Black-Jewish tensions escalated this week following the selection of the first Jewish vice presidential candidate of a major party in American history. Even as the Rev. Jesse Jackson voiced strong support for Sen. Joseph Lieberman during a speech at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles Tuesday night, and as Lieberman met with the Congressional Black Caucus to assuage their fears about his stand on affirmative action, attacks on Lieberman came from other corners of the black community.
It was perhaps part of a backlash many Jews feared in the wake of the choice of the Connecticut Democrat, an Orthodox Jew, as Al Gore’s running mate, as elation mixed with anxiety.
In the last week some leaders in the black community have dredged up anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews as controllers of money and raised the issue of dual loyalty concerning Lieberman’s policy regarding Israel.
Yet others have swiftly denounced such comments, and Rep. Maxine Waters, a vocal critic of Lieberman, said Tuesday she supports him wholeheartedly after he expressed support for affirmative action, an apparent flip-flop from his earlier position.
Other leading black liberals, however, continued to express doubts about Lieberman’s centrist positions, including his support of experimental school vouchers.
But Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), referring to Lieberman’s status as the first Jewish nominee on a major party ticket, said: “When they break a barrier for somebody who is excluded, we can’t be far behind.”
In his speech Tuesday night, Rev. Jackson declared that Gore “stood up for justice” when he chose Lieberman as his running mate.
“Al Gore has brought the sons and daughters of slaves and slavemasters together with the sons and daughters of Holocaust survivors. He raised the moral chin bar,” Rev. Jackson said.
In New York, however, in what was seen as a particularly crude attack, Wilbert Tatum, the publisher emeritus of the Amsterdam News, a leading black weekly, claimed in a signed editorial last week that the Jews bought Lieberman’s spot on the Democratic ticket.
In a piece titled “The Democratic Party-Jewish Connection: It gets curiouser and curiouser,” Tatum reasons that Lieberman was chosen to obtain world Jewish money for the Democratic Party.
“Therefore the reasoning in the Gore camp went out all over the world to Jews of means: you’ve got to show me the money. When you do, one of yours will be given the second spot on the ticket.
“The word went all over the to Jews in every pocket of every civilization and near-civilization that the major protector of Jews in this world, the American government, is now available,” Tatum wrote. “But in order to get it you’ve got to buy it.
“If this scenario is the correct one, and we believe that it is, America is being sold to the highest bidder.”
Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman called Tatum’s assertion “insidious and an anti-Semitic canard employed by anti-Semites, racists and conspiracy theorists through the centuries to bolster their absurd claim of Jewish control. His contention that Jews bought the vice presidency shows Bill Tatum for what he is — nothing more than an anti-Semite the likes of David Duke.”
Tatum, whose wife is Jewish, denied being an anti-Semite and accused Foxman of race baiting.
“Abe Foxman has been a race baiter all his life,” Tatum told The Daily News, accusing Foxman of using the editorial to raise money for the ADL. “My wife is a Holocaust survivor. My daughter is Jewish. I am not, nor have I ever been, an anti-Semite.”
Foxman also told The Jewish Week he demanded an apology from Rep. Charles Rangel, (D-Harlem) for making “crude and offensive” charges against him over the issue of black anti-Semitism.
Rangel accused Foxman of raising the issue to justify his salary at the ADL during a radio interview last Saturday in which the congressman called “untrue and unfair” Foxman’s contention that anti-Semitism is more widespread among blacks than whites.
A controversial 1998 ADL survey concluded that while American anti-Semitism dropped from 20 percent to 12 percent since 1992, the most virulent black anti-Semitism is now almost four times that of its white counterparts.
“[Foxman] said that he was upset because there’s more black anti-Semitism than white anti-Semitism,” Rangel said. “That is unfair. It’s untrue. And I think that Abe, being on the payroll, feels that he has to do those things to keep his job.”
Rangel, who was at the Democratic National Convention, could not be reached for comment.
Praise For NAACP
Their exchange followed last week’s forced resignation of Lee Alcorn, president of the Dallas chapter of the NAACP, for making anti-Semitic comments about Lieberman.
Said Alcorn on a radio show: “We need to be very suspicious of any kind of partnership between the Jews at that kind of level … because we know that their interest primarily has to do with, you know, with money and these kinds of things.”
Alcorn was immediately reprimanded by NAACP president Kweisi Mfume, who called the remarks “repulsive, anti-Semitic, anti-NAACP and anti-American.” Other African-American leaders, including Rev. Jackson and NAACP board chairman Julian Bond joined Mfume in rebuking Alcorn.
The swift condemnation had drawn praise from Jewish leaders, who said it demonstrated a new level of maturity between leaders in the two ethnic groups.
