The Left is Soft on Anti-Semitism

Village Voice, March 6, 1969

Since blacks are so conspicuous among the poor and oppressed of America, it is inevitable for the left to identify with their aims and aspirations. During the last few months it has been widely taken for granted that most blacks are anti-Semitic. This may or may not be so; nobody knows for sure. In any case, the normal support of the left for the blacks had led the Movement to maintain a strangely sympathetic silence on the subject of anti-Semitism—a silence that violates the principle of brotherhood that has always been one of the moral bases of the left.

The left is not anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitic statements per se do not appear in the Movement's press and Movement leaders do not make anti-Jewish public remarks. But the left will instantly attack anyone who opposes anti-Semitism. Opponents of anti-Semitism are immediately dismissed as hysterical, anti-black, conservative, or vulgar. The Movement (and perhaps a sizable segment of establishment-left-liberal types) is not anti-Semitic, but it certainly is soft on anti-Semitism.

For example, consider the February 6 issue of the Village Voice; three articles dealt with the strong anti-anti-Semitic sentiment sweeping New York. Let us look at two of these columns.

Charles Wright, a black, feels that since there is no immediate danger of Jews being murdered, opposition to anti-Semitism is unjustified. He says, "I have known for a very long time that I do not have to pray for American Jews. They are safe on that beachhead. Therefore I fail to understand their mass hysteria."

What a strange point of view Wright expresses here. Does an evil have to be an imminent threat in order to justify our being against it? Be that as it may, Wright includes a quote by Rabbi Jay Kaufman of B'nai B'rith in his column. Rabbi Kaufman characterized recent Negro anti-Semitism as "rare to the American continent though classical in Europe. It does not spring from religious roots but (is?) carefully cultivated, artificially created by demagogue leaders." This is the entire quote cited in Wright's article. I do not know in what context it was uttered, but as it stands, it looks harmless to me. Rabbi Kaufman seems to be saying that we are not faced with an indigeneous black movement, but with the work of a vocal minority. Wright, however, feels that Kaufman" ... sounds strangely like an extremist..." Maybe, but not according to the quote that Wright himself selected. Nevertheless, Wright feels that the rabbi's statements are in themselves a justification for anti-Semitism. He says, "Religious blacks who are not anti-Semitic perhaps will have second thoughts after reading Rabbi Kaufman's remarks. They might as well give Bobby Joe and Betty Sue the subway fare to go downtown and protest against Jews." Wright is obviously simply out of his fucking mind.

Wright's incoherent prose is not half so offensive as Jack Newfield's "The Jewish Backlash and an Embattled Mayor." A woman with peroxide blonde hair is the chief character in Newfield's piece, which begins with the following paragraph:"She was in her first row seat an hour before the Mayor arrived. Her hair was dyed blonde, her narrow, pinched face looked doughy from too much makeup, and her short skirt kept revealing the top of her net stockings. She was about 45 years old, and she had come to the Forest Hills Jewish Center to boo John Lindsay."

Newfield evidently feels that bad taste is somehow intimately related to racism. He reminds me of the Daily News or equivalent publications which apparently think that the long hair and inelegant attire of many peace marchers (remember peace marchers?) prove that anything they say is invalid.

I have heard expressed privately the view that the badness of Jews is proven by the face that they bleach their hair, vacation in Miami Beach, and stage vulgar bar mitzvah celebrations. I never thought I would see anything like this view stated in print, but Jack Newfield has done it. Newfield, to be sure never specifically equates racism with dyed hair, but he refers to it too often for the reader to fail to get the point.

Newfield's main argument is that Jewish backlash is a grave threat to New York City. He quotes four of 20 questions from an article by Meir Kahane that appeared in a weekly called the Jewish Press. The four questions do indeed seem to indicate overreaction to anti-Semitism, e.g. "How can he" [the Mayor] "continue to push for community control in the face of the clear and present danger it poses for all decent people—Jews in particular?" Newfield comes to the conclusion that " least we should understand that Meir Kahane has poisoned the city much more than Leslie Campbell." Campbell apparently feels that wishing Jew boys were dead is a legitimate expression of a political point of view. If Newfield thinks that Campbell's idea is less hateful than Kahane's over-reaction, Newfield has something morally wrong with him.

The Guardian—Independent Radical Weekly sees the legitimacy of Jewish touchiness on this subject. An editorial the February 8 issue says, "It is entirely rational, however, for Jews to be extremely sensitive to the possibility of a renewal of overt anti-Semitism." The same editorial suggests the following solution to the problem: "As far as the Jewish communitity is concerned, it must understand that the only way to contribute to ending anti-white and anti-Semitic attitudes in blacks is to purge itself of anti-black racism, climb off the black man's back, and join the anti-capitalist struggle."

The Guardian is confusing ends and means. The Jewish community should follow the Guardian's advice because everyone should—because it is the right thing to do. It is silly to think that good behavior on the part of the Jews will end prejudice against them. Jews behave relatively well anyway. It is even sillier to think that the Jewish community can control the actions of all its members any more than the black community can.

Since it is not yet possible to control thoroughly the thoughts of a community, thank God, the world must face the fact that individuals of all colors and creeds will believe and say wicked things. Prejudice cannot be eliminated, but people in a position of power can oppose its manifestations and try to show how wrong it is. If there are bad Jews or bad blacks in the world, that is very sad, but it doesn't excuse bigotry on either side. The New Left has been very good about fighting anti-black racism. It should be equally good about combating anti-Semitism, not because there are pogroms taking place in Brooklyn, but because the left is committed to morality.

The Guardian's answer to the Jewish problem follows from its analysis of anti-Semitism as "...due to the fact that the only whites many black people ever come into contact with, aside from cops, are white Jews who operate marginal and exploitative businesses in the ghettos, who employ blacks as domestics or low-paid workers in small industry, who teach a racist curriculum in the schools, or who make humiliating welfare investigations." This explanation is frequently offered, but I doubt its validity. An Anti-Defamation League survey made some years ago suggests that blacks consider Jews less vicious than white society as a whole. No one has ever suggested that Jewish landlords are worse than banks or insurance companies that own slum properties, or that Jewish merchants are more exploitative than the A & P. The Black Nationalist Movement has not concentrated upon economic issues. It dislikes Jews because Jews are numerous among both the establishment liberals and the left—two groups that agree on at least one question: the universal brotherhood of man.

The doctrine of brotherhood is untimately destructive to nationalist aspirations. The left can support nationalism because it is in favor of the right of people to be free from oppression and to do their own thing. But love and friendship eventually erode national identity. Perhaps this is as it should be, I don't know. Jews have easy access to their own history and take pride in the achievements of their people, but rich, unpersecuted Jews have been notoriously unsuccessful in preserving their identity. I cannot decide whether this is good or bad, but in any event, integration implies the same fate for the blacks. The left is committed to black power, but it supports and practices integration, and in doing so is guilty of cultural genocide.

From a nationalist point of view, the blacks are totally justified in being anti-left. And what could be more anti-Movement than holding a counter-demonstration in Washington, the only major U.S. city with a a black majority, on the day of the March on the Pentagon. The Washington Star of October 22,1967 (page A-6), reported that Charles Kenyatta said, "We're not worried about those Caucasians on the Potomac," and went on to add, "What the hell we gotta be concerned about them? We want our own freedom," at this demonstration. And in a column under the headline "Seven Are Suspended by City College," on page 41 of the October 20, 1967, New York Times, Rap Brown is quoted as saying "student power means white power."

Blacks and Jews come into frequent economic contact , but there is no economic source of conflict between them. Jewish sons are particularly unlikely to go into their fathers' businesses and the Jewish merchant will vanish from Harlem as soon as their are blacks (or anyone else) with the capital to take their shops from them. The Puerto Ricans have already done this to a large extent. The black students who enter the City University today will be teachers in four years, and Jewish UFT members including the most racist, will welcome them if for no other reason than to let them take over ghetto classes.

Individual blacks may dislike Jews because they consider them exploiters, but black power as a political force is anti-Jewish because it fears the left will love black identity out of existence, and because, alienated or not, the Jews are numerous in leftist activities in New York. This is part of a continuing tradition. When the Daily Worker ceased publication on January 13, 1958, the Yiddish language Freiheit remained the only communist daily published in the United States. The Freiheit's readers are identifiably Jews, and whatever one thinks of the Old Left, one cannot dismiss it as establishment liberal.

Analysis is basically irrelevant, however. Prejudice is immoral, and the left must retain its sensitivity to moral questions. The basis of morality is pity, and the basis of pity is sex. Under the circumstances, there is no reason for the New Left to continue to be soft on anti-Semitism.