In 1909, several American Jews joined with W.E.B. Du Bois and other black leaders to establish the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and from 1929 until 1975 the group was led by a succession of Jewish presidents. Jewish participation in the civil-rights movement is a widely known story. And this relationship worked in both directions: such outstanding African American figures as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bayard Rustin never minced words in expressing their admiration for the Jewish people and the Jewish state. Sadly, the generation that replaced them was dominated by such anti-Semites as Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Leonard Jeffries, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton—not to mention Louis Farrakhan. The subsequent generation of leaders appears by and large no better. Joshua Muravchik observes:
What accounts for the frequency—and unashamed boldness—of these expressions, or the comparatively greater currency of anti-Semitism among black Americans? (When the ADL surveyed such attitudes in 2016, it found that 23 percent of black respondents harbored anti-Semitic attitudes—low, but more than twice the percentage among whites.) The question is not a new one. James Baldwin wrote a piece in 1967 titled “Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They’re Anti-White,” which appears to explain nothing. But on second thought, perhaps there is something to this. Whites are so numerous and powerful that rage against them draws little blood, but a small subgroup can be treated as a stand-in for the whole—one that is gratifyingly easier to wound, which Jews certainly are.
But can the defunct black-Jewish alliance be revived? As Muravchik notes, both groups share a common enemy in the alt-right. And blacks and Jews are two of the most reliably Democratic demographic groups in the U.S. But to restore better relations, African American leaders may have to take the first steps:
There are two key areas in which Jews must look to black leaders for support. One is in denouncing anti-Semitism, especially when voiced by prominent black figures such as Farrakhan. Sometimes, black leaders have complained about Jewish pressure to condemn black anti-Semites. But if a Jewish leader made an openly disparaging comment about black people, Jewish organizations and opinion leaders would rush to castigate the offender before anyone could ask them to do so. To Jewish ears, unprompted rebukes of anti-Semitism like those of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have been welcomed like water in the desert.
The second area is Israel. . . . Black members of Congress could easily be in the fore of legislative support for the Jewish state.
Yet, Muravchik argues. there is another factor with the potential to drive the two groups apart, namely the new “woke” ideologies and their redefinition of “antiracism,” which often involves an assault on American and its ideals:
The creed of American Jewry includes great love of America. If, as the [New York Times’s much vaunted and historically illiterate] 1619 Project implies, the creed of black America is to see this country as rooted in evil, then the gap between the two groups will yawn wider than ever before.