The resignation of Andrew Young as Ambassador to the United Nations might have seemed to raise the issue of the proper conduct of American foreign policy, and the proper role of an ambassador in carrying out that policy. But even while the episode was still unfolding, it had already begun to take on another definition entirely, as charges were made that Young’s resignation was more on the order of a toppling, and that the forces responsible for his alleged ouster were not the State Department or the administration but American Jews.
The fact that only one major Jewish organization had called for Young’s departure seemed to make no difference to those black leaders who saw in the event clear evidence that “the Jews” had in this instance combined their self-assigned right to dictate American policy in the Middle East with their hostility to Andrew Young as a black man. Suddenly the air was filled with statements about “the Jews” that bordered on and even crossed over the edge of racial defamation. It was said that in the past, Jews had aligned themselves with blacks because it was in their interest to do so but that now, in their opposition to quotas, they were attempting to restrain black economic progress. It was said that in their support of Israel, Jews were forcing America to adopt a policy that could only result in a threat to the country’s oil supplies and its economic health, and hence to black well-being. It was even said, in a revival of an old right-wing anti-Semitic charge, that American Jews owed their first loyalty not to the United States but to Israel—in contrast to black Americans, whose “loyalties have never been questioned.”
The virulence and intensity of the anti-Jewish attitudes expressed by black leaders like Jesse Jackson and Reverend Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference came as something of a shock to many people who had long taken for granted the idea of a natural alliance between blacks and Jews in this country. In fact, however, the Young affair has only served to bring into the open, if in a particularly ugly way, a growing phenomenon in the black community over the last ten years or so.
Since World War II almost all indices of anti-Semitism in this country have declined. Americans have increasingly described themselves as holding fewer negative stereotypes of Jews and as willing to welcome them as neighbors and to vote for them for political office, including the Presidency.
Until the mid-60’s, surveys showed that blacks shared generally in this trend. As late as 1967, Gary Marx in his study, Protest and Prejudice, which reported on interviews with over 1,000 blacks in metropolitan areas across the country, found black anti-Semitism either nonexistent, or, where it existed, explainable as a result of low education or of certain negative experiences. Then in the late 60’s and early 70’s a series of confrontations took place between blacks and Jews which caused a rise in tensions. By 1974, and again in 1978, Harris surveys showed a sharp increase in black anti-Semitism. A 1978 survey on attitudes toward racial and religious minorities and women commissioned by the National Conference of Christians and Jews found that while a range of from 17 to 32 per cent of whites agreed with a series of negative stereotypes of Jews, blacks agreed in a range of 37 to 56 per cent.
As significant as the overall change in black attitudes toward Jews is the profile of the sort of black person who has been found to express anti-Jewish feelings. Whereas, according to the 1974 Harris survey, blacks over fifty did not differ in their anti-Jewish feelings from whites, younger blacks were more anti-Semitic than whites their own age. This and other surveys taken recently also reported that younger blacks were the most unsympathetic to Israel and the most firmly opposed to providing military aid to it. Most unexpected of all was the response to certain stereotypes on the part of black leaders, as measured by the 1978 Harris survey. Some 81 per cent of the 53 national black leaders interviewed agreed that Jews choose money over people; 50 per cent that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the United States; and 67 per cent that Jews constitute the largest number of slumlords.
The figures reporting a rise in anti-Jewish feelings among the best-educated and best-informed members of the black community came as a surprise to social scientists and community-relations experts who had long held that a higher degree of education was closely correlated with a lessening of anti-Semitic prejudice. In fact, the overall decline in anti-Semitism in this country in recent years is probably related to the rise in education among Americans generally. Yet the precise contrary appears to be the case among the most highly educated blacks—as well as among those blacks who have benefited the most from civil-rights and other gains of recent years to which Jews have contributed significantly.
