Letters to the EditorDear Editor:
As an American Jew, I was pleased to see Nancy Kaufman¹s ³Less Talk, More Action² (June/August 1993) about efforts to improve black-Jewish relations in Boston and the United States.
However, black Americans can not expect much help from the organized Jewish community if it refuses to confront organizations and individuals in the Jewish (and non-Jewish) community who oppose political and economic gains for blacks. By contrast, individual Jews, unconnected to and often alienated from the Jewish establishment, continue to make a disproportionate contribution to civil rights and social justice.
Who in the leadership of the Boston Jewish community will take on the bankers in Boston, Jewish and non-Jewish, who discriminate against blacks in granting mortgages? Or call for a metropolitan-area school system which would put Boston¹s schools on a par with Newton¹s and Brookline¹s?
How many groups in the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), which Kaufman directs, have publicly criticized Jewish groups and newspapers which questioned the inclusion of Lani Guinier and Spelman President Johnnetta Cole in the Clinton Administration?
Will they condemn the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for spying on thousands of individuals and various groups, including Arab-American, peace, and anti-Apartheid organizations?
The recent ADL spy scandal, which broke on the West Coast, received scant coverage in Boston. For years the ADL has exchanged confidential information with US police and intelligence agencies, and most probably the Israeli and South African governments.
Which Jewish leaders have criticized the ADL for defaming as ³anti-Semitic² black leaders, among others, who dare to criticize Israel, while remaining largely silent about real anti-Semites and racists in the Reagan and Bush Administrations?
Blacks have watched in dismay Israel¹s close military, economic, and intelligence ties with South Africa, and efforts by major Jewish organizations to downplay, rather than condemn, those ties. (How would Jews feel if the situation were reversed, and American blacks defended an African state with close ties to the world¹s leading anti-Semitic state ‹ for example, Germany in the period 193339?)
Kaufman says that Jewish survival ³is inextricably linked to the fate and security of all people² and quotes Rabbi Alexander Schindler, President of America¹s Reform congregations, as saying that blacks and Jews ³share a vision of a just and open² society where the government must ³protect the weak and the stranger, to achieve social and economic and political justice.²
Fine words, but cant in light of the organized Jewish community¹s efforts to whitewash Israel¹s denial of those very rights to Palestinians ‹ the weak and the strangers in a Jewish state. In Israel, where Jews control political power, they deny ³social, and economic, and political justice² to its minorities. If Jewish organizations spent a fraction of the money they use to deny or justify Israel¹s dispossession of Palestinians on promoting the rights of people of color in the United States, black-Jewish relations would not have sunk so low.
On 24 June, the Boston Globe carried a letter by Kaufman expressing dismay at Globe coverage of opposition by Israeli human rights groups to massive Israeli state violations of Palestinian human rights ‹ torture, collective punishment, killing of children, detention without trial, hindering access to health care, theft of land and water resources, and so on. Kaufman¹s whitewash tried to justify, ignore, or deny those violations. What do blacks think of ³Jewish leadership² when they read such apologetics, such flackery? What has Kaufman thought about similar letters by Syrian, Turkish, Iraqi, Serbian, or former Soviet diplomats who denied persecution of the ³weak and the stranger,² including Jews, in their states?
Sadly, many Jewish ³leaders² have indicated to blacks that Jewish support for their empowerment depends on black support for Israel¹s policies; meaning, in effect, betrayal of a fellow Third World people, the Palestinians.
In discussing black-Jewish relations in Race Matters, Cornel West writes that blacks need to be sensitive to the importance of Israel to Jews, but that ³without a candid acknowledgment of blacks¹ status as permanent underdogs in American society, Jews will not comprehend what the symbolic predicament and literal plight of Palestinians in Israel means to blacks.²
In light of your recent discussion in the Boston Review by Cornel West and others of the responsibilities of black intellectuals, perhaps we could look forward to a discussion of the responsibility Jewish intellectuals have in working for justice in the United States and Palestine/Israel. As for Jewish organizations, with rare exceptions, and like so many ethnic and religious groups, they are part of the problem, not the solution.
Edmund R. Hanauer
Executive Director, Search for Justice and Equality in Palestine/Israel
Nancy Kaufman Responds:
Mr. Hanauer misses the whole point of my article. I stated a case for the organized Jewish community to become more directly involved in urban concerns. He falls into the unfortunate trap of assuming that there is a ³single² point of view characteristic of the entire African-American community or the entire Jewish community on issues ranging from Israel to affirmative action.
It is unfortunate that Mr. Hanauer is unable to separate the Israel/Palestinian conflict from American Jewish involvement in urban concerns. It is also unfortunate that he does not accept, or perhaps is not aware of the many positive examples of partnerships which are successfully happening right here in Boston.
The focus of my article was to point out the ways in which we, as a Jewish community, can and should build partnerships with the African-American community here in Boston. To do so does not mean we have to agree on everything. It only means that we should work together in areas where progress is possible. That is what we at the JCRC have been doing this summer. Mr. Hanauer only adds fuel to those who would do nothing in the name of ³irreconcilable differences.² I still contend that both communities are diverse and we can build unity, while respecting our diversity.