities.” Lawson charged that Dr. Matthew was not a spokesman for the black community and “does not represent them.” He charged Dr. Matthew with “adding insult to injury” by “inviting a man who led an attack on blacks at Brooklyn College as though he was a hero.” The invitation to the luncheon was extended by Dr. Matthew to Rabbi Kahane following the clash two weeks ago at Brooklyn College in which fights between black and Jewish students erupted.

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