Commentary Magazine


Black Anti-Semitism

To the Editor:

The burden of Murray Friedman’s argument that black anti-Semitism is growing [“Black Anti-Semitism on the Rise,” October 1979] rests on the solid shoulders of polls. His forced interpretation of the surveys, however, leads one to suspect an a priori bias. He cites, without qualification, those surveys which indicate that black anti-Semitism exceeds white anti-Semitism. But in reporting the Harris data presented to the NCCJ showing Jews “less willing than whites” to have blacks move into their neighborhood or send their children to school with blacks, he is entangled in clumsy apologetics. Despite the contradictory data, Mr. Friedman proceeds to boast that Jews are “still more liberal than any other white group and are still strongly and consistently opposed to racism.” Apparently unhappy with the non sequitur, he feels compelled to raise methodological questions regarding the fairness of the sample. The Harris pollsters, out of haste to find a cluster of Jews, or indolence, “over-selected” their respondents and thus contaminated their conclusions. Allegedly, they chose poorer, more Orthodox, less educated Jews whose opinions, Mr. Friedman gratuitously maintains, tend not to represent the total Jewish population. Would it ever dawn upon the author that the same organization’s pollsters might have “over-selected” the black population and that the results could be unrepresentative of the total black population?

The Los Angeles Times poll (September 9 through 14) indicated that positive black sympathy for Israel was in the clear majority and did not deviate from the equally positive response of the white population. By a wide 2 to 1 margin, blacks strongly disagreed with the assertion that Ambassador Young was forced to resign because of Jewish pressure. More often than not, it is the commentary, not the text, that governs the meaning of the story.

[Rabbi] Harold M. Schulweis
Valley Beth Shalom
Encino, California

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To the Editor:

The article by Murray Friedman on black anti-Semitism is excellent; it needed to be written (let me note here that I happen to be black). But I do not agree with Mr. Friedman’s assertion that since World War II, anti-Semitism has declined in this country. The presence of anti-Semitism has probably been obscured by the rise of armed ethnicity in America. One can intensely and covertly despise others when one is encouraged to see one’s own group or nationality as the focal point for all ethical and moral references. When this attitude is coupled with a kind of group self-righteousness, it becomes easy to hate in our society. Then, if you add all the other irritants of a scared and uncertain society, you have fertile soil for bigotry of all kinds to flourish.

Long ago, Elie Wiesel said, “It can happen here.” I believe it.

Arthur C. Banks, Jr.
President, Greater Hartford Community College
Hartford, Connecticut

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To the Editor:

In an otherwise fine article, Murray Friedman, intentionally or unintentionally, continues the common confusion that equates quotas with affirmative action. Black leaders and the news media almost universally fall into this error. The alleged opposition of Jews to affirmative action follows from this unfounded equation.

The quota is only one of many forms of affirmative action, the one that is referred to as reverse discrimination by its opponents. It is, incidentally, opposed by the overwhelming majority of Americans, including most blacks.

Jews, along with many others, have actively favored such affirmative devices as special training to overcome environmental handicaps, CETA jobs, and remedial teaching programs. . . .

It is essential that blacks—and others—get the record straight on this bit of semantics. As things stand now, hostility is being exacerbated against those unjustifiably accused of opposing the interests of minority groups.

Charles Cogen
American Federation of Teachers
New York City

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To the Editor:

I feel that both the title and the contents of Murray Friedman’s article serve more to intensify group fears than to foster constructive intelligence among readers who consult COMMENTARY for the clarification of issues.

Further, I question Mr. Friedman’s cursory presentation of poll data showing bad marks given to one group by another and presenting the suspicions and negative opinions of one group about the other at a time when intergroup tensions are most sensitive.

It is axiomatic that fears can be generated and hate aroused simply by publicizing the negative remarks of authority figures. Even apart from the conflicts arising from the Andrew Young-PLO issue, black and Jewish leaders have been involved in a controversy over domestic goals. The two groups, each with a different ethnic history, disagree about the means by which affirmative action should be translated into more jobs and educational opportunities for blacks (without sacrificing the principle of merit in the workplace). Jewish spokesmen who have vociferously supported the protection of constitutional prohibitions against discrimination have been accused by black leaders of undermining the cause of affirmative action.

While genuine controversy exists among special-interest groups, it is my view that the media, in reporting the painful past and dwelling on demagoguery and bigotry, interfere with contributions by responsible agencies toward the resolution of America’s pluralistic dilemmas.

Martha S. Cherkis
Brooklyn, New York

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To the Editor:

Murray Friedman’s courageous effort to chronicle black anti-Semitism might have seemed to raise the issue of the proper conduct of future Jewish alliances. But after properly having complained of unjust accusations of Jews by blacks, he falls back on a kind of softness that undercuts his entire effort. The fallacy of his argument is that he chronicles the strains between Jews and blacks only to accept the premise that it is possible to reconstruct a past relationship, as though nothing he said about the strain makes any difference.

Nowhere is the fallacy more evident than at the end of his article, when he concludes with an example of “cooperation” between the groups on a vote in Philadelphia. There are two problems with that conclusion: one factual, the other conceptual.

Mr. Friedman speaks of a cooperative effort in the case where “Jews joined with blacks in preventing Frank J. Rizzo . . . from running for a third term as mayor of Philadelphia” (emphasis added). Yet in a study of that vote, Feather-man and Rosenberg identify not only Jews and blacks as having voted heavily against the mayor, but large percentages of upper-income Wasps (85 per cent) as well. Would it not have been more accurate to speak of the combined vote of these three groups rather than speaking of “cooperation” of Jews and blacks? Furthermore, the statement that the Jews cooperated with blacks is also weakened by the fact that 31 per cent of the Jewish vote supported the Rizzo plan.

Mr. Friedman has made a convincing case that there has been a genuine break in the comprehensive political relationship between Jews and blacks; but he seems to be struggling with what appear to be the rather harsh implications of his own chronicle. He resolves the difficulty by calling for a revival of things past. That there are barriers to a renewal such as he desires is evident from the materials contained in his article. He observes, for example, that while in previous years survey research revealed that education was positively correlated with a decline in anti-Semitism, this does not appear to be the case with many of the current well-educated black leaders. . . .

When Harris polls indicate that 81 per cent of their sample of blacks believe that Jews choose money over people, we have something to be concerned about. While it is certainly not clear in what way this represents anti-Semitism, it does indicate something about the changing nature of attitudes. If in the past Jews and blacks were able to be allies because of their analogous historical experiences with prejudice and discrimination, today the fact that Jews as a group are better off socioeconomically seems to be the basis of a conflict. It appears that a good number of black leaders now perceive Jews as oligarchs who act as partisans for a system in which the rich keep what they have. What we are seeing, on a small scale, is the kind of class-oriented politics that has fueled political conflicts throughout the world. . . .

One gets the impression that Mr. Friedman believes that if only some black leaders would come forward and repudiate the radical and anti-Semitic accusations, we could get on with being cooperative again. Yet it is not very clear what the actual effects of black leaders such as Bayard Rustin and Vernon Jordan speaking out against Jesse Jackson and Reverend Lowery will be. What impact does Mr. Friedman expect national leaders to have, particularly on less vocal, but nonetheless equally ambitious, black leaders at the local level? It would seem that repudiation cannot suffice to overcome the impact of the past decade of rising anti-Semitism. No better evidence of this can be given than that which Mr. Friedman himself provides: his appreciation of the efforts of Martin Luther King, Jr. in repudiating earlier anti-Semitic attacks reveals in fact that King had little effect on silencing those attacks. They continued in spite of his efforts. . . .

Thus, Mr. Friedman’s solution makes little political sense, in spite of the psychological solace it can provide for liberals. First, it fails to distinguish between a healthy pluralism and an unhealthy one. Second, it fails to acknowledge adequately that it is not so much that Jews have changed (as Malcolm X had charged) but that the rules of the political order have changed. . . .

But Mr. Friedman does not speak this way. On the contrary, he merely demands the elimination of public anti-Semitism so that cooperation can continue. But in saying this he indicates that his only hope for the future is that all parties in the game of plural politics will persist in playing the game by the old rules. He thus seems more concerned with political methodology and with institutional arrangements than with the character and the ends of politics. In the end, he retreats to that generous liberalism that places Jews in the position of the weak addressing the strong. . . .

Martin J. Plax
Cleveland, Ohio

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To the Editor:

As blacks gradually take their place in the mainstream of American life, it must be expected that they will adopt the attitudes of the majority, albeit as new entrants, in exaggerated form. The expression of anti-Semitism . . . voiced by some black leaders . . . is thus perhaps a better indicator of the attitude of white America than the surveys cited by Murray Friedman. . . .

Kurt G. Strauss
Tucson, Arizona

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To the Editor:

Murray Friedman’s article on black anti-Semitism quite perceptively identifies Harold Cruse’s The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual as one of the major sources of the current anti-Semitic rhetoric. One of Cruse’s main theses was that Jews have no right to protest against anti-Semitism since they themselves hold prejudices and insist on retaining their own “exclusivity.” To buttress his point, Cruse trotted out Karl Marx, whom he called “an emancipated Jew,” and quoted him: “When the Jew demands emancipation from the Christian state, he asks that the Christian state give up its religious prejudices. Does he, the Jew, give up his religious prejudices? What right, therefore, has he to demand of others the abdication of their religion?” Karl Marx’s attitudes about Jews have been the subject of much controversy, but what Cruse quoted is actually Marx’s formulation of Bruno Bauer’s opinion—which Marx went on to refute. Sloppiness, incompetence, or dishonesty?

Cruse obviously bore enormous hostility to Jews, nurtured by his experience in the Communist party. He resented what he considered their “dominance” of the party and charged them with “the great brainwashing of Negro radical intellectuals.” Indeed, his animus was so extreme that he revived the hoary myth propagated by such people as Charles Lindbergh: “Under Jewish Communist prodding, the Communist party took up the anti-Hitler crusade in the late 1930’s.”

And this is the book that Christopher Lasch in the New York Review of Books said “will survive as a monument of historical analysis.” To be fair, however, a few reviewers did call Cruse to task. The Saturday Review chided him for being unfair to Jews and in the New York Times Thomas Lask criticized the book and pointed out its special hostility to Jews. That so viciously anti-Semitic a book should have elicited such fulsome praise from Lasch and others, that its blatant errors of elementary research should have been overlooked by so many, however, is testimony to how badly some intellectuals betrayed their calling in the 1960’s.

Harvey Klehr
Emory University
Atlanta, Georgia

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To the Editor:

Murray Friedman’s stirring article on the changing relations between blacks and Jews in this country contains one fallacy. The decline in anti-Semitism in this country in recent years is not so much related, as he claims, to “the rise in education among Americans generally” as it is to World War II and Jewish assimilation. . . .

One would like to believe that improved education reduces bigotry, thereby implying that anti-Semitism is the disease of the ignorant and that there is hope for a cure. But I suspect that the relationship is far less certain. . . . Unfortunately, education does not necessarily imply a rational or “enlightened” perspective, or the elimination of prejudices.

In fact, judging from recent trends at American and European universities, the chief feature of university people and students is the haste with which they embrace radical ideas. . . . If anti-Semitism should become chic, the university population, true to its recent history, will probably be in the intellectual vanguard.

Philip S. Kushner
New Haven, Connecticut

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Murray Friedman writes:

Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis criticizes the fact that I accept 1978 Harris survey materials on rising black hostility to Jews and not Harris data on anti-black feelings among Jews, as well as my assertion that Jews continue to remain the most liberal of white groups. The reasons for my views are set forth in my article, the Los Angeles Times poll notwithstanding, and appear to me to be quite persuasive. Let me add only the following: in an exhaustive examination of some 200 questions from 1948 to the present, Alan M. Fisher, writing in the May/June 1979 issue of Society, comes to the same conclusions. He notes, for example, that Jews are opposed to the idea that “blacks shouldn’t push where they aren’t wanted” as well as to racial and sexual discrimination, particularly in job hiring and university admissions. That most Jews espouse the principle of merit and oppose quotas is an indication less of racial antipathy, I believe, than of Jewish support for racial equality. I find it odd, indeed, that Rabbi Schulweis grasps at the only survey that suggests that Jews are more bigoted than other groups and mocks my assertion that they have remained determinedly liberal, at least prior to the Andrew Young affair, in the face of so much information that contradicts his position.

Arthur C. Banks, Jr., who I am glad approves of my article, is unwilling to accept the assertion that anti-Semitism in this country has declined generally since World War II. It is difficult for either of us to prove the point. All the survey-research material I have seen and some twenty-five years’ experience as an intergroup-relations worker lead me to this conclusion. Given the pressures that are now mounting from a variety of directions, however, I certainly agree that Jews should remain wary.

I may not have been clear enough, as Charles Cogen’s letter suggests, in making a distinction between Jewish response to affirmative action and quota programs. This, too, is an illustration of the problem Jews and liberals generally face. The fact is that most Jewish organizations have supported affirmative-action programs of the type Mr. Cogen mentions, a position now also endorsed by the Supreme Court. While these organizations oppose the allocation of a fixed number of places for a particular racial grouping, they are not even opposed to quotas if a record of discrimination by an institution has been proven to exist. In short, Jewish opposition to affirmative action has been highly exaggerated. Nevertheless, there has been no softening of attacks on Jews.

I could not disagree more with Martha S. Cherkis. Jews in recent years have been subjected to bullying tactics at the hands of a class of better-educated and higher-status blacks and it is a “head-in-the-sand” approach to suggest that by identifying this situation my article “intensifies group fear.” Jewish security and, in fact, the broader well-being of the community requires recognizing and facing up to these unpleasant facts.

This brings me to Martin J. Plax’s letter, which raises the most important question: the future of Jewish alliances. Mr. Plax argues that a fundamental change has occurred in black-Jewish relations and questions whether it is even desirable to attempt to restore the old alliance. Granted that the rise of an important black middle class, the radicalization of many of its young, and a politics of black rage pose real problems—nevertheless, I believe that the effort should be made to work with blacks. A society made up of many groups requires coalitions among them in order to achieve group goals and order and progress in the society generally. However, the conditions under which Jews join in alliances with blacks in the coming months and years must be different from the sentimental liberalism that has guided us in recent years. Jews need to be considerably more hard-headed and willing to risk confrontations when fundamental Jewish and community interests are involved. Thus, we have to recognize and come down hard on automatic anti-Israel positions and anti-Semitic posturing that even moderate blacks have so easily slipped into. Moreover, there should be no retreat (despite what one major Jewish leader has suggested) in our opposition to quotas even as we support legitimate affirmative-action programs. Finally, we have a right to expect and demand that differences on matters like quotas be debated with dignity and restraint.

Having said this, I believe, also, that Jews should not retreat from the struggle against the problems of poverty, discrimination, and racial bigotry that continue to exist in our society. Inflation and recession strike hardest at low-income groups who are disproportionately black. It would be morally reprehensible to take out on the socially maimed our displeasure at those who have acted irresponsibly.

I know that this “two-track” approach is a complicated one and may be, for all I know, psychologically impossible. In the kind of society in which we live, however, it is the only way we can function as Jews—and as decent human beings.

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