The appearance of this survey information has coincided with a series of recent incidents that underline the increase in black hostility to Jews. Last year alone saw a number of highly publicized neighborhood collisions in New York between blacks and Hasidim, and an open conflict containing strong anti-Jewish overtones between black leaders in New York City and Mayor Edward Koch.1 At Harvard Law School, a “Third World Human Rights” conference convened by blacks and others this past February featured an official of the Libyan mission to the United Nations as “guest of honor” and provided a forum for virulent anti-Jewish and anti-Israel remarks.2 Earlier, at the University of Maryland, the Black Student Union sponsored a seminar on Zionism, billed in a flyer as an effort to show that “Zionism Supports the Murder of Black People.”
In short, as William Schneider, professor of government at Harvard, concluded earlier this year, black anti-Semitism has not only been on the increase but has taken on a new form. “This is not the anti-Semitism of ignorance or religious bigotry,” he wrote, “it is the anti-Semitism of political conflict and confrontation.” How does one account for it?
While anti-Semitism has existed among blacks, as it has among other Americans, for a long time, it was, until recently, a fairly minor current, submerged by the identification of blacks with Jews as fellow sufferers of oppression and by strong bonds of friendship going back to the early part of this century. As is well known, Jews and blacks, together with church, labor, and other groups, were joined together in the liberal coalition which helped to bring about a great deal of liberal legislation and was responsible for important gains in civil rights. Then in the late 1960’s, rifts began to develop between the two groups as the civil-rights movement turned into the “black revolution,” and new organizations like the Black Panthers sprang up, and as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was transformed by the black-power movement into a vehicle of “Third World” politics. It was at this time, too, that a new group of black leaders and intellectuals came upon the scene to challenge traditional civil-rights figures like Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, Whitney Young of the Urban League, and even Martin Luther King, Jr. This new group included such figures as Stokely Carmichael, H. “Rap” Brown, Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, Harold Cruse, Imamu Baraka/LeRoi Jones, Claude Brown, and Julius Lester.
The emergence of these organizations and individuals coincided with a significant expansion of the black middle class, in large part as a consequence of the social changes brought about by the civil-rights movement. Currently, 1.6 million blacks hold higher-income professional and managerial jobs, which is twice the number held in 1969. Many are in the public sector, including federal, state, and local government and social-service organizations. In the last fifteen years, the number of blacks going to college has more than tripled. It was this new young black elite, especially, who hung on the speeches, pamphlets, and books of the revolutionary heroes and intellectuals of the day.
Many of these new spokesmen, in addition to attacking the large institutions in American life that had held blacks in thralldom, and in addition to attempting to inspire a greater sense of black pride, simultaneously directed a significant portion of their animus against Jews. Thus, Harold Cruse’s 1967 book, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, which is basically a critique of black intellectuals for failing to assert their identity in left-wing politics, also attacks Jewish “striving for dominance and prestige” and Jewish “political and ideological power over Negroes.” Cruse repeats the anti-Jewish utterances of such men as Marx, Dostoevsky, and even Ulysses S. Grant and charges—in a manner once reserved for discussions of Catholics and the Pope—that Jews “function in America as an organic part of a distant nation-state.” Although it is not much discussed today, Cruse’s book was widely reviewed and commented upon at the time.
Still widely read today, in fact something of a classic, is The Autobiography of Malcolm X, a moving, personal account of what it means to be poor and black in America. Yet this book too is filled with derogatory caricatures of Jews as exploiters of blacks. Here is an example of what Malcolm X claims he learned about American Jews:
[A]ll I held against Jews was that so many Jews actually were hypocrites in their claim to be friends of the American black man. . . . [A]t the same time I knew that the Jews played these roles for a very careful strategic reason: the more prejudice in America could be focused upon the Negro, then the more the white Gentiles’ prejudice would keep . . . off the Jew. . . .
For almost a generation now, the rising black middle class has been fed on misleading and distorted information about, and just plain hatred of, Jews, both here and in Israel. Julius Lester denied that the Jews or Israel deserved any sympathy “because of the six million murdered in the gas chambers.”3 LeRoi Jones spoke of “atheist Jews” as “doublecrossers” who “stole our secrets.” Stokely Carmichael proclaimed that black militants were ready “to take up arms and die if necessary to help the Arabs free Palestine.” Claude Brown, the mildest of all, in his autobiographical best-seller, Manchild in the Promised Land, cited those who said, “We got to take Harlem out of Goldberg’s pocket.” The sacrifices made by Jews in behalf of the black struggle—such as the Mississippi murder of Andrew Goodman and Michael H. Schwerner along with the black, James E. Chaney—were derogated; Harold Cruse declared that Chaney had been beaten into an unrecognizable state while the two Jews were treated “less harshly.”
Despite the deep anti-Jewish feelings manifested by many black intellectuals and new extremist spokesmen, much of their work was supported by liberal whites, including Jews. Enthusiastic introductions were written by Jews to Malcolm X’s Autobiography and Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice. Not a single reviewer of Cruse’s book saw fit to discuss his blatant anti-Semitism. Thomas Lask, in the New York Times, called it “angry” and “full of extreme statements,” but nevertheless “so vigorously written, so fiercely and honestly argued—[that] it provides a mind-plowing experience of the first order.” Christopher Lasch, in the New York Review of Books, wrote that Cruse’s book would survive as a “monument of historical analysis—a notable contribution to the understanding of the American past. . . .” It was left to the black writer, James Baldwin, to resign in protest from the black nationalist publication, Liberator, over this issue. “I think it is distinctly unhelpful, and I think it is immoral, to blame Harlem on the Jew,” Baldwin declared. “Why when we should be storming capitals, do you suggest to the people you hope to serve that they take refuge in the most ancient and barbaric of European myths?”
Baldwin’s eloquent plea notwithstanding, many white intellectuals simply abdicated the normal standards of criticism when it came to dealing with black militants and their excesses. During the mid-60’s, in the midst of widespread looting and destruction of businesses in slum areas, when H. “Rap” Brown proclaimed that he was “neither morally nor legally bound to obey laws made by a body in which I have no representation,” his stand was applauded by Staughton Lynd, then an assistant professor of history on leave from Yale, in a New York Times article, “A Radical Speaks in Defense of SNCC.” Similarly, in “White Standards and Negro Writing,” which appeared in the New Republic in 1968, the critic Richard Gilman called for a moratorium on literary judgments of black writers, since “in the present phase of interracial existence in America moral and intellectual ‘truths’ have not the same reality for Negroes and whites. . . .”
Out of this same impulse, many found it possible to overlook an entire body of black anti-Semitic thought. Is it any wonder that many well-educated and politically conscious blacks came to accept the “moral and intellectual ‘truths’” told them about Jews?
To point to the false and malicious ideas about Jews that began to gain currency in educated black circles in the late 60’s and early 70’s is not to suggest that such ideas were the only element involved in the rise of black hostility to Jews. What has developed in recent years is in some part a plain conflict of interest: the increase in black education and the expansion of the black middle class have brought blacks into greater competition with Jews. Blacks seeking to gain entrance to and advancement in the professions, business, and government, have been coming up not simply against whites but often against Jews who happen to be a step or two above them on the social and economic ladder. As Nathan Glazer observed in the mid-60’s, “The Negro no longer confronts the Jew only as tenant, servant, customer, worker. . . . Now the Negro teacher works under a Jewish principal, the Negro social worker under a Jewish supervisor.”
This conflict of interest has given rise to what might be called an “objective” anti-Semitism, a resentment of and a desire to displace those Jews who seem to be “in the way” of upwardly mobile blacks. But the conflict has also at times been invested with elements of “subjective” anti-Semitism.4 William Schneider has pointed out recently that elements of the rising black middle class “have gone beyond actual conflicts with Jews and revived the image of the abstract, alien, powerful Jew who keeps blacks down and manipulates them for profit.” Perhaps the most salient instance of this whole mixed phenomenon was the traumatic school strike in New York in 1968.
The ostensible issue in the strike was the involvement of neighborhood people in the administration of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville demonstration school district; decentralization, it was claimed, would be a means of improving the education of disadvantaged youngsters. Yet what was involved too was an effort by upwardly aspiring blacks to gain access to teaching and administrative positions within the school system. The proportion of blacks and Puerto Ricans among New York City’s teachers at the time, according to Martin Mayer in The Teachers’ Strike, was under 10 per cent, and school administrators were “almost invisible except at the lowest rank. . . .” The proportion of Jews was much higher. Yet the United Federation of Teachers—acting as a labor union and not as an ethnic group—feared that decentralization, if applied to the entire school system, would destroy the union’s bargaining power, and its position was supported by the patriarch of the civil-rights movement, A. Philip Randolph.
What began as a labor dispute, with elements of a legitimate conflict of interest, was quickly transformed by a number of black militants into an issue of “the Jews.” Negro parents denounced the striking teachers as “Jew pigs.” A black schoolteacher read a poem over a radio station dedicated to Albert Shanker, the president of the teachers’ union, which began, “Hey, Jew boy, with that yarmulka on your head/You pale-faced Jew boy—I wish you were dead.” Jewish organizations, of course, condemned these and similar incidents, but for the most part, civic leaders and many intellectuals found it expedient to let them go unchallenged. Yet as Earl Raab wrote at the time in an analysis of the black revolution and its attitude toward Jews:5
This is not the folk anti-Semitism which the black population shares with the white population. It is, rather, the abstract and symbolic anti-Semitism which Jews instinctively find more chilling. . . . “This is not anti-Semitism” (some blacks say). “The hostility is toward the whites. When they say Jew, they mean white.” But that is an exact and acute description of political anti-Semitism: “The enemy” becomes the Jew. . . . “Don’t be disturbed,” the Jews are told, “this is just poetic excess.” But the ideology of political anti-Semitism has precisely always been poetic excess, which has not prevented it from becoming murderous.
In the years after the 1968 school strike, blacks and Jews found themselves increasingly on opposite sides of the whole complex of issues surrounding the government’s affirmative-action programs. One of the worst collisions occurred over the Bakke case. By the time it came before the Supreme Court, the case found community-relations organizations like the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith lined up in the courts and on the public hustings against traditional allies like the Urban League, the NAACP, and other black groups. For taking a position against preferential treatment—a position shared, according to a 1977 Gallup poll, with an astonishing 83 per cent of the American people and 64 per cent of non-whites—Jewish organizations were condemned by some blacks in acrimonious terms. Thus, writing in the Amsterdam News, Louis Clayton Jones declared that the Jews were already, through the state of Israel, “the greatest beneficiaries of preferential treatment in the history of mankind,” and were now trying to prevent others from benefiting from the same process.
Still another occasion for the open expression of black hostility to Jews has arisen with budgetary constraints in a time of inflation. Thus in New York City last year, the efforts of black political leaders to protect their political “turf”—the city’s anti-poverty programs—led them into outright anti-Semitic attacks on Mayor Koch, whose administration has been forced by economic exigency into making cutbacks in city services. At a meeting in Harlem attended by Koch, he was called a “dirty Jew bastard” by a black in the audience, to which several others yelled, “Right on!” Koch was finally hustled out of the building by dozens of security guards and police officers amid cries of “Get that Jew-boy!”
It has been said that while black anti-Semitism may be growing, there has been a corresponding increase in anti-black feeling among Jews. The Harris data gathered for the NCCJ study, for example, reported that Jews were less willing than whites generally to send their children to schools with blacks or to have blacks move into their neighborhoods.
Now, there is little doubt that prejudice exists among Jews or that they (along with middle-class blacks and others) are often personally unwilling to take on the problems of the black poor in their schools or neighborhoods. The fact is, however, that Jews remain the closest social and political allies blacks have. They are still more liberal than any other white group and they are still strongly and consistently opposed to racism. Even those black leaders interviewed in the 1978 Harris survey who expressed negative sentiments toward Jews conceded that Jews have a greater commitment to civil rights than Americans generally. And at about the same time Harris pollsters were doing their interviewing, a New York Times-CBS survey of voters found Jews to be the most liberal group on a whole range of issues affecting the black community.
Moreover, there is some reason to doubt the conclusion of Harris that “Jewish attitudes toward blacks have . . . tended to harden.” William Schneider reports that no other survey shows Jews to be more anti-black than other whites. He has questioned, also, the method used in gathering the Harris materials on Jewish attitudes. In the effort to find a cluster of Jews for sampling purposes, he suggests, Harris pollsters over-selected poorer, more Orthodox, and less educated Jews who tend not to be representative of the total Jewish population. (To be sure, in shocked response to what has been revealed by the Young affair, political sentiment within the Jewish community may indeed now begin to undergo significant changes.)
The fact that the rising black middle class is colliding at a number of points with Jews may explain but can hardly justify the growing incidence of anti-Semitism. Stirring up animosities against Jews in order to advance the interests of any particular group is simply indefensible. Jewish and Roman Catholic leaders have clashed for many years over such issues as aid to parochial schools and abortions, but while tensions have grown, there is no evidence that relations between Jews and Catholics have been marked by any significant increase in anti-Semitism.
What has been especially disquieting has been, first, the silence of establishment black leaders in the face of black anti-Semitism and now, in the wake of the Young affair, their acquiescence in and even encouragement of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiments. When black anti-Semitism began to appear publicly in the mid-60’s, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, James Farmer of CORE, and others were quick to denounce it. In the March 5, 1966 issue of Afro-American, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., struck out at a particular outrageous statement by a local black leader in Mount Vernon, New York:
One of the leaders of a fine and militant civil-rights group has made an anti-Semitic remark. . . . I do not view this horrible outburst as anti-Jewish. I see it as anti-man and anti-God. It would be a statement to condemn harshly, coming from anyone. It is singularly despicable, coming from the lips of a black man. For black people who have been torturously burned in the crucible of hatred for centuries, should have become so purified of hate in those scorching flames as to be instinctively intolerant of intolerance.
No such forthright condemnation has been heard from the black leaders of today. With the notable and courageous exception of Bayard Rustin, Bernard Gifford, Tony Brown, and one or two others, black leaders have endorsed, rationalized, or actually promoted the expression of openly anti-Jewish attitudes as well as the effort to blame “the Jews” for black dissatisfactions. Writing ten years ago about the scapegoating of Jews as a primary element in the transformation of the civil-rights movement into the “black revolution,” Earl Raab noted that that revolution had “already succeeded in reintroducing political anti-Semitism as a fashionable item in the American public arena—with what consequences no one can yet tell.”
Even as recently as a few months ago, most black members of Congress voted for the $5-billion aid package in support of the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement, and only last November, Jews joined with blacks in preventing Frank L. Rizzo, who had been resorting to harsh racial rhetoric in a charter-change campaign, from running for a third term as mayor of Philadelphia.6 Such cooperative efforts will become impossible in the future unless the spread of anti-Semitism into influential segments of the black community can be halted and reversed.
1 See Dorothy Rabinowitz, “Blacks, Jews, and New York Politics,” COMMENTARY, November 1978.
2 Daniel Benson, “‘Human Rights’ at Harvard Law School,” COMMENTARY, September 1979.
3 To judge by an extraordinary piece protesting against the “new expression of anti-Semitism” among blacks after the Young resignation (Village Voice, September 10, 1979), Lester's attitudes have changed markedly in the past few years.
4 The terms are drawn from Eva G. Reichmann's book, Hostages of Civilization: The Social Sources of National Socialist Anti-Semitism (Greenwood, 1951).
5 “The Black Revolution and the Jewish Question,” COMMENTARY, January 1969.
6 Whereas most of the white ethnic groups supported Rizzo by heavy margins, 96 per cent of the blacks voted against him and 69 per cent of the Jews.