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Reactions by Jewish Leaders

July 19, 1984
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Jewish political fig ures and leaders of Jewish organizations generally agreed today that the Rev. Jesse Jackson went a long way to heal the breach between Jews and Blacks when he struck a conciliatory tone during his address to the Democratic national convention in San Francisco last night.

But many agreed that one speech could not close the wounds and ease the pain and anguish that Jackson caused during the past months by his “Hymie” and “Hymietown” remarks and his steadfast refusal to disavow altogether Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan beyond distancing himself from Farrakhan’s most vitriolic anti-Semitic statements.

In his address last night, Jackson appealed for reconciliation, saying, “If in my low moments, in word, deed or attitude, through error or temper, taste or tone, I have caused anyone discomfort, created pain or revived someone’s fear, that was not my truest self.

“If there were occasions when my grape turned into a raisin and my bell lost its resonance, please forgive me” he declared. “Charge it to my head and not my heart.”


While acknowledging that Jackson can be a “force for good,” Henry Siegman, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said today that “Unfortunately too often in the past he has used his talents in a divisive manner.”

“One speech does not undo all that has gone before,” he continued. “But we are encouraged by his efforts to heal the wounds, and hope that this is the road he will pursue in the future.”

Howard Friedman, president of the American Jewish Committee, said he hoped the conciliatory tone of Jackson’s speech “sustains itself in the coming weeks and is further reinforced by Rev. Jackson in both words and deeds.” He added, “We hope the clouds that hovered” over relations between Blacks and Jews “have lifted.”

Nathan Perlmutter, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, said that while he welcomed Jackson’s statements, “We nonetheless vigorously differ with his politics of appeasement of tyrants,” a reference to Jackson’s recent meetings with Cuban leader Fidel Castro and others who Perlmutter charged are “echo chambers for anti-Zionist and anti-American propaganda, all with failed human rights marks.”


At the convention in the Moscone Center, Rep. Henry Waxman (D. Calif.) was interviewed immediately after the Jackson speech. He agreed that the tone of the speech would help to build the bridge between the two communities. But, he added, “months of hurt can’t be healed in one speech.”

San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, interviewed by reporters, said that the speech will help ease tensions between Blacks and Jews but added that it should have come sooner. Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky also praised the speech but added that “it’s bad he didn’t say this long before, thus avoiding the breach and pain resulting from his remarks.”

Earlier this week, Jackson said in an appearance on the NBC-TV “Meet the Press” program that he regretted remarks that may have alienated the Jewish community during his campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination, and said he felt there was a need for a “summit meeting” between Blacks and Jews very soon.

Jackson as recently as one week ago had infuriated the American Jewish community when he charged in an interview with The Los Angeles Times that the Jewish community leadership has sought to make him a “pariah” and that likely Democratic Presidential candidate Walter Mondale did not choose him as his running mate because of “threats” to the former vice president by a “significant number of Jewish leaders.”


Alleck Resnick, Zionist Organization of America president, said Jackson appears “sincere” in his attempt to bridge the gaps between the two communities. He said he hoped Jackson would “follow up his words of conciliation with responsible action and constructive dialogue at reducing tensions” between Blacks and Jews.

Rabbi Dov-Aharoni Fisch, executive director of the Herut Zionists of America, said Jackson “has a propensity for making apologetic statements when they are to his political advantage. We have heard too many apologies… This time around we will not accept apologies but a long and unbroken chain of actual deeds which reflect that he is ready to abandon the anti-Jewish rhetoric of his political campaign.”

Balfour Brickner, Senior Rabbi of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City, said: “Jesse has reached out to the Jewish community. As a Jew and a rabbi, I accept his act of repentance. Where he hurts, he now seeks to heal. He has spoken with courage and, I believe, with great sincerity.”

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations based in Washington, praised Jackson for the “generous and conciliatory tone he adopted.” He said Jackson can “stimulate the process of reconcitiation that responsible Black and Jewish leaders have been engaged in for the past several months …. The extent of Jackson’s contribution to this effort will be measured … by the words he speaks to the Black community and to the nation in the months and years to come.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Los Angeles based Simon Wiesenthal Center, said, “It was an eloquent and stirring address which if reflected in Rev. Jackson’s future action and policies could go a long way to mending strained relations between two traditionally alligned communities.” Hier also urged Jackson to endorse a proposed resolution submitted to the Democratic National Committee which condemns anti-Semitism. The resolution has received the support of Mondale and Colorado Senator Gary Hart.

The Americans for a Safe Israel said: “We have not forgotten that Jesse Jackson has been making anti-Semitic statements for many years. During the recent campaign Jackson walked over the Jewish community and others in spiked boots. Asking for forgiveness after the poison has been deliberately released from the bottle and the air polluted with hate is not enough.” The statement was signed by Herbert Zweibon, AFSI chairman and Rabbi Avraham Weiss, AFSI executive committee member.

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