IT WAS THE SUMMER of discontent. The season's heat brought passions to a boil. What began as a volley of verbal provocation erupted into a block-by-block battle of bottles and rocks. Blacks and Jews were at it again.
Appropriately, it all took place in New York, a state where Blacks and Jews jockey intensely for space, resources and political power.
First, Leonard Jeffries, chair of City College of New York's Black studies department and renowned espouser of racist Black supremacy theories, lashed out at Jews in a two-hour speech at an African-American cultural festival. He asserted that an organized plan, "plotted and programmed out of Hollywood by people called Greenberg, Weisberg, Trigliani, and whatnot", had been contrived to exclude Blacks from the movie industry and belittle them in films.
Following condemnation of Jeffries' anti-Semitic remarks, an alarming outpouring of support welcomed the outspoken teacher. On August 15, 2000 people crowded into a Brooklyn church to show solidarity with the irresponsible leader.
Four days later, the tragic Crown Heights affair escalated tensions between Blacks and Jews in New York and around the country. By now, the facts are well known: A Hasidic Jew killed a seven-year-old Black child in a traffic accident. Black rioters then killed a 29-year-old Hasidic Jew in retribution. The pogram deepened the hostility between the two groups, as Black crowds yelled that Hitler hadn't finished the job.
Meanwhile, Black leaders shamelessly manipulated their constituents to incite hatred and violence. Al Sharpton, Sonny Carson and others have pandered to latent anti-Semitism in the Black community, producing what New York Mayor David Dinkins labeled an "absence of responsible leadership". Like Jeffries, Sharpton and his demagogic buddies sold the Black community short by leading them down the path of placing blame, espousing racism and provoking violence. Dinkins was pelted with bottles. Leaders of moderation were absent from the stage.
EVERY DAY AT HARVARD, the future leaders of this country's communities take classes together, share rooms together, sit across from one another in the dining hall. Cooped up in the ivory tower, we are not forced to confront the real-life dilemmas of communities in conflict. The prospect of the events of Crown Heights being transferred to Harvard Yard is unimaginable.
But, although relations between Blacks and Jews at Harvard have generally been good in recent years, there is little, if any, active dialogue between the two groups. Last year's Confederate flag/swastika incident did inspire the two groups to joint action, but only because a crisis required it.
"Black-Jewish relations on campus were stronger after the incident last year," says Hillel Chair Dan Libenson '92. "But it was a struggle to do the right thing, because not enough activity had been going on before-hand. There should be a lot more proactive activity without an incident having to happen."
Art Hall '93, president of the Black Students Association, echoes Libenson's concern for elevating Black-Jewish dialogue beyond crisis control.
"Cooperation is something we need to continue," Hall says, adding that he would do "anything to help out strained relations". Hall indicated that BSA may organize a forum on Black-Jewish relations later this year.
But all this positive talk must be translated into action.
Without jointly sponsored programs to further understanding and cooperation, Black and Jewish graduates from Harvard, potential leaders of their respective communities, may know no better how to deal with one another when the next Crown Heights eruption comes around.
Here at Harvard, there is an environment conducive to rational discourse. The possibility of building a relationship of mutual trust and understanding is on the table before us. It is our role to model this new interchange together.
This is not a call to restore the Black-Jewish coalition of the Civil Rights Movement. The issues dividing and uniting the two communities are different now.
Blacks and Jews have been through enough trials and seen too much oppression to turn against one another as they did this summer. The leadership void must be filled.
Together we can create a better world. But only together.
In New York, Blacks and Jews are fighting again.
So why aren't they talking at Harvard?