Coretta Scott King told more than 1,000 people at Sinai Temple this week that the relationship between Jews and blacks has been strained by recent events: notably, Jesse Jackson’s anti-Semitic remarks during his first presidential campaign and disagreement over Israel’s stance in its bloody territorial conflict with Palestinians.
But King, widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., called for blacks and Jews to reunite, despite their disagreements, and fight to end racism and anti-Semitism.
“Undeniably there have been tensions between us,” King told the predominantly Jewish audience, “but there has always been more cooperation and friendship than animosity. We need to start healing the strains in our relationship.”
John Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, and Edward Sanders, chairman of the Southern California Region of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, also spoke to the group.
Some of the problems they cited included disagreements between blacks and Jews over affirmative action and Israel’s conflict with Palestinians.
Mack said the Jewish community has generally viewed affirmative action as an unfair quota system that has locked many of their people out of jobs or educational institutions. Blacks, however, see such hiring goals as insurance that they will be included, he said.
King also encouraged the Jewish community to press Israel to negotiate with Palestinians for a “peaceful and equitable” solution to their conflict, including a homeland for the Palestinian people.
“Surely if you believe in a place for yourselves, you must believe in a place for others,” she said, to mild applause.
Before ending her speech, King said that despite disagreements between the black and Jewish communities, “We must agree to disagree as brothers and sisters. Disagreement need not mean separation or polarization.”
She said that since World War II, when black soldiers died to defeat Hitler, and the Civil Rights era, when Jews died supporting the black cause, the two communities have shared a covenant for justice.
Parents must strengthen that covenant by educating young blacks and Jews about those struggles, she said.
Earlier that day, King spoke to 500 high school students at the University of Judaism in Bel-Air, urging them to become “lifelong activists for peace and justice.”
Mack echoed King’s call for education. “After you cut through all the problems between blacks and Jews,” he said, “the challenge facing all of us is the challenge in making sure our younger generation learns about and understands the mutual destiny for which we have fought. Our kids don’t know about it and often don’t care about it. They’re too busy trying to be yuppies and buppies.”
Afterward, audience members at both locations said King did not really address the controversial issues. They said they had hoped that she would lash out against black leaders like Jackson and Louis Farrakhan, a Muslim whose speeches carry a blatant anti-white message.
“I think most people were disappointed that (King) glossed over the issues that are really on our minds,” said a temple employee, who asked not to be identified. “She went through a lot of the old struggles of the Civil Rights era, but she never came to terms with today’s problems, like Jesse Jackson’s remarks. I guess she can’t go against her own people even if they’re wrong.”
“I think it is intolerable for no one to speak out against a man like (Farrakhan) who invites violence and hatred,” said a businessman who attended the speech and declined to be identified. “If a black were slurred by a Jew, I’d hope that respected Jewish leaders would condemn that behavior, and I think that’s what the Jewish community is looking for from respected black leaders.”
Bonnie Baness, 30, of Beverly Hills, said: “It was an honor for me to hear Coretta speak. She is truly a legend. But I think her comments were a little too polite.”