No episode in contemporary American history has been marked by a greater outpouring of animosity against Jews than the events which followed Andrew Young’s resignation as United States Ambassador to the United Nations. The black American leaders who rallied to Young’s side portrayed him as the victim of a concerted Jewish campaign to oust him from his post as a result of his meeting with Zehdi Terzi of the Palestine Liberation Organization (a meeting which violated an American agreement with Israel not to deal with the PLO until it recognized Israel’s right to exist and accepted Security Council Resolution 242). During the course of the affair, charges were leveled against Jews which went well beyond the specific claim that they were responsible for Young’s resignation. They were accused, among other things, of obstructing black economic and social progress through their opposition to racial quotas and affirmative-action programs. They were also accused of opposing human rights for Palestinians, and of holding a dual loyalty in their commitment to Israel which led them to support a foreign policy that jeopardized vital American interests, including the need to retain access to Arab oil supplies.
All these charges had a common thread, which was that Jews were victimizing others. The injustice they had perpetrated against Andrew Young, it was suggested, was merely symptomatic of the harm they were causing to blacks generally, to Palestinians, and to America itself. Clearly the time had come for Jews to mend their ways—to be less arrogant in exercising their power, which had grown inordinate, to stop protecting their special privileges at the expense of the poor, to show more sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians, and to stop placing their own narrow interests before the interests of the country as a whole.
In response to these attacks, Jewish leaders rejected the charges made against them, particularly the charge that they had demanded Young’s resignation. At the same time, they reaffirmed their commitment to the black-Jewish alliance, a relationship which they generally seemed convinced would survive the misunderstanding and bad feeling generated by the Young affair. But beneath this public attitude of confidence and conciliation, Jews were gripped by feelings of bewilderment and foreboding. They knew they had not been responsible for Young’s resignation, and yet they were being blamed for it. Why? And what could explain the seemingly gratuitous campaign of hostility which evoked echoes of the anti-Semitism of periods long past and in countries far removed from America’s democratic experience? In the days following Young’s resignation, “black-Jewish relations” were the subject of numerous declarations, editorials, articles, and discussions, but there still seemed to be no way to account for the perplexing and dismaying inversion of reality that had taken place For here was a situation where Jews, knowing that they were the victims of an alarming attack, even if the motive for the attack remained obscure, were being labeled the aggressors; while their assailants, even as they issued menacing threats, claimed to be the injured party whose grievances cried out for redress.
The charge that the American Jewish community was responsible for Young’s resignation last August 15 is not supported by any available evidence. American Jewish leaders, to be sure, expressed alarm at Young’s meeting with Terzi, fearing that it represented new evidence of a shift in U.S. policy toward eventual recognition of the PLO. But with just one exception, they refrained from calling for his resignation because, as one of them explained, “he was Andy Young, because he was black and we realized the significance of that.” Nowhere in the various accounts Young has given of his resignation has he claimed that this was not true, let alone that Jewish (or, for that matter, Israeli) pressure influenced his decision.
The view that his resignation “was a regrettable consequence of the double standard by which this nation judges its black leaders”—a charge made in a statement adopted unanimously by 200 black leaders meeting under the auspices of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People—appears ludicrous. The only concrete evidence offered to substantiate this charge was the fact that the State Department had not reprimanded the U.S. Ambassador to Austria for the contacts he had had with the PLO. But the two situations were hardly comparable since, unlike Young, the Ambassador to Austria had not withheld information from the State Department, or engaged in substantive talks with the PLO, or provoked a confrontation with Israel, or deceived the public by giving a partial account of his behavior.
Of course there was a double standard applied to Young, but far from discriminating against him, it gave him license, because of his race, to behave more independently than other diplomats—a license he indulged throughout his tenure as UN Ambassador. Had Young been judged “as an official of the U.S. government—not as a black man,” a standard urged by black Congressman Walter E. Fauntroy, he would not have had to resign, since he would have been dismissed, most likely long before this latest controversy over the PLO.
Why then did Young resign? His own explanation is that he did so “because it will free me to do some things that I want to do.” For every time he had spoken his mind in the past, he said, there were dozens of occasions when he had kept silent to avoid compromising the administration. “Now,” he added, “I won’t have that level of restraint. And I assure you I have been restrained.”
On no issue had he felt more restrained than on the question of U.S. policy in the Middle East. He had, he said, a “fundamental disagreement” with official U.S. policy in this area, “one that I sought to run from for two and a half years.” He was firmly convinced, for example, that the U.S. should no longer allow itself to be bound by the 1975 agreement barring direct talks with the PLO as long as it refused to recognize Israel’s existence. He called this policy “ridiculous” and charged that it actually contributed to PLO violence by closing off a nonviolent “means of allowing them to express their grievances or affirm their rights.”
