Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Comedian Jackie Mason Denies Published Remarks Were Racist

September 29, 1989
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Comedian and TV-star Jackie Mason, under attack by several Jewish groups for controversial comments he made about blacks and Jews, scoffed at charges that he was a racist.

Mason was quoted in the weekly Village Voice here as saying that New York mayoral candidate David Dinkins “has accomplished absolutely nothing in his life” and “looks like a black model without a job.”

The comic was also quoted as attacking Jews who voted for Dinkins in the Democratic primary: “There is a sick Jewish problem of voting for a black man no matter how unfit he is for the job,” Mason said in the article. “All you have to do is be black and don’t curse the Jews directly and the Jew will vote for a black in a second.

“Jews are sick with complexes,” he said. “They feel guilty for the black predicament as if the Jews caused it. Jews have always marched for the blacks.”

Mason denied that the remarks were racist and said he had been fighting racism all his life. “Anybody who calls me a racist should be shot like a horse in the street,” the comic said at a news conference on Wednesday, the day the Voice is published.

On Thursday, Mason issued a statement “from the bottom of my heart. I am a comedian, not a politician. I make jokes about life and people, and the jokes, whether they are about black people, Jewish people or Gentiles, come from affection and people know that.

“But I’ve learned a lesson from the last few days. What’s funny on the stage can be insensitive when it’s said off the stage and in the world of politics. And for my insensitivity, I apologize.”

The immediate impact of the controversy was that Mason, an outspoken supporter of Dinkins’ Republican rival, Rudolph Giuliani, had resigned from the campaign.

Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, American Jewish Congress, American Jewish Committee and UJA-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York, were quick to denounce Mason’s comments.

The JCRC issued a statement saying, “We are disappointed and offended by Jackie Mason’s remarks regarding mayoral candidate David Dinkins, and the black and Jewish communities.

“Rather than being humorous, Mr. Mason has resorted to racial characterizations which are an affront to all New Yorkers, regardless of their race or religion.”

Mason was also quoted in the Voice taking potshots at Jewish philanthropy: “A big percentage of the money the United Jewish Appeal collects goes to the general fund, which is directly responsible for funding black organizations of every kind like anti-drug centers, alcoholic centers, food distribution centers.

“The Jews are constantly giving millions of dollars to black people. Have you ever heard of black people giving a quarter to a Jew? I never heard a black person say we have to help the poor Jews. There are plenty of poor Jews in the world … I’m not saying blacks should be giving to the Jews, but Jews don’t owe anything to the blacks.”

UJA-Federation issued a statement saying, “Mr. Mason does not speak for this organization or for the Jewish community, and his statements are ill-informed and inaccurate. They are also insulting.”

Mason and lawyer Raoul Felder said the remarks were taken out of context and that they would file a $25 million libel suit against the newspaper.

An angry Mason said it was “sick” and “distorted” to consider his remarks racist. He pointed out comments he made poking fun at Ed Koch, and the fact that he’s made worse ethnic comments about Jews.

Mason insisted the sole intention of his comments was to point out that Jews and other voters should vote for the best candidate, regardless of race. He said he feels Jews are only voting for Dinkins because he is black, and “Jews feel bad for blacks because of all the trouble they’ve had in this country for no good reason.”

Recommended from JTA