Radical Unchic


TOM WOLFE in Radical Chic describes a small fundraiser given by Leonard Bernstein for the Black Panthers, attended by New York City's social and cultural elite. In a weird role reversal, the white upper-class Radical Chic back the Panther's spokesman into a corner with a barrage of questions. The Panthers have to be the diplomats, taming the enthusiastic "bunch of leaping, prancing, palsied happy-slobber Saint Bernards."

A funny as this role-reversal is a few right-wing Jews pulled off a more serious and shrill direct action on Jesse Jackson last week during Jackson's official announcement of his candidacy for the Democratic Presidential nomination. The Jews, reported to be members of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), protested Jackson's meetings with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leaders by shouting "Anti-Semitism" during the event. Fortunately, police quickly whisked the protestors away; the crowd began chanting "Run Jesse Run."

Yet the disruption remains a sign to many of the deterioration of the once strong Jewish-Black alliance. Jews are upset by the positions of many Black leaders on the Palestinian question--Jackson himself met with YassirArafat in 1979 and spoke out for the Palestinian's need for a homeland. Some Jews think that these Black leaders lack and necessary qualifications and experience to enter the debate on the Middle East: Blacks resent these attempts to limit their views. Conservative Jews oppose quotas in affirmative action programs, a stance which angers many Blacks as well.

Some observers see this split in the context of a growing conservatism among Jews; after all. 34 percent of the Jewish vote went to Ronald Reagan in 1980. Sol Stern, writing in the Village Voice, shows the inaccuracy of this kind of thinking; not only are Jews still voting heavily for Democratic candidates and liberal positions, but polls reveal they also vote for Black candidates more often than do any other white groups. Tom Bradley in California got 42 percent of the white vote, but 75 percent of the Jewish vote. In the Democratic mayoral primary in Philadelphia. Wilson Goods got 50 percent of the Jewish vote and only 23 percent of the overall white vote. And in Chicago, where a Jew was running against a Black. Jews voted 35 percent for Harold Washington, while whites gave him only 18 percent of their vote overall. (If Jews had voted for Epton, "one of their own," with the frequency that Blacks voted for Washington. Washington would have lost.)

In this light. Black leaders should be advised against taking too seriously the fanatics who disrupted Jackson's announcement. Jackson apparently agrees; he was quoted in the New York Times saying that now was a time for healing and "this kind of complication ought to be avoided."

Though most Jewish leaders would not support the disruptive tactics of the JDL, many Jews are too squeamish about Israel to consider working with many Black groups. Most of the major Jewish groups pulled out of the March on Washington last August because of the participation of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic organizations. If they had not ultimately participated in the March, there would have been a deep break in Jewish-Black relations, especially since Jews were among the strongest supporters of the original March.

The Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) stayed in the March coalition and worked to keep the visibility of anti-Israel sentiment to a minimum. At the same time, it helped bring B'nai B'rith and the American Jewish Congress around to endorsing the March. This is the correct position for Jewish groups: to work within left-wing coalitions, influencing and convincing others. By isolating themselves in a hyper-critical stance. Jews can only bring upon themselves the image of a self-interested and single-issue pressure group. By working on the inside, the UAHC prevented the March from being both a national display of anti-Israeli propaganda and a statement by Jews that they were no longer in the Civil rights coalition.

While Jackson was declaring himself a "voice to the voiceless, representation to the unrepresented and hope to the downtrodden," right-wing Jews engaged in mud-slinging. These "Jews Against Jackson"--a JDL term--are working against the best interests of Jews and Israel. Moreover, they should not be allowed to obscure the still broad Jewish support for civil rights.