In a speech clearly aimed at reconciliation with the Jewish community, the Rev. Jesse Jackson this week condemned anti-Semitism, praised Zionism as a “liberation movement” and called for Jews and blacks to renew their joint fight against racism.
The black civil rights leader spoke Tuesday at the World Conference on Anti-Semitism and Prejudice in a Changing World, convened here this week by the World Jewish Congress under the theme “My Brother’s Keeper.”
The three-day conference, which opened Monday, brought together several heads of state along with representatives of hundreds of Jewish communities in more than 60 countries.
An appeal to humanity, authored by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, was signed by President Bush and three dozen other heads of state and presented at the opening of the conference by WJC President Edgar Bronfman.
Wiesel’s appeal proclaimed “our faith in tolerance as an essential lesson (that) events of this dying century have taught our civilization.”
In his speech to the capacity crowd of over 1,000 people, Jackson urged the Jewish community to take action, with blacks, against racism.
“I call us to joint action — bold and courageous action,” he said. “The shrill voices of the extreme, often the most pained and least informed, must not take our eyes off the real institutional threats.”
“Let us organize a mechanism, a safety net for resolving disputes and minimizing public confrontation,” he said. “Let us discern between different methods while supporting a common mission.
“Let us not turn closed scars into open wounds in the name of freedom and candor. Let us be wise enough to act our way into a way of thinking, and not just think and talk ourselves into not acting,” the Baptist minister said.
‘PROVED TO BE WRONG’
He suggested that blacks and Jews “share church and synagogue experiences, share our holy days, so that we might have a greater appreciation of each other.”
Jackson’s remarks could help heal his rift with the Jewish community and prompted Jewish leaders, even those who initially opposed his appearance, to express hope about working with the activist and two-time presidential hopeful.
Jackson and the Jewish community have been at odds since his 1984 reference to New York as “Hymietown” and his embrace in 1983 of Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat.
“I was definitely opposed” to Jackson’s appearance, said Isi Leibler of Australia, co-chairman of the WJC’s governing board.
“I was opposed because of Jackson’s long record on anti-Semitism and on Israel, and because I thought there was a massive risk involved.
“But I was proved to be wrong,” Leibler said. “I do see genuine opportunities now, if we move forward, to some sort of a rapprochement.”
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League who also-addressed the conference, was more cautious. He welcomed Jackson’s remarks, but said that the African-American leader’s reputation “is not a result of one word, one sentence or one speech.
“It is a record that has been marred by insensitive statements and a troubling unwillingness to condemn certain black extremists who repeatedly use anti-Semitism as a bludgeon against the Jewish community.
“It is record,” Foxman added, “that has been marred by an insensitive view of Jewish history, the Holocaust, Zionism and the modern Jewish state, its government and their policies.
ONE SPEECH IS NOT ENOUGH
“One speech to the Jewish community in the Palace of Congresses in Brussels will not repair it,” the ADL leader said.
“Rev. Jackson’s opposition to anti-Semitism, to be meaningful, will have to be delivered in Bedford-Stuyvesant of Brooklyn and at black students meetings in Berkeley,” he said, adding: “I reach out to him as a ready and willing partner.”
Bronfman of the WJC told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he invited Jackson to address the conference because he “couldn’t see how one can have a conference on racism and anti-Semitism and xenophobia without looking at racism in the United States. And I can’t think of anybody who is more qualified to speak on behalf of the most oppressed people in the U.S. than Jesse Jackson,” he said.
“I’m not sure that controversy is all that bad,” he added. “This man is brilliant, he is a leader. Do I trust him totally? Of course not. Because he is not a Jewish leader, he is a black leader, he’s got a different agenda.
“Do I think that he and I can work together to bring the black and Jewish communities together to fight against racism? Yes, I think we will,” said Bronfman.
Jackson also spoke about Israel’s recent elections and said the Labor Party’s victory “is a breath of fresh air for peace and security for Israel.”
Jackson said that he spoke with Labor Party leader Yitzhak Rabin by phone to express his happiness “that the people of Israel have spoken with courage for change and peace. It is significant that Rabin’s election is seen as a sign of hope within democratic Israel, as well as within the Palestinian community,” he said.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.