Who’s on first? These days it’s not easy to keep score to who’s in or out of favor as far as Jewish organizational leaders are concerned.
Days after hosting Rev. Jesse Jackson at a news conference devoted to promoting the fact t hat there are ties binding black and Jewish political interests, the American Jewish Congress has criticized the black leader for remarks he made linking the Christian Coalition to anti-Semites of earlier eras.
“There is an ideological and historical connection” linking the Christian Coalition today to the anti-Semites and white supremacists of earlier eras – including those in Nazi Germany, Jackson said in a recent interview with the editorial board of the Chicago Sun-Times and during a speech at the Park Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan earlier this month.
Much of the Christian Coalition’s “language and threats and spirit and behavior is mean,” Jackson said at the synagogue.
“If this were Germany, we would call it fascism. If this were South Africa, we would call it racism. Here, we call it conservatism,” he said.
Phil Baum, AJCongress executive director, took issue with Jackson’s statements.
In a Dec. 9 letter to Jackson, Baum wrote, “Nothing in their program remotely approaches the genocidal anti-Semitism of the Nazis or the total rejection of democracy which is the political teaching of fascism.
“The terms `fascist’ and `Nazi’ carry powerful resonances for Jews,” Baum said. “It is important to us that these not be diluted by profligate use for partisan advantage.”
Last week, Jackson joined the American Jewish Congress at a news conference announcing the results of a study of congressional voting records. The study revealed that black and Jewish legislators generally vote in support of each others’ interests.
Jackson and AJCongress leaders said that the findings counter the increasingly prevalent notion that the two communities have no common interests.
The Anti-Defamation League also ran to the defense of the Christian Coalition. In a statement, ADL described Jackson’s comparison of the politically conservative group to the Nazis as “inappropriate, inaccurate and highly divisive.”
It wasn’t long ago that the ADL was entrenched in its own highly visible confrontation with the Christian Coalition.
Earlier this year the Jewish organization criticized Christian Coalition founder Rev. Pat Robertson and his ideological brethren for what the ADL said was an attempt on the part of those on the religious right to portray themselves as the victims of liberalism.
The ADL’s book-length study titled “The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America” prompted counterattacks by the Christian Coalition, including a widely disseminated booklet titled “A Campaign of Falsehoods: The Anti-Defamation League’s Defamation of Religious Conservatives.”
Jewish political conservatives rushed to the Christian Coalition’s aid at the time, criticizing the ADL for intolerance in a New York Times newspaper ad.
An agreement to tone down the rhetoric was reached during a conciliatory Nov. 30 meeting in Washington between representatives of the ADL and other Jewish groups and members of the religious right, including Ralph Reed, the executive director of the Christian coalition, and Jerry Falwell, head of the now-defunct Moral Majority.
Reed told the Washington post that he and the Jewish organizational leaders had agreed to step forward in mutual defense when any of them are attacked with “religious bigotry.”
Not all Jewish groups, however, were quick to defend the religious right against Jackson.
Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Reform movement’s religious Action Center, took issue with some of the language Jackson used, but agreed with his thesis.
“He compared Christians who manipulate Christianity to Justify intolerance and group hatred here with those who have done so in other historic situations,” said Saperstein.
“When religious groups give sanction to intolerance, they justify the evil that grows out of it,” he said. “That happened with Nazism and in the South with Jim Crow laws” which discriminated against blacks.
“The religious right must be held responsible for not condemning the extremists in their midst lest they sanction intolerance,” Saperstein said. “We expect if of the black community. Why should it be any different for people on the right?”
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.