“Five years ago when we heard these kinds of comments being made against Jews, the questions being posed by the Jewish community was where are the black leaders to condemn these statements,” said Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which promotes black-Jewish relations.
“What we saw this time around was a very quick and definitive response on the part of African-American leaders. It’s a significant change,” he said, noting however that the same can’t be said of the rank and file, where “within the African-American community we do find sentiments expressed in terms of anti-Semitic rhetoric and diatribe.”
More controversy was ignited when Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan questioned Lieberman’s national loyalty, asking if his religion would make him more faithful to Israel or the United States.
“Mr. Lieberman, as an Orthodox Jew, is also a dual citizen of Israel,” Farrakhan asserted, according to the Los Angeles Times. (Lieberman holds no dual citizenship.)
“The State of Israel is not synonymous with the United States, and the test he would probably have to pass is, would he be more faithful to the Constitution of the United States than to the ties that any Jewish person would have to the State of Israel?” Farrakhan asked.
The L.A. Times called the accusation of dual loyalty “one of the most long-standing of charges against American Jews and is certain to further inflame relations between him and the Jewish community.”
Farrakhan insisted that allegations that he is anti-Semitic are “so mistaken.”
“This is Louis Farrakhan up to his same old tricks and old habits of spewing anti-Semitism,” said Matt Dorf of the American Jewish Congress. “If anyone had any doubt that he had turned over a new leaf, as he claimed a few months ago, this should put that to rest.”
Lieberman last week said, “If I’m honored and fortunate enough to become the vice president of the United States, my first and primary loyalty is of course to the United States of America.”
He also cited his “close relationships” with such Arab leaders as Yasir Arafat and the late King Hussein of Jordan.
But black leaders did not condemn Farrakhan the way they did Alcorn. Some Jewish leaders suspect there is a concern about disagreeing with Farrakhan publicly, but Rabbi Schneier said black leaders don’t take Farrakhan seriously.
“From my relationship within the African-American community, they wouldn’t even waste their time dignifying what comes out of his mouth,” he said.
Farrakhan also urged the Democratic team to pursue a “just and fair policy … to Muslim states who may have some disagreements with Israel.” He said such nations as Libya, Iran, Syria, Iraq and Sudan all want better relations with the United States. He repeatedly called for dialogue with Jews, saying, “I really want this.”
Meanwhile, one New York black leader told The Jewish Week it is crucial to separate legitimate questioning of issues with anti-Semitism.
“I don’t get the feeling people are reacting to him because he is an Orthodox Jew but [rather] based on his voting record and whether he is a lightning rod to stimulate people to come out to vote,” said Dennis Walcott, president of the New York Urban League.
“I don’t think that has anything whatsoever to do with his religious background.”
Veteran black journalist Tony Brown also said he has heard no talk of Lieberman’s religion in meetings with national black professional groups.
“If there were some outbreak of anti-Semitism as a result of this … I would know it,” Brown said. “I believe it is wrong to judge Lieberman because he is a Jew. You have to look at his record.
“I like Lieberman,” Brown said, “and I’m not a Democrat. It’s because of the principled stand he took against Clinton’s behavior. I saw him stand out as a moral person.”
Monitoring The Net
On the Internet, the explosion of Internet hate activity against Lieberman appears to be abating, but some are concerned about the less obvious shots at the senator via jokes, age-old stereotypes and other harsh criticism.
“The extremist groups aren’t so much what troubles me; you know what to expect from [them],” said David Goldman, executive director of HateWatch.org, which monitors intolerance in cyberspace. “What is worrisome is the explosion of anti-Semitic comment within the mainstream and moderate chat rooms.”
An AOL spokesman told The Jewish Week that of about 30,000 postings about Lieberman, “a relatively normal level of postings needed to be removed.” He declined to say how many.
Foxman said the increase of hate on mainstream sites is “potentially dangerous.” But the good news is the providers are monitoring pulling the plug on those who they feel are violating their contract of civil discourse.
On the whole, he said the reaction by America to the selection of Lieberman was positive, if not awkward — with major publications like Time magazine throwing around out-of-context headlines like “Chutzpah” to describe the selection — to the chagrin of both Jewish and non-Jewish observers.
“I think generally American society has welcomed it and has embraced it,” Foxman said.
But the unexpected reaction of some Jews was troubling, Foxman stated. A proud response was mixed with unanticipated levels of anxiety and discomfort.
The ADL has received phone calls from Jews across the country worried about whether Jews will be blamed if Gore loses. There is also the unease from non-Orthodox Jews who are embarrassed because they don’t understand and can’t explain to non-Jews religious concepts that would allow Lieberman to perform some tasks on the Sabbath.
“I thought I understood where the Jewish community is,” Foxman said, “but I don’t think American Jews have yet come of age.”