How did the black-Jewish civil rights alliance devolve into black anti-Semitism?

How did the black-Jewish civil rights alliance devolve into black anti-Semitism?
Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King, Jr. (Image: YouTube screen grab)

Many of the recent anti-Semitic attacks that have occurred of late in New York and New Jersey have been committed by blacks. An outsider might be surprised to learn there was once an alliance between blacks and Jews that was forged between two great men during the Civil Rights fight during the 1960s.

At the first conference on religion and race, the main participants were Pharaoh and Moses. The outcome of that summit meeting has not come to an end. Pharaoh is not ready to capitulate. The Exodus began but is far from having been completed.

These were the words with which Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel opened his address at the 1963 National Conference on Race and Religion, in Chicago. It was at that same conference that Rabbi Heschel first met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was the keynote speaker at this national gathering. The two became close friends and allies, working together for equality and justice until King was murdered in 1968.

Describing Heschel as “one of the great men of our age, a truly great prophet”, Martin Luther King declared: “He has been with us in many struggles. I remember marching from Selma to Montgomery, how he stood at my side. … I remember very well when we were in Chicago for the Conference on Religion and Race. … [T]o a great extent his speech inspired clergymen of all faiths to do something they had not done before.”

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King knew that the only way his dream would ever be realized is to invite people of all colors and beliefs to join him, and Rabbi Heschel knew that the struggle for civil rights was a holy one.

During a January 1963 speech, the rabbi compared the civil rights battle to Moses’s fight against Pharaoh and later on explained:

Few of us seem to realize how insidious, how radical, how universal an evil racism is. Few of us realize that racism is man’s gravest threat to man, the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason, the maximum of cruelty for a minimum of thinking.

In June of the same year, he sent a telegram to President Kennedy that read:

Please demand of religious leaders personal involvement not just solemn declaration. We forfeit the right to worship God as long as we continue to humiliate Negroes. Church and Synagogue have failed. They must repent. Ask of religious leaders to call for national repentance and personal sacrifice. Let religious leaders donate one month’s salary toward fund for Negro housing and education. I propose that you Mr. President declare state of moral emergency. A Marshall plan for aid to Negroes is becoming a necessity. The hour calls for moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.

When King made his famous march to Selma, he walked hand in hand with many Jews, including Heschel. When he stood at the Lincoln Memorial and said, “I Have A Dream,” Heschel and a contingent of Jews were there with him.

So how did we as a nation get from there to where we are today?

After the murder of King, the leadership of the civil rights movement was inherited by people like Jesse Jackson, who saw the Jews as an impediment to blacks’ achieving middle-class status. Other black leaders such as Andrew Young, and Louis Farrakhan went public with anti-Semitic comments. As it spread, the hatred didn’t infest all black Americans — just those on the Left.

In his book “Race Matters,” activist Cornel West contends there were no good times where “blacks and Jews were free of tension and friction.” West says that the period of black-Jewish cooperation during the 1960s is often downplayed by blacks and romanticized by Jews:

It is downplayed by blacks because they focus on the astonishingly rapid entry of most Jews into the middle and upper-middle classes during this brief period — an entry that has spawned … resentment from a quickly growing black, impoverished class.

Aided by the resentment of a Jewish middle class, the hatred generated by the leaders of the black community like Jackson and Farrakhan spread to their flocks, and these once allied groups began to spread apart.

In 1968 there was a fraying of the former alliance in New York City. The new community-controlled school board in the mostly black Ocean Hill-Brownsville section of Brooklyn summarily dismissed 18 white teachers and administrators. The school board’s action led to a series of citywide teacher strikes led by United Federation Of Teachers (UFT) leader Albert Shanker, who was Jewish. The atmosphere was poisoned by black anti-Semitism directed at the many Jewish members of the UFT. Anti-Semitic catcalls were shouted by protesters and appeared in newspapers put out by the Afro-American Teachers Association. A student’s anti-Semitic poem was read on the radio.

Adding to the divisiveness were the leaders of the South African anti-Apartheid movement who traveled throughout the United States as conquering heroes and spreading Jew-hatred. For example, in 1984, Desmond Tutu publicly complained about American Jews. Tutu accused Jews of exhibiting “an arrogance — the arrogance of power because Jews are a powerful lobby in this land and all kinds of people woo their support.” Speaking in a Connecticut church that same year, Tutu said that “the Jews thought they had a monopoly on God; Jesus was angry that they could shut out other human beings.”

The affirmative action movement further divided the two former allies. In the 1970s, blacks began seeking ways to build on the Civil Rights act by pushing policies that support members of their disadvantaged group that has previously suffered discrimination. Jews fought against affirmative action believing everything should be based on merit only.

In 1979, Andrew Young, then-Pres. Jimmy Carter’s ambassador to the United Nations, violated administration policy and met with a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Almost immediately, Young was gone. By most accounts, he was asked to resign because he had deceived the State Department. But black leaders saw a Jewish conspiracy. Young’s dismissal, said Jesse Jackson, was a “capitulation” to Jews. For over a month, while blacks castigated Jews, an article in “Commentary” titled “The Andrew Young Affair,” outlined the PLO incident plus anti-Semitic comments and acts by Young.

The die had been cast. The love affair between Jews and blacks fomented by the Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel was fractured by King’s successors. And the next generation sealed the hatred.

Al Sharpton was a low-level civil rights leader who was looking to become “big time” by using Jews as his scapegoat. During the Twana Brawley hoax, he said that Brawley telling her story to the State’s Attorney General Robert Abrams, who was Jewish, would be “like asking someone who watched someone killed in the gas chamber to sit down with Mr. Hitler.”

On July 20, 1991, Leonard Jeffries of City College, a man with a history of anti-Semitic slurs, presented a two-hour long speech claiming “rich Jews” financed the slave trade, Jews control the film industry (together with Italian mafia), and use that control to paint a brutal stereotype of blacks. Jeffries also attacked Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, calling her a “sophisticated Texas Jew,” “a debonair racist,” and “Miss Daisy” — reference to the film “Driving Miss Daisy.”

Jeffries’s speech received enormous negative press, especially from the leaders of the Jewish community who wanted Jeffries fired for the bigotry. He was fired as chairman of the black studies program but allowed to stay on as a professor. His position as chairman was restored after he sued the school, but the Supreme Court reversed the decision two years later.

With each new criticism of Jeffries, leaders in New York’s black community rushed to Jeffries’s defense. The city’s two black newspapers, as well as black radio station WLIB, joined activists such as  Sharpton, Colin Moore, C. Vernon Mason, Sonny Carson, and Lenora Fulani to showcase their approval of Jeffries’s “scholarship.” At the same time, they denounced the Jews who criticized Jeffries’s anti-Semitism as race-baiters.

On August 18, 1991, speaking about the growing Jeffries controversy, Al Sharpton made his famous comment, “If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house.”

A day later, a car in the motorcade of the Lububcher Rebbe Schneerson accidentally jumped the curb and killed a young black child named Gavin Cato. The local community that had been listening to their local media put down the Jews for a month didn’t believe it was an accident, and thus the Crown Heights riot began. According to the New York Times, more than 250 neighborhood residents went on a rampage that first night, mostly black teenagers, many of whom were shouting “Jews! Jews! Jews!”

Sharpton wasn’t there on the first night when a Jewish Yeshiva student from Australia named Yankel Rosenbaum was killed. But seeing the possibility of becoming a national leader, he joined in on day two and attacked the Jews.

On the second day of the riot, according to the sworn testimony of Efraim Lipkind, a former resident of Crown Heights, Sharpton started agitating the crowd.

Then we had a famous man, Al Sharpton, who came down, and he said Tuesday night, kill the Jews, two times. I heard him, and he started to lead a charge across the street to Utica [Avenue]. On the third day of the pogrom, Al Sharpton and Sonny Carson led a march of protesters chanting, “No Justice, No Peace!,” “Death to the Jews!” and “Whose streets? Our streets!” The mob displayed anti-Semitic signs and burned an Israeli flag.

Sharpton used his scapegoating of the Jews to catapult him to national prominence among blacks. But what he left behind was furthering the divide between Jews and Blacks.

According to the liberal Anti-Defense League (ADL), between 2007 and 2016 black anti-Semitism was almost twice that of the general community.

At the end of 2019, there were a rash of anti-Semitic incidents in New York conducted by blacks. The worst cases were the machete attack in a Rabbi’s house during a Hanukkah Party in Monsey, N.Y. and, two weeks earlier, a shooting by two blacks at a kosher grocery store in Jersey City.

Cross posted at The Lid

Jeff Dunetz

Jeff Dunetz

Jeff Dunetz is editor and publisher of the The Lid, and a weekly political columnist for the Jewish Star and TruthRevolt. He has also contributed to, HotAir, and PJ Media’s Tattler.


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