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October 20, 2011 - Image 28

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2011-10-20

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EDITORIAL BOARD:
Publisher: Arthur M. Horwitz
Chief Operating Officer: F. Kevin Browett
Contributing Editor: Robert Sklar

>> Send letters to: Ietters®thejewishnews.com

Publisher's Notebook

Bankole Thompson

Editorial

interviews

President Obama

in Grand Rapids.

Why Did Biden
Attack Pollard?

p

Updated Engagement Model
To Drive Black-Jewish Forum

I

n the course of my 25 years

publishing the Detroit Jewish
News, there have been an array
of initiatives and projects intended
to more closely link our African-
American and Jewish communities.
These have run the gamut, from
annual Martin Luther King com-
memorations to volunteers reading
to Detroit Public Schools children,
from collaborations between indi-
vidual churches and synagogues to
mini-missions to Israel.
Virtually all have the
common threads of
being initiated by the
Jewish community and
being framed by the
civil rights struggles of
the 1950s and 1960s and
the 1967 Detroit riot/
uprising.
Over the decades,
as the focus of the
African-American com-
munity has shifted to
other pressing concerns,
including public safety, drugs, male
incarceration, education, employ-
ment and family structure, most
Jewish community organizations
and synagogues continue to initi-
ate and build relationships via the
shared struggle for civil rights.
In essence, we wanted the
African-American community to
continue to view Jews as a caring
subset of "whites" who understood
slavery and discrimination, and
who were hard-wired to repair the
world. Keeping the struggle for
civil rights at the top of our agenda

allowed us to do so even if the
African-American community had
moved on.

Bridge Building
It is this backdrop that now frames
an emerging initiative between the
African-American and Jewish com-
munities. The Black-Jewish Forum,
to be launched next Wednesday, Oct.
26, at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield
Township, has the potential to refo-
cus, renew and strength-
en relations between our
communities — with
the economic, social and
political revitalization of
Detroit and Southeastern
Michigan the common
denominator.
Part of what will make
this forum and followup
unique is it was imag-
ined, conceived and is
being driven by Bankole
Thompson, an influential
and respected voice in
the African-American community.
Thompson, the youthful senior edi-
tor of the Detroit-based Michigan
Chronicle (the state's leading
African-American news media out-
let), recognizes that for Detroit and
the region to rebound, the Jewish
community must reclaim the dis-
proportional role it once played in
providing leadership, ideas, invest-
ment and personal engagement.

Modern Influence
The icons of the civil rights move-
ment inform Bankole's vision for an

updated model of a Black-Jewish
coalition (he often quotes Rabbi
Abraham Joshua Heschel with
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and
Congressman John Lewis in his col-
umns). However, Bankole also sees
a new generation of blacks and Jews
who are neither living in the past
nor personally traumatized by the
1967 riot/uprising.
He sees members of the Jewish
community, such as Dan Gilbert,
passionately driving economic
development in Detroit. He sees
the remarkable handiwork of Ben
Falik, Noam Kimmelman, Miriam
Liebman, Oren Goldenberg and
other Jewish 20-somethings touch-
ing and transforming the lives of
individual Detroiters. He sees the
work of Jewish volunteers, young
and old, committed to fighting pov-
erty and illiteracy. He sees a Jewish
community that needs a more vital
Detroit to retain many of its best
and brightest while attracting new
talent who would find the quality
of life and Jewish life in the region
appealing.
While Bankole is deeply commit-
ted to Detroit and the metropolitan
area, he is a prolific writer and
author who has a national follow-
ing that includes President Barack
Obama (Thompson has written
Obama and Black Loyalty and has
another book to be published in
January of 2012 entitled Obama
and Jewish Loyalty.) His dream is
to develop and refine a new model
of black-Jewish collaboration and
share it with communities across

Continued on page 29

28

October 20 - 2011

resident Obama wants Vice President Joe
Biden to assuage Jewish voters during next
year's re-election campaign. That's hard to
reconcile given Biden saying that if it were up to him,
Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard would stay in jail for
life.
Biden, thanks to his foreign
policy record in the U.S. Senate,
is considered a staunch supporter
of Israel. But he's completely out
of touch if he thinks his strident
stance on the contentious issue of
Pollard's sentencing will resonate
with Jews. His campaign job is to
court Jewish Democrats as well
Jonathan
as the party's core, assuring them
Pollard
the Obama administration is a
loyal friend of Israel.
Many U.S. House representatives, high-ranking
former U.S. government officials as well as a host
of well-respected political and Jewish leaders have
implored Obama to extend clemency to Pollard, a
former civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy
now serving a life sentence for passing classified
information to Israel. Pollard was arrested in 1985
and sentenced two years later. He is the only person
in U.S. history to receive a life sentence for disclos-
ing classified information to an American ally.
"President Obama was considering clemency, but
I told him, 'Over my dead body are we going to let
him out before his time," Biden said in a Sept. 23
meeting with 15 rabbis in Boca Raton, Fla., accord-
ing to the New York Times. The Jewish Week in New
York reported that Biden referred to Pollard as a
"traitor."
Four years ago, according to JTA, Biden, then a
senator from Delaware, reportedly said in a Shalom
TV interview that he favored commutation (not
just a pardon) – which would vacate the conviction
of the serious crime of spying. It's unclear what
changed Biden's mind other than the troubling
notion that he's the fall guy for Obama, who, in this
scenario, is against commutation but doesn't want
to be the frontline opponent. A 2010 U.S. House let-
ter to Obama pointed to the "great disparity from
the standpoint of justice between the amount of
time Mr. Pollard has served and the time served
– or not served at all – by many others who were
found guilty of similar activity on behalf of nations
adversarial to us, unlike Israel."
Unmistakably, time served should be measured
against the established time line for such a convic-
tion. Pollard, now 57, committed a felony, took money
for his illegal actions, was found guilty, expressed
remorse and has paid a fair price – 25 years. The
median sentence for such a crime is two years in
prison; the maximum punishment is now 10 years.
Biden has agreed to meet with a small, hand-
picked group of Jewