Blacks and Jews
To the Editor:
Dorothy Rabinowitz’s splendid article, “Blacks, Jews & New York Politics” [November 1978], is another illustration of a fallacy in which we tend to indulge. We are apt to engage in a premature celebration of the near-demise of overt anti-Semitism in the United States. This is especially true after a relatively extended period of peaceful relations among racial, ethnic, and religious groups.
The Jews have resided in New York City for over 325 years. No one can deny their tremendous contributions in every walk of life—cultural, economic, educational, political, and artistic. Today, 17 per cent of the population is Jewish; earlier, the Jewish population was as high as 27 per cent. Jews are serious and conscientious voters. Yet the first Jewish mayor of our city, Abraham Beame, was elected only in 1973.
Why? It has been the view of many of us for a long time that the Jewish leadership did not relish a Jewish mayor for the very reasons that Miss Rabinowitz points out in the case of Ed Koch, the second Jewish mayor, elected in 1977. If in his appointments the Jewish mayor refuses to yield to political “clubhouse” pressures or to preferential treatment on the basis of race . . . and adheres instead to an objective appraisal of merit and productive potential, he becomes the “Jewish mayor” to many. In this case, to the “boss” leadership of many blacks in Crown Heights and to many of their disciples, he is the prejudiced Jewish mayor. This appellation is employed both with respect to administrative action taken and appointments made. But it is good to remember that not all blacks in Crown Heights responded in this manner. Some blacks said that if it weren’t for the fact that the Hasidim were “sticking it out,” the area would be all black, and they did not wish to live in an all-black neighborhood.
However, we have made great progress in civil rights and inter-group relations in these past four decades. We cannot, we must not, go back. We should have Jewish mayors, black mayors (as we do in a number of cities), Italian mayors, and, yes, Wasp mayors on the basis of capacity, leadership, integrity, and ability to take appropriate and needed action. I am assuming, of course, that diplomacy and even tact are desirable qualities in mayors and their appointees, regardless of ethnic origin.
It should also be mentioned in passing that blacks need to develop a zest for the voting process. Had this been the case in the last election, there might have been a black mayor of New York City or at least a black on the Board of Estimate.
New York City
To the Editor:
Having recently received my doctorate with a dissertation on black-Jewish relations in the United States since World War II, I would venture to say that I am familiar with virtually every magazine article, including those in COMMENTARY, written on the subject. But not until your publication of Dorothy Rabinowitz’s “Blacks, Jews & New York Politics” has any publisher had the courage and honesty to offer to the public at large an article which “tells it like it is,” without community-relations varnish and/or palliative appeasement.
All my own research indicates that not only does anti-Semitism exist among blacks, but it is growing stronger and more dangerous. Virtually nothing constructive is being done about it by the Jewish community because the attitude seems to be that if we ignore it, maybe it will go away. Miss Rabinowitz’s realistic recognition of the problem is a small but significant beginning in reversing this self-destructive Jewish behavior pattern. . . .
Riverdale, New York
To the Editor:
. . . One of the services Dorothy Rabinowitz performs in her article is to expose the vicious nature of much of the anti-Semitic mood which has been around for the last few years. The propaganda about Crown Heights which appeared in the Village Voice is one example. What makes this type of anti-Semitism truly vicious is the fact that it is espoused in the name of liberalism, in the name of benefiting the underdog. If you do not go along with it, the implication is that you are not liberal and have no sympathy for the underdog. . . .
New York City