But if we are to judge from what Young said in the wake of his resignation, he was interested in much more than just opening up communication with the PLO. What he really wanted, he made clear, was a new American policy toward Israel.
In the past, according to Young, Israel enjoyed U.S. support because its creation was seen “as an answer to the Holocaust,” and also because the American people believed the Israelis were “right to fight for their survival.” But now Israel has become “an expansionist power” engaged in “terroristic” raids on Lebanon. And it has also “become the oppressor” in relation to the Palestinians. American blacks have been particularly sensitive to this change, he said, for while they had once been “convinced that the Jews were the oppressed people,” they “now believe that the Palestinians are oppressed and will act accordingly.”
Not only were the Israelis “losing their moral advantage,” in Young’s view, but they were also pursuing policies which threatened the interests of the United States. Without a change in Israel’s policies, he felt, the violence in the Middle East would continue and the Arabs would eventually withhold oil exports to the U.S., a move that would cause “economic dislocations in the United States of America which will have serious reverberations in the constituency that I think I represent in the Democratic party,” namely, the blacks. For this reason, Young said, “I will continue to oppose the fact that Israel can take decisions concerning the national interests of the United States.”
It was to advance this view of the Middle East conflict that Young decided to meet with Terzi in the first place, thereby setting in motion the chain of events that led to his resignation. As he explained to the New York Times, his decision to meet with the PLO representative grew out of his concern that past U.S. commitments to Israel had been made to cope with traditional military threats, but were not adequate to protect the U.S. against the kind of economic warfare being waged by the Arab states. In fact, he resolved to meet with Terzi only after being informed that Kuwait might apply economic leverage against the U.S. unless something were done to solve the Palestinian problem. In Young’s view, therefore, the meeting had extraordinary importance. “I was about to make the PLO take a great step toward recognizing Israel,” he said in an interview with the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur. It was this momentous prospect, he added, that upset the Israelis, since “they do not want peace with the PLO. They want to destroy them.”
Considering that Young felt the meeting with Terzi was so politically important, it is very hard to believe his claim, made on Face the Nation, that he did not inform the State Department about it because “I didn’t want to have any impact on this policy.” And this is not the only inconsistency in Young’s defense of his actions. He claimed that he gave a truthful account of the Terzi meeting to Israel’s UN Ambassador Yehuda Blum in order to warn him “that any big public issue out of this would create a constituency for the Palestinians, as a result of people in this country who support me coming to my defense.” But the choice he offered Israel—which was between acquiescing in the violation of an agreement which Israel considered vital to its security and risking a pro-PLO backlash among American blacks if Israel protested this violation—was, in effect, a threat. If he had had any sincere desire to avert such a backlash, he would not have resigned, for it was his resignation—and not Israel’s protest—that touched off the outcry among blacks. Nor would he have gone about afterward charging that Moshe Dayan was the one who had leaked the story of his meeting with Terzi to Newsweek, an allegation that was inflammatory in addition to being totally unsubstantiated.
Similarly, it requires considerable credulity to accept Young’s statement, on Face the Nation, that he could have kept his job had he wanted to, but that this would “have torn up the Democratic party,” a reference to the black-Jewish split, and would also have made himself “the center of the issue.” He indicated that he had wanted to avoid both of these eventualities. But as we know, and as was obvious at the time he made these statements, it was precisely Young’s resignation that unleashed the furies of blacks against the Jews; and it was also his resignation which turned him into a martyred hero to many blacks and propelled him, at least temporarily, into a position of unchallenged preeminence among black American leaders, a place not occupied by any black leader since the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Considering that at every critical point in this unfolding drama—the meetings with Terzi and Blum and the resignation—Young acted freely, decisively, and as it would also appear, purposefully, his statement (made in the course of his valedictory remarks to the UN Security Council) that “I feel like I’m an innocent bystander being swept along by the forces of history” was nothing less than astonishing. But the impression of Young as an innocent victim was reinforced by the atmosphere of hysteria that was created when black leaders rushed headlong to his defense, charging that he had been forced to resign under Jewish pressure. And it was allowed to stand unchallenged by President Carter, who waited nearly six weeks—by which time the furor had died down-before announcing that “Any claims or allegations that American Jewish leaders or anyone else urged me to ask Andy for his resignation are absolutely and totally false.”
Accusations against the Jews were in the air almost as soon as the resignation was announced. The annual meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Young’s old organization, happened to be in session at the time, and it provided the forum for the initial anti-Jewish recriminations. Reverend Wyatt Tee Walker, the SCLC’s liaison to the UN, announced that “The perception on the street is that the Jews did this to Andy Young.” Jesse Jackson attributed the resignation to a “capitulation” to pressure from “our former allies, the American Jewish community.” “The Klan didn’t move on Andy,” Jackson said, adding that blacks must now concern themselves with Jewish attitudes as well as with those of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi party.
During the following days, the charge that Jews were responsible for Young’s resignation was repeated over and over again. The Op-Ed Page of the New York Times ran an article by a black assistant professor of law claiming that Young’s resignation “brings into sharp focus the immense power of the Israeli lobby in this country.” The A fro-American, a Washington weekly, declared that it agreed with those who attributed “the exit of Young to Jewish pressure.” Reverend Herbert Daughtry’s Black United Front denounced “the Zionist racist pressure” which allegedly brought Young down and then staged a demonstration in front of the Israeli consulate in New York.
Inevitably, these accusations were accompanied by overt expressions of anti-Semitism. Jesse Jackson, speaking on the MacNeil/Lehrer Report the day after the resignation, blamed “Jewish promoters” for sponsoring a fight in South Africa which he opposed, and in a meeting with Jewish leaders, representatives of SCLC blamed “Jewish banks” for exploiting blacks in South Africa. The Village Voice rushed into print with a lead essay charging that “black writers cannot get published” and black characters and experiences are never portrayed on prime-time television and in the most popular movies and novels, because “American Jews dominate the image-shaping industries of our era.” Thelma Thomas Daley, the president of a national sorority which is predominantly black, told the group’s annual convention in New Orleans that as a result of the “affront” by Jews in the Young affair, “we question whether their loyalties are first to the state of Israel or to the United States.” The charge of “duality of citizenship interests” was repeated in a letter to the New York Times by Gloster B. Current, a former top official of the NAACP.
While some black leaders were greatly distressed by the turn which events had taken, many welcomed the anti-Jewish reaction to Young’s resignation, regarding it, in the words of Representative Parren Mitchell, as “a golden opportunity to discuss the whole package of black-Jewish differences.” These differences, according to Jesse Jackson, grew out of a number of factors, among them the “confrontations between blacks and Jewish landlords, blacks and Jewish merchants,” as well as the feeling that Jews, while willing to “share decency” with blacks during the civil-rights movement, became opponents “once we began to push for our share of universal slots in institutions.”
For Roger Wilkins, a reporter for the New York Times, the root of the black anger against the Jews was something at once more profound and infuriating. At a memorial meeting in New York for Stanley D. Levison, a close associate of Young and the late Dr. King, he noted that “blacks erupted because some Jews didn’t respect the intellect of blacks.” In their criticism of Young’s actions, according to Wilkins, these Jews were telling blacks, “We will define what your rights are, what your interests are, how fast you will go, who you are.” According to this view, blacks had simply thrown off the yoke of Jewish paternalism in their bitter reaction to Young’s resignation.1
These issues and feelings came to a head at the meeting of 200 black leaders whom the NAACP had called together to examine how “the successful demand for the resignation” of Young had “further damaged an already unhappy relationship” between Jews and blacks. Their statement, which the psychologist Kenneth B. Clark called “our declaration of independence” and which received a standing ovation when it was read to the assembled black leaders by Julian Bond, criticized Jewish organizations and intellectuals as “apologists for the racial status quo” and attacked Israel for what was called its “trade and military alliance” with South Africa and “Southern Rhodesia.” It also noted that the responsibility for resolving black-Jewish differences “cannot be placed disproportionately on the backs of already overburdened blacks,” and that “Jews must show more sensitivity and be prepared for more consultation before taking positions contrary to the best interests of the black community.”
Young himself did not discourage the anti-Jewish reaction to his resignation; in fact, he encouraged it. When asked on Face the Nation how the issue of blacks and Jews had anything at all to do with his resignation, he responded not by saying it was a false issue—as he would have done had he had the least desire to quell the attacks against the Jews—but by talking of black-Jewish differences over racial quotas and over attitudes toward the Middle East. In an interview with the New York Times, he was more pointed in his criticism of Jews, observing that they had “made all the decisions in the [black-Jewish] coalition” and had adopted an attitude of “paternalism when black were totally helpless and dependent.” And in a subsequent interview, by way of proving that blacks were not anti-Semitic, he observed “that in spite of everything which has happened there has not been a single act of anti-Jewish violence,” the implication being that Jews had done something terrible enough to provoke such violence and had been spared only as a result of black restraint.
But Young’s primary role in the wake of his resignation was not to incite an anti-Jewish reaction among blacks. There were others, as we have seen, who eagerly undertook this task. Instead, he used his influence, as one of his close associates told the Washington Post, to “refocus the anger from people defending him to discussing the issue of the PLO and the Israelis.” Such “refocusing” was necessary since “the constituency for the Palestinians” that Young had predicted would emerge from a controversy over his meeting with Terzi was really not “for the Palestinians” so much as it was for Young and against the Jews. It was also such “refocusing” that made the Young affair so politically significant. For if it was a “benchmark” after which “things will never be the same again,” as Mayor Richard G. Hatcher of Gary, Indiana said, this was not only because the degree of hostility which blacks expressed toward Jews was unprecedented. It was also because this hostility was harnessed to a political goal, which was to effect a decisive break between blacks and Jews over the issue of Israel and the PLO.
Before the Young affair, most “mainstream” black leaders avoided any association with the PLO and, in fact, were sponsors of Bayard Rustin’s Black Americans to Support Israel Committee (BASIC). This stand made good sense to black leaders, both as an expression of support for liberal democracy and as a demonstration of their commitment to the political alliance they maintained with the Jewish community. Moreover, there was no compelling reason not to have this position. No evidence existed of any groundswell of support among blacks for a different position, nor had any political rationale been put forth (aside from the Third World ideology of black nationalists, who were not part of the civil-rights coalition) to justify a change in terms of an appeal to black self-interest or principle.
This is not to say that there was no support at all for the PLO among blacks. Several fringe groups, such as the Black United Front of Reverend Daughtry and the Black Theology Project of Mohammed Kenyatta, were vociferously pro-PLO and anti-Zionist. The 1.2-million-member Progressive Baptist Convention, led by Reverend William Augustus Jones (who has frequently accused moderate black leaders of being bought off by Jews), passed a resolution endorsing a Palestinian state almost a year ago. And the Black Muslims, now called the World Community of Islam, had long been ardent supporters of the Arab cause. But until the Young affair, Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH and the SCLC were the only civil-rights groups that had taken a stand in favor of the PLO, and without any noticeable impact among blacks.
In July, for example, Jackson called for recognition by the U.S. of “the just demands of the dispossessed Palestinian people,” and the international affairs director of PUSH, Jack O’Dell, headed a delegation that visited PLO camps in Lebanon and met with Yasir Arafat. But these actions were completely overshadowed by Jackson’s subsequent tour of South Africa. Similarly, the SCLC’s president emeritus, Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, joined with the pro-PLO Palestine Human Rights Campaign (PHRC) last February in asking President Carter to appoint a commission to investigate charges of torture by Israeli authorities on the West Bank, and in May he co-sponsored a PHRC conference on the “human rights of the dispersed and occupied Palestinian people.” But during this period the SCLC’s main energies were devoted to its ongoing battle with the Ku Klux Klan, an effort which the SCLC president, Reverend Joseph Lowery, hoped might revive the group’s sagging political and financial condition.
Even after Young resigned, most black Americans did not embrace the views on the Middle East conflict held by PUSH and SCLC, or, for that matter, by Young himself. A Gallup Poll conducted two weeks after Young’s resignation showed that a larger percentage of black Americans was sympathetic to Israel (26 per cent) than to the Arab nations (15 per cent), and that only 5 per cent of blacks even considered the Middle East to be among the most important concerns facing the U.S. today. But much more relevant than the outlook of the “silent majority” of blacks were the anger and publicity generated by the politically articulate ministers, publicists, politicians, and professionals in charging that Young had been martyred by the Jews, and that the economic well-being of every black American was being jeopardized by the policies of the Israeli government. This was sufficient to allow the PUSH-SCLC leadership to seize the initiative among black organizations and, together with Young, to define a new “black perspective” on the Middle East.
The key element in this new perspective was the contention that the United States should recognize the PLO and that American blacks must be involved in pressing for that objective. Two important black leaders, Bayard Rustin of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and Vernon Jordan of the Urban League, dissented from this point of view. But otherwise it went unopposed. The NAACP’s executive director, Benjamin L. Hooks, said his organization “would urge the State Department to talk with the PLO,” while Jesse Jackson, in keeping with his more hyperbolic style, declared that it would be “an international absurdity and a crime against the civilized world” for the U.S. not to do so. TransAfrica, the black foreign-affairs lobby which the NAACP’s board chairman Margaret Bush Wilson said was “strongly supported by almost all domestic black groups,” including her own, called for the creation of a Palestinian state and announced that Israel’s actions since 1967 had “eroded the basis for our respect and acceptance.” Representative John Conyers brought greetings from the Congressional Black Caucus to a national conference of the PHRC devoted to developing strategies for building a pro-PLO constituency in the U.S.; Conyers told the PHRC that “the Black Caucus will be meeting with you from this point on.” The National Association of Black Journalists, meeting in Washington, observed the new practice of showing support for the PLO by establishing a telephone hookup with the PLO’s Terzi in New York and by having two West Bank Palestinian mayors address their gathering.
Of all the black groups, none took up the cause of the PLO more avidly than SCLC. An SCLC delegation met with Terzi only days after Young resigned, a meeting which the Washington Post called “the most important show of support for the Palestinian cause” by a U.S. group in recent memory. Not long thereafter, Lowery led an SCLC delegation to Beirut in what he said was a “divinely mandated” attempt to spread the gospel of nonviolence. This resulted in the spectacle of eleven disciples of Martin Luther King singing “We Shall Overcome” with Yasir Arafat. Congressman Fauntroy, apparently unaware that Lebanon has been wracked by one of the bloodiest civil wars in modern history and that the PLO practices terrorism, observed that the Lebanese Muslim and PLO military commanders who met with the SCLC group were “men of peace” who “we have no reason to think . . . are opposed to nonviolence.” Since Israel, unlike its enemies, was “opposed to nonviolence,” Fauntroy announced that the SCLC group would return to America to lobby against military assistance to the Jewish state.
Jackson, not to be outdone, arrived in the Middle East almost as soon as the SCLC group had left, predicting that his visit would bring a “major breakthrough” for peace. Plunging into the tense Arab-Israeli dispute, he exhorted Palestinians on the West Bank to copy the U.S. civil-rights movement in their struggle for an independent state and criticized “the persecution complex” of Jews that “makes them overreact to their own suffering” (which was, he noted, hardly unique, since “60 million blacks” by his rough guess were exterminated during slavery). He also warned America against “backing into another Vietnam war,” and offered himself as a mediator between the PLO and the United States. Jackson claimed to be even-handed in his approach, but this message did not get through either to the PLO supporters on the West Bank, who chanted “Jackson! Arafat!” while carrying him aloft on their shoulders, or to the Jerusalem Post, which found evidence of “moral rot” in Jackson’s call for surrender by the U.S. to pressure by Arab oil producers.
Jackson’s tour resulted in considerable publicity for himself and the PLO, but did not produce even a gesture by the PLO indicating a possible interest in renouncing terrorism or recognizing Israel. Jackson announced dramatically that the PLO was declaring a cease-fire in Lebanon, but the cease-fire had already been agreed to weeks earlier and a PLO spokesman, upon being questioned as to what had changed, smiled and said that “We will now respect it more.” Moreover, for all the support and sympathy Jackson heaped on the PLO, he left, according to a report in the New York Times, “a negative impression” on a number of Palestinians themselves. “He didn’t do his homework, and he got his geography mixed,” said Salim Tamari, a professor at Bir Zeit University on the West Bank. The Times reported that Jackson “apparently thought the Jordan River divided Israel from Lebanon, and spoke several times about stopping the violence on ‘both sides’ of the Jordan. In fact, the Israeli-Jordanian border is peaceful now.”
Despite the failure of the PLO to move toward either a renunciation of terrorism or the recognition of Israel, and despite his own demonstrated ignorance of the politics of the conflict, Jackson announced he would campaign for U.S. recognition of the PLO and against U.S. military aid to Israel.
Young, who had prepared the way with his resignation for all this black involvement on the side of the PLO, was warmly applauded by 5,000 guests at a dinner of the Congressional Black Caucus when he attacked Israel for its “constant bombing of Palestinians in Lebanon.” Blacks, he said, have “always supported the underdog” which was now the PLO, whose terrorism grew out of the “despair and desperation” of people who lack “any worldwide support for the legitimacy of their cause.” In addition to urging his audience not to ignore the Middle East situation on the false assumption that it was “white folks’ business,” Young also pointed out that blacks would have to become involved in foreign policy generally, since no issue of immediate concern to them, such as unemployment, could be dealt with “in the strictly domestic context.”
With this end in view, he announced his intention to form a new organization which would seek to develop “a new foreign-policy constituency . . . made up of minorities and poor people.” This organization, he said on Issues and Answers, would “be involved with American businesses abroad,” presumably in African and other non-Western countries. It would also be “intensely political,” involving itself in political campaigns and in the “fight for ideas in America.” Indeed, he did not rule out that this fight could become extremely bitter. If there developed “a moral crisis comparable to the situation in Vietnam,” he said, “I would have no hesitation to do everything in my power to mobilize not only blacks and Hispanics, but also the labor unions, the churches, university students, to rally this nation around a new agenda. If that required going to the streets, we know how to do that better than we know anything else.”
Young has described the outlook which would guide such activities as “essentially a black perspective.” As he has made eminently clear over the past three years, this embraces much more than the notion that in the Middle East the Palestinians are the “oppressed people” and Israel is the “oppressor.” During the period following his resignation, when all attention was focused on his Middle East views, he pronounced judgment on many other questions. He said, for example, that the United States should immediately establish diplomatic relations with Vietnam regardless of Hanoi’s policy toward refugees, its invasion of Cambodia, or any other consideration; that the U.S., in fact, is responsible for the refugee problem in Indochina because of our refusal to recognize Vietnam and because of our bombing of food-producing areas during the war; that the decision to increase military spending and build the MX missile system is wrong; that we should end the economic embargo of Cuba immediately, rather than delay in the hope of persuading Castro to withdraw Cuban troops from Africa; and that the Soviet combat brigade in Cuba is a “totally irrelevant political issue” that has “nothing to do with the security of this nation.”
This amounts to a “black perspective” only if by “black” one means the political and ideological capitulation by the United States to the Soviet Union on one issue after another. It is really “black” only in the sense that it shares the general ideological orientation of the so-called nonaligned movement which met in Havana last September. Such a perspective would not be fully identified with this orientation, however, were it not clearly in favor of the PLO, whose cause is fervently championed by the movement of the so-called nonaligned. Indeed, as the Havana conference showed, though it was obvious long before, opposition to Zionism (now condemned not only as racism but as “a crime against humanity”!) is not an incidental ideological appendage to the world view of this movement but is absolutely integral to it. It is, as Conor Cruise O’Brien wrote recently, one of the foci around which the driving forces in Third World countries today “accumulate in sullen masses of racial and religious hostility,” and which make these countries so easy for the Soviet Union to manipulate.
In a similar vein, the anti-Semitism that erupted following Young’s resignation was not an incidental occurrence, the result of some unfortunate misunderstanding over who said what to whom. On the contrary, it was the political equivalent among American blacks, at least among that segment of American blacks which is today the most ideologically dynamic, of anti-Zionism in the Third World. It was the focus around which the “sullen masses” of racial hostility could accumulate, enabling some black leaders to precipitate a rupture with an earlier democratic orientation and to move a significant segment of the black leadership toward an ideological and political alignment with Third World radicalism.
For Young, the concept of aligning American blacks with radical forces in the Third World is not a new idea. Though he was never drawn to the Black Panther party, he identified with its notion that the non-Western world is in thrall to the white West and must be liberated; and that American blacks can play a decisive role in that liberation. He expressed this point of view in 1970 in an ABC news program on the Black Panthers:
Young: Western technology and Western militarism has [sic] so interfered with the right of the possibility of, say, democracy in Latin America, or real freedom in Africa and Asia, that it may take the destruction of Western civilization—and this, of course, is Panther ideology—that it may take the destruction of Western civilization to allow the rest of the world to really emerge as a free and brotherly society, and if the white West is incapable of brotherhood with colored peoples, then this small body of colored peoples, black people within the white West, may be the revolutionary vanguard that God has ordained to destroy the whole thing. [Emphasis added.]
ABC: Would you support the destruction of Western civilization if you were convinced that the rest of the world would thereby be liberated?
Young: I probably would.
As it turned out, this concept of a black “vanguard” in America, linked by race and ideology with radical movements of the non-Western world, was carried forward not by the Black Panthers, whose nihilism quickly spent itself, but by Andrew Young. And as it also turned out, there were much more practical means available for attempting to “liberate” the non-Western world, and in the process subdue the West, than revolution. It was discovered, for example, that a black “vanguard” in America could serve the same purpose more effectively simply by becoming an internal pressure group for political surrender to economic blackmail by Arab and other non-Western oil producers. Young, Jackson, and other black leaders have couched their arguments in favor of U.S. capitulation to Arab economic pressure in terms of black economic self-interest. But this “vital” interest was not insisted upon until after Young’s resignation—which is to say, until the move to consummate the political turn toward the PLO.
In the case of Africa, Young has made no effort to conceal the fact that the “economic self-interest” argument is politically inspired. Speaking at a meeting of TransAfrica last May, he said that he was not concerned about a recent Senate vote favoring the lifting of sanctions against Zimbabwe Rhodesia since, in his view, U.S. African policy would eventually have to succumb to pressure from our Nigerian oil suppliers, especially in light of the long gas lines in this country. “We are talking now,” he said, “about the kinds of realities that I think white folk can understand.” He added that the pressure of such “realities” would have to be supplemented by efforts to “educate the Congress,” a role he assigned to American blacks who are “ethnically related to Africa” and “sensitive to the racial dynamics of each and every vote.”
Such political considerations have also determined Young’s attitude toward U.S. business investment in the Third World. In 1971, for example, he spoke at the annual Gulf shareholders meeting in support of a motion, brought by a group working to end the corporation’s involvement in Portuguese Africa, to add himself, the American Communist Angela Davis, the MPLA leader Agostinho Neto, another African “liberation” leader, and two others to Gulf’s board of directors. Once the MPLA took over in Angola, though, he reversed his attitude toward Gulf’s involvement there, not only defending it but also defending the role of Cuban troops in “protecting our economic interest” in that country. As he explained to the TransAfrica group last May, “a lot of the old rhetoric against the multinationals doesn’t apply” any longer.
In fact, as Young has indicated, one of the principal activities of his new foreign-policy organization will be involvement with American businesses investing in Africa and elsewhere in the Third World. During his recent trade mission to Africa, his last undertaking as UN Ambassador, Young was the key intermediary in securing a $340-million contract for the Pullman-Kellogg company of Houston for the construction of a fertilizer plant in Nigeria. His ideological counterparts in the Third World would have an interest in enabling him to play such a role in the future, since this would gain him important business allies for his other political activities in America.
This is not the only way that non-Western radicals can strengthen the “vanguard” by favoring it in their relations with the U.S. One reason the PLO agreed, following Young’s resignation, to postpone a Security Council resolution on the Palestinian issue was that, as Yasir Arafat put it, “We cannot let the circumstances push Young, the great man, to a veto.” Such support for Young by a foreign leader ordinarily hostile to the U.S. is frequently cited as evidence that he has improved American relations with the Third World. But while it may help Young’s image in this country by allowing him to appear to be an effective diplomat, the evidence is sorely lacking that the U.S. position in the Third World has improved as a result. If the degree of anti-American and pro-Soviet feeling displayed at the Havana conference of the so-called non-aligned countries is any indication, these countries are on the whole more hostile to America today, and more closely aligned with the Soviet Union, than was the case before we had the benefit of Young’s diplomacy.
It is, of course, entirely within the American political tradition for ethnic minorities to take a special interest in U.S. relations with foreign countries with which they are “ethnically related.” American Jewish support for Israel is an obvious case in point. But this tradition, generally speaking, has entailed identification with America as a great reservoir of democracy. Moreover, where the foreign country in question has not been democratic, an example being Poland, the corresponding American ethnic group, as an expression of concern for the well-being of the people in that country, has opposed the dictatorial regime.
But Young’s “black perspective” is informed by no such democratic outlook. According to this perspective, America is not a democratic country whose political system is preferable, say, to the dictatorship in the Soviet Union—at the time of the Shcharansky trial, Young noted tellingly that America, too, has political prisoners. Nor do those who share this perspective identify with the interests of the peoples in Africa, as distinct from the interests of the ruling elites. There was no outcry among American black leaders over the excesses of Amin, Bokassa, or Masie; nor any rejoicing when they were overthrown. Nor is any protest made over the fact that Cuban troops are propping up a totalitarian regime in Angola, killing thousands of black Africans who are resisting this regime, and transporting others to Cuba where they are subjected to forced labor and ideological indoctrination. On the contrary, the Cuban intervention is called by Young a force for “stability” in Africa.
Nowhere is the hypocrisy of this “black perspective” more evident than in the support now being demonstrated by Young and other black leaders for the Arab cause. One might think that it would be a matter of some interest to American blacks that “Arabs have played the major role in the world slave trade and one of the major parts in the use and exploitation of slaves” (to quote the conclusion reached by John Laffin in a recent human-rights study published by the Foundation for the Study of Plural Societies in The Hague). But even if the new black allies of the PLO choose to overlook the past, there is the present that must be accounted for. No single group of countries has done greater damage to the living standard of black Africans (and of black Americans, too, for that matter) than the members of what a Kenyan journalist recently termed “the neck-strangling club called OPEC.” Within the Organization of African Unity, he added, the Arab countries “do everything possible to make us support their cause of backing the Palestinians. But apparently when they meet in their other club—OPEC—they tend to forget our brotherhood.”
Nor is economic extortion the only threat which the Arab countries pose to black Africa. The military intervention earlier this year by Libya and the PLO in support of Idi Amin’s crumbling dictatorship was deeply resented by black Africans, who saw it as evidence of a concerted Arab drive to increase Muslim influence in Christian black Africa. The Zambian Daily Mail denounced Qaddafi for believing that “the only people who deserve freedom and human dignity are Muslims,” and also for belonging “to a clan of bloodthirsty slave-trading Arabs who had not the slightest respect for other human beings.” Yet it was this same Qaddafi who was given “the decoration of Martin Luther King” in September by a black American delegation visiting Libya, and who is also one of the chief supporters of the “oppressed” PLO with which American blacks are supposed to identify.
While Young claims that his “black perspective” is shaped by the “racial dynamics” of political issues, it is actually more closely related to their ideological dynamics. His affinities in Africa are less with Senegal, Kenya, and the Ivory Coast, and more with Angola, Nigeria, and Tanzania: that is, with those countries that are the more hostile to the United States. The same standard applies in the Middle East, even though Young and others argue that Israel must be opposed because its policies do not serve American interests. James Baldwin, in an article defending Young, was frank enough to say openly that Israel stands condemned because “it was created for the salvation of the Western interests” and continues to serve those interests. That is not why Israel was created, but it is certainly true that Israel identifies with the democratic West and is prepared to resist the Soviet-backed forces in the Middle East. And it is for this reason that Israel is opposed by Young.
That a point of view favoring anti-American forces abroad should so widely be accepted as pro-American is an indication of the extent to which the psychology of appeasement has taken root in this country in recent years. There are many influential Americans who believe, or want to believe, that “restraint” is the mark of confidence and strength, that submissiveness is the better part of prudence, and that our enemies are our friends or, at the very least, pose no immediate threat to our interests. In this political climate, Young’s “black perspective” has a definite appeal, as reflected in the President’s remark, made shortly after the resignation, that he hoped Young’s “commitment to social justice and human rights” would “continue to guide us in the months and years to come.”
The failure to subject Young’s “black perspective” to critical examination is also the result of the racial climate in the country, in particular the kind of liberal racism which exempts “black” ideas from scrutiny according to universal moral, intellectual, and political standards. What the Young affair demonstrated is the extent to which this attitude has been internalized by blacks, who erupt with anger if their position is criticized, as if intellectual approval were still another one of the entitlements of race. Young is entirely correct in saying that there is “a fight for ideas in America,” and no one is questioning the right of blacks to be part of it. At issue is not the right of blacks under the First Amendment to speak out on foreign policy, as Walter Fauntroy has claimed, but the nature of the views they hold.
In this fight for ideas, Jews will find themselves—inevitably—on the opposing side to those blacks who identify with the thinking of Andrew Young. The reason goes beyond the differences the two groups now have over the PLO. These differences, indeed, reflect a more fundamental disagreement over America’s world role. For implicit in Young’s commitment to the debilitation of America’s power and—if we are to take seriously his threat to “go into the streets” in the event of a “moral crisis” in foreign policy—to the paralysis of its will to act, is the determination to render America incapable of defending Israel or any other ally, or even itself. Jews will have no choice but to resist this point of view, and not just out of a commitment to Israel. The chances for Jewish survival in a world dominated by the Soviet Union and its “nonaligned” allies may not be entirely foreclosed, but survival under these conditions is not a cheerful prospect to contemplate.
The Jewish position in America is already more vulnerable as a result of the Young affair, since anti-Semitism is now more acceptable than at any time since the Holocaust. But this does not mean that Jews will not have allies in their “fight for ideas,” even black allies, for most Americans are not prepared to submit either to Soviet hegemony or Arab blackmail. Though the Young affair appeared to be about black-Jewish relations, it was actually about democracy and its enemies. And it is out of a commitment to democracy—the same democratic commitment that led Jews and others to support the civil-rights movement—that it is necessary to oppose, and oppose resolutely, the political tendency which Andrew Young now leads.
1 What a supposedly non-paternalistic attitude of Jews toward blacks would look like was suggested by some of the speakers at the Levison memorial meeting. Levison, who the FBI claimed was a Communist influence on Dr. King, a charge Levison denied, represented “the essence of a loving relationship between blacks and Jews,” according to Roger Wilkins. Eleanor Holmes Norton commented that Levison's “work was in the best tradition of Judaism.” But the only “Jewish” tradition in which Levison stood was the leftist tradition of what Isaac Deutscher once called “the non-Jewish Jew.” Coretta Scott King acknowledged this in the course of praising Levison for being “not a Jew or a white” but “colorless, a white man with a black heart.” Were Jews to require a similar relinquishment of identity by blacks as a condition for a “loving” relationship, they would be accused of something a good deal worse than paternalism.