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May 01, 2008 - Image 24

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2008-05-01

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Ask the



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Jennifer Babby





Obama's retired pastor plays to his Jewish ties in speeches.

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chapter of the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People and
a speech Monday at the National Press
Club in Washington.

he Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr.
sounded some conciliatory notes
toward Jews and Israel in his
media blitz this week, but a closer analy-
sis suggests he still has a long way to go.
In a series of speeches otherwise
notable for their defi-
ant tone against his
real and perceived
enemies, the Rev.
Jeremiah Wright Jr.
sounded some con-
ciliatory notes toward
Jews and Israel, casting
them as fellow strug-
Rev. Wright
glers against inequity
and for peace.
But an outburst in
a question-and-answer session and an
analysis of what lies behind his remarks
reveals that the Jewish community may
still have reason to be less than comfort-
able with the former pastor to U.S. Sen.
Barack Obama, D-Ill., who enters the
final stretch of his bid to become the
Democratic nominee for president.
Excerpts from Wright's past sermons
highlighting inflammatory passages
in which he suggests that white racism
remains pervasive and U.S. foreign policy
helped bring about terrorist attacks on U.S.
targets have dogged Obama's campaign.
The Wright factor may have con-
tributed to his defeat in the April 22
Pennsylvania primary, where he lost to
U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.,
55 to 45 percent. In the Jewish commu-
nity, where the pastor issue has come up
repeatedly, Obama was beaten 62 percent
to 38 percent, according to exit polls.
The candidate has sought to dis-
tance himself from his former pastor,
calling Wright's rhetoric "offensive
Campaigning Monday ahead of next
week's primaries in North Carolina
and Indiana, Obama again repudiated
the preacher he once said nurtured his
Christian identity. "He does not speak for
me, he does not speak for the campaign:'
In major appearances, Wright con-
fronted what he said were the distortions
in a campaign against him boosted pri-
marily by Republicans but taken up also
by Clinton advocates. The appearances
included a dinner Sunday at the Detroit

Invisible, Invaluable
The most strident of his speeches
came at the press club, where Wright
said what he likes to call the "corporate
media" had ripped his statements from
their context. That context, he said, was
the African-American church that had
remained invisible for too long.
"Maybe now we can begin to take
steps to move the black religious tradi-
tion from the status of invisible to the
status of invaluable, not just for some
black people in this country, but for all
the people in this country;' he said there.
"Also in the session, Wright dealt with
his association with Louis Farrakhan, the
Nation of Islam leader who in lectures
in 1984 said Israel represents a "gutter
religion" and said Jews in general had
corrupted the word of God through "false
Wright said he disagrees with Farrakhan
on some issues but also admires him.
"Louis said 20 years ago that Zionism,
not Judaism, was a gutter religion:' he
said. "And he was talking about the same
thing United Nations resolutions say, the
same thing now that President Carter
is being vilified for and Bishop Tutu is
being vilified for."
The distinction between Zionism and
Judaism will not placate many Jews; nor
will suggestions that the criticism of
comparisons of Israeli policies to apart-
heid is somehow "vilification."
"How many other African Americans
or European Americans do you know
that can get 1 million people together on
the mall?" he said, referring to the 1995
Million Man March that Farrakhan orga-
nized."He is one of the most important
voices in the 20th and 21st century. That's
what I think about him."
Wright's overall emphasis was the
liberation theology that emerged from
the 1960s and 1970s. He often grounded
that theology in the Old Testament texts
Christians share with Jews.
"The prophetic tradition of the black
church has its roots in Isaiah, the 61st
chapter, where God says the prophet is to
preach the gospel to the poor and to set
at liberty those who are held captive',' he
said."Liberating the captives also liber-
ates those who are holding them captive

Jewish Telegraphic Agency


Jews And Blacks

Outlining such captor-captive dichoto-
mies the evening before in Detroit,
Wright placed both Jews and blacks in
the "captive" category, criticizing groups
who saw the "different" as "deficient:"
"In the past, we were taught to see oth-
ers who are different as somehow being
deficient:' he said. "Christians saw Jews as
being deficient. Catholics saw Protestants
as being deficient. Presbyterians saw
Pentecostals as being deficient. Folks who
like to holler in worship saw folk who like
to be quiet as deficient, and vice versa.
Whites saw black as being deficient."
As if to underscore such solidarity, he
started the NAACP speech with a nod to
what he said were his Jewish and Muslim
"I would also like to thank sister
Melanie Maron, the former execu-
tive director of the Chicago chapter
of the American Jewish Committee
and the current executive director of
the Washington, D.C., chapter of the
American Jewish committee," he said. "I
would like to thank my good friend and
Jewish author, Tim Wise, for his support."
Yet such thank-yous could undermine
Wright's efforts at conciliation. Wise is a
Louisiana writer who has written exten-
sively about white racism and tackled
expressions of anti-Semitism on the left.
But he also has repudiated Zionism as
nationalist chauvinism while failing to
address the chauvinism inherent in the
Arab and Islamic movements that deny
Israel's existence.
In 2000, decrying Jewish pride in the
selection of U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman
as the Democratic vice presidential
nominee, Wise in Z Magazine described
Judaism in the United States "as typi-
fied by an 'objects culture' of mezuzahs,
dreidls and stars of David on the one
hand; a popular culture of food, Jewish
comedy and entertainment on the other;
and all of it topped off by a 'problems
culture' preoccupied with Israel and anti-
Semitism: a negative identity based on
real and potential victimhood."
Rabbi Marc Schneier, a co-found-
er of the Foundation for Ethnic
Understanding, said Wright's radical
views were typical of the generation that
fell between the Rev. Martin Luther King
Jr. era and its black-Jewish cooperation
and the current resurgence of coopera-
tion among young blacks and Jews. 7_1

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