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Flap over Lieberman stance revives black-Jewish tensions
By SHARON SAMBER
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
August 22, 2000
WASHINGTON--Joseph Liebermans attempts last week to allay the concerns
of some black leaders about his position on affirmative action showed political
smarts--but it also showed that old tensions die hard.
Despite a general sense that ties between Jews and blacks have improved in
recent years, the Democratic vice presidential candidates emergence into
the public spotlight has revived issues of contentionand revived concern
about black anti-Semitism.
Lieberman had to clarify his position on affirmative action to the Democratic
National Committees black caucus as soon as he arrived in Los Angeles
for the convention.
Vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman addresses the Black Caucus in Los Angeles Aug. 15.
I have supported affirmative action, I do support affirmative action
and I will support affirmative action, he told the group.
And in his acceptance speech to the convention on Aug. 14, Lieberman said he
favored President Clintons mend it, dont end it approach
to affirmative action.
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who led the fight to force Lieberman to
explain his position, seemed appeased. The outspoken congresswoman said she
felt a lot better after the issue had been clarified.
Lieberman and other Democratic officials also touted the senators long
record of support for civil rights. He traveled to Mississippi in the 1960s
to register black voters. In the Senate, he voted to continue affirmative action
programs in 1995, and three years later helped stop the elimination of a federal
program that helps women and minorities win highway construction contracts.
While he did indicate his support for Californias Proposition 209, a
1996 failed ballot initiative that would have abolished state-funded affirmative
action programs, Lieberman has said he did not agree with its details and never
endorsed the legislation. At the same time, Lieberman has said he is troubled
by racial quotas.
The Democratic platform makes clear that Gore strongly opposes efforts to roll
back affirmative action programs.
While Lieberman seemed to assuage the concerns of many party blacks, the incident
brought to the surface an issue that has long been a point of contention between
blacks and Jews.
Murray Friedman, an American Jewish historian and author of What Went
Wrong: The Creation and Collapse of the Black-Jewish Alliance, said there
was a feeling in the black community years ago that Jewish agencies stood in
the way of affirmative action.
In the landmark 1977 case of Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke,
the Supreme Court found that race could be considered as one factor in the medical
school admissions process but cannot be the deciding factor.
The Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the American
Jewish Congress all filed briefs in support of the white medical student applicant
who challenged the racial quota system.
Today, affirmative action remains a difficult issue within the Jewish community.
The Orthodox Union, for example, is more sympathetic to a class-based model
of affirmative action rather than a race-based one, according to Nathan Diament,
the director of the O.U.s Institute for Public Affairs.
The group eschews quotas and supports assistance to people based on individual
need, rather than membership in a particular racial and ethnic group.
While there are nuanced differences among Jewish organizations, the consensus
appears to support properly structured affirmative action policies,
according to a two-year study on the issue by the Jewish Council for Public
Affairs, an umbrella group of Jewish organizations.
The study found a range of opinions in the Jewish community on appropriate
affirmative action policies, including those that question the value of any
such policies. But the majority, according to the JCPA study, support policies
or programs that consider race as one among many relevant factors, that accept
or reward only individuals judged to be qualified, and that do not include quotas.
For his part, Lieberman is receiving support from prominent black leaders and
Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson took the opportunity to turn the issue around
as he told a cheering crowd at the convention that Gore ended the quota
of zero of Jewish Americans on the national ticket last week. This was a bold
act of affirmative action.
Perhaps trying to halt any further damage, veteran civil rights leader Rep.
John Lewis (D-Ga.) said in his prime-time convention speech, We need a
man like Joe Lieberman to walk with us.
In the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legislative
Report Card on the 106th Congress, Lieberman received 100 percent for his voting
record on civil rights issues.
Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACPs board of directors, said American
Jews have been more supportive of civil rights than other non-minority Americans.
The affirmative action issue will probably die down and wont spark a
renewal of tensions, most experts agree.
I dont see this as a dominant issue at the moment, said Friedman,
who heads the American Jewish Committee office in Philadelphia.
Julius Lester, a professor of Judaic and Near Eastern studies at the University
of Massachusetts, said he thinks tensions between the two groups in general
In my travels around the country, I find blacks are more curious about
Judaism, that more blacks are converting to Judaism and this is in contrast
to very different attitudes I encountered a decade ago, said Lester, an
African American who converted to Judaism years ago.
A clear indication of the change, Lester says, was the response of the NAACP
to the leader of the Dallas chapter who made anti-Semitic remarks about Lieberman
being the vice presidential nominee. The NAACP immediately denounced the comments
Lee Alcorn made. Alcorn was forced to resign.
My own sense is that tensions between blacks and Jews is at its lowest
in quite some time, Lester said.
But according to a 1998 Anti-Defamation League poll of Americans attitudes
about Jews, blacks are three times more likely to hold anti-Semitic beliefs
That finding of growing anti-Semitism among blacks is challenged by Rabbi Marc
Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, an organization
that works to foster relations between Jews and blacks.
A 1998 poll by the organization surveyed 500 Jews and 500 blacks and found
growing cooperation between the groups.
According to Abraham Foxman, the ADLs national director, the polls are
not comparable because of the way they were conducted.
He said he wished the foundations survey conclusions were right, and
that his group was so troubled by the findings of the ADL survey that it doubled
the samples twice--and still got the same results.
Its a very distressing, disturbing statistic, he said.
Indeed, tensions could keep ebbing and flowing as anti-Semitic remarks come
from parts of the black community, say observers.
The latest incident was an editorial in the Amsterdam News, a major black newspaper
in New York City, that suggested Gore bought the Jewish vote by selecting Lieberman
as his running mate.
Schneier views the remarks as exceptions to the rule. We must distance
ourselves from the rhetoric and diatribe of a few who look to exacerbate tensions
between our two communities, Schneier said.
© JTA Inc., 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission.