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August 05, 1988 - Image 32

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-08-05

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Democratic Convention Signals
Future Problems For Jews

JAMES DAVID BESSER

Washington Correspondent

S

everal images from the
recent Democratic con-
vention are hard to
shake: the lusty boos that
greeted Rep. Chuck
Schumer's spirited defense of
Israel; the debate over
policies towards Israel that
had seemed like basic tenets
of the foreign policy process;
and the rousing reception for
a black minister who, in the
recent past, trampled on
Jewish sensitivities.
Indeed, among some Jewish
activists in Washington, the
convention in Atlanta
generated an almost apoca-
lyptic sense of shifting
political currents.
Jewish voters in general are
reassessing their options in
November — though few po-
litical analysts predict a
wholesale defection of Jews to
the GOP side, especially in
view of George Bush's luke-
warm ties to the Jewish
community.
More significantly, many
Jewish activists are begin-
ning to reevaluate an ap-
proach to ethnic politics that,
some say, has become
dangerously complacent and
self-satisfied.
But the feeling of panic that
gripped many Jewish ac-
tivists transcends the events
in Atlanta. The remarkable
ascendance of Jesse Jackson
is only a small part of a far
broader picture that has not
yet come into clear focus. In
reality, these disconcerting
shifts are the result of "a very
volatile mix," according to
one official with a major
Jewish organization in
Washington. "There is a
whole array of forces at work
here, the combination of
which presents us with some
very serious challenges. How
well we deal with those
challenges will determine the
way Jewish political power is
manifested in the next few
years?'
Jesse Jackson, and the
political awakening of a
frustrated black electorate,
are among those forces.
Another is the subtle but
ongoing reaction to the
disorders in Israel — a trend
many see as a very gradual
re-assessment on the part of
the American public and its
leaders of some of the
assumptions underlying U.S.
support for Israel.
Suddenly, according to
longtime Jewish activists like
David Harris of the American

Jewish Committee, it is
within the realm of "accept-
able" behavior for politicians
to openly challenge Israel's
actions. Suddenly, advocacy of
the Palestinian cause has
knocked at the doors of the
political mainstream.
Some polls — though the
data is far from conclusive —
suggest an alarming and
rapid erosion of support for
Israel.

Semitism mostly banished
from American society?
Nobody knows for sure. But
the growing body of evidence
sets alarm bells jangling.
Pro-Israel activists in
Washington report that sur-
prising hints of anti-Semitism
have surfaced in recent
debates over arms sales to
Arab countries. "What we're
suddenly hearing — from
some senators and their staffs
— is 'Jews are taking away
American jobs,' when we op-
pose arms sales," said one lob-
byist fighting the current pro-
posal to sell arms to Kuwait.
"This type of argument is
coming to the surface in a
way unprecedented in my
years in Washington."

COMMENT

Jesse Jackson:
Signpost of change.

Another factor, more dif-
ficult to assess, involves some
fundamental changes in the
fabric of American society in
the past eight years.
The disparity between the
rich and the poor has in-
creased at an unprecedented
rate since 1980. The middle
class in most parts of the
country perceives itself as
under attack by uncontrol-
lable forces. Economic
statistics support this percep-
tion, to degrees that are cer-
tain to be debated vigorously
in the upcoming election. It is
clear that the "Reagan
recovery" has distributed its
favors very unequally.
Growing segments of the
nation view the future in
almost apocalyptic terms.
Downward mobility is a very
real phenomenon to many
families in the 'nation's
heartland.
Such conditions are fertile
ground for the kind of scape-
goating that gets turned into
anti-Semitism. Recent out-
bursts of Jew baiting —
among gangs in Los Angeles,
blacks in Chicago, farmers in
Minnesota — are part and
parcel of the diffuse sense of
concern mounting within the
organized Jewish community.
Are these incidents har-
bingers of a renewed tenden-
cy to blame Jews for every-
thing from bad art to bad
drought? Or are they isolated
recurrences of an anti-

On one level, Jewish dis-
trust of Jesse Jackson is the
obvious result of the anti-
Semitism of some people in
the Jackson camp, and of
Jackson's vocal support for
the Palestinian cause. Jack-
son's surprising entry into the
political mainstream has
given other groups political
respectability, including
Arab-American organizations
— which pose a direct
challenge to the heart of the
Jewish agenda.
But more important, in the
eyes of many, may be Jack-
son's role as a symbol of a new
era of fierce minoritygroup
competition for influence —
and, perhaps, for dwindling
resources.
More disconcerting still is
the fact that this new com-
petition may be shaping up at
the very moment when a
variety of other ethnic groups
are learning political lessons
that Jews learned several
decades ago.
Jesse Jackson's candidacy
proved that other minorites
can forge successful alliances
— and that the Jewish com-
munity, by a combination of
its early hostility to Jackson
and its own Complacency
about grass-roots organiza-
tion, may be excluded from
the new power blocks that
emerge.
But the Democratic conven-
tion, and the painful re-
assessments that continue in
its wake, are signs that
change is indeed the order of
the day. Jesse Jackson, far
from being the root cause of
these disconcerting changes,
is just one more signpost
along the way.

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