Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Jews & Blacks

THE FIRST paper I ever wrote in college had to do with the history of Jews and Blacks in this nation beginning with the founding of the NAACP.

One of the most important pieces of theater I've ever seen was Anna Deavere Smith's startling performance of Fires in the Mirror which dealt with the 1991 Crown Heights riots.

So, during last night's debate, when Tim Russert asked Barack Obama about the recent pseudo-endorsement he received from Louis Farrakhan, I braced. Obama denounced it out of hand. He denounced Farrakhan's anti-Semitism out of hand. He denounced Farrakhan himself out of hand.

If you are one of those who believes Senator Clinton's claims that the media was giving her opponent a free pass, that pass expired last night. Ironically, Clinton exploited Obama's denouncement hoping to score points by presenting an anecdote that she was more against anti-Semitism than Obama by claiming she rejected (not denounced) support from an alleged anti-Semitic group in her 2000 bid for the US Senate.

I'd like to say I was shocked by her petty but insulting pandering, but I wasn't. But enough about Senator Clinton.

I was more concerned with how Jewish-American voters who watched the debate perceived Obama around Jewish-Black relations and the state of Israel. Today, Shmuel Rosner provided an answer:

Obama spoke about this same issue a few days ago as he was meeting a group of Jewish activists in Cleveland. Some who attended the event and do not belong to his camp said he was very convincing. "At his best," one of them said. But in the debate he was even better and was able to score again on the same topic, elaborating on something of great importance to Jewish liberals.

Just recently we were all watching The Jewish Americans series on PBS, in which the story of Jewish involvement in the civil rights movement was front and center - and the part describing how the bond between black Americans and Jewish Americans was breaking was almost puzzling.

Obama, talking about Farrakhan - and about anti-Semitism among African-Americans, which he also denounced in his speech on Martin Luther King Day - touched a sensitive nerve when he was talking about one possibility that's inherent to his candidacy: he has the chance to restore the alliance between blacks and Jews.

This will not necessarily get Obama the votes of every Jewish liberal in this country. But it is also one promise that no American liberal Jew can simply ignore.

Here's the sermon Obama gave at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to celebrate Martin Luther King Day. It's long but it's worth it.

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