Only cynics close their eyes to reality

As Obama's star rises, black-Jewish relations are on solid ground.

obama 88 (photo credit: )
obama 88
(photo credit: )
During this US presidential campaign season, attention has been drawn to the state of black-Jewish relations in America. The meteoric rise of the first African American with a real opportunity to capture his party's nomination has thrust the issue to the front pages of both the Jewish and secular media, where it has been dissected and analyzed by pundits and would-be experts. That the issue has surfaced should hardly come as a surprise, as the probing of any candidate's views on Israel and his or her relations with the Jewish community are certainly fair game. What I do find troubling, however, is not that the issues are raised - on the contrary, Jewish leaders have a solemn obligation to raise them, just as African American leaders have a duty to raise matters central to their constituencies - but rather the unsettling implication that there is discord within the African American-Jewish relationship. We have been warned that this powerful alliance - forged as it was in blood, sweat, tears and ultimate sacrifices - which for so long effectively collaborated to achieve tremendous victories for civil rights and social justice is tenuous at best, and that there are dark clouds on the horizon. NONSENSE! I say this as a long-time advocate who has devoted energy and resources to the effort of strengthening our ties with the African American community. I am also not naive, and recognize that there have been times of strain and that there remain issues of contention. The empirical truth, however, is that for decades our communities have been working shoulder to shoulder in confronting and combating anti-Semitism and racism alike. This is highlighted year after year at nationwide Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. commemorations, bringing blacks and Jews together in solidarity to reflect on past struggles and affirm the strengthening of our communal ties. This is not just rhetoric. I have no hesitancy in calling upon my friends in the African American community to speak out when there is even a hint of anti-Semitism or religious intolerance. I know I can count on them forcefully to stand up, as they know they can count on me to help diffuse potential problems. Politics is hardball, and we cannot be surprised when campaigns - all campaigns - look for any edge they can muster; it's the nature of the beast. It's also an old story with which the Jewish and pro-Israel community is very familiar, as we welcome and have benefited from the attention focused on us. I certainly would not want to change this dynamic. Having said that, however, I cannot help but be worried by those cynics who close their eyes to reality as they eagerly trot out problems of the distant past as a nasty harbinger of what we can expect in the future. SURE, Minister Farrakhan's anti-Semitic rhetoric and pronouncements have caused much harm and pain. Yet, let us not forget that we have some powerful African American allies, an important reflection of the true strength of our alliance. Try as some cynics might, the health of black-Jewish relations is not and will not be defined by the likes of one man. We have moved well beyond that. Some would also have us judge the strength of the relationship through the prism of Crown Heights 1991. That is neither fair nor realistic. Much work has been done to repair the damage from that explosive period, and it is no exaggeration to say that the ties now are as strong as they have been since the heyday of the civil rights movement. We can certainly withstand the inevitable blips on the radar screen. And many of us are committed to strengthening the alliance of African Americans and Jews that brought about the greatest social and political changes in American history. The writer, a rabbi, is president of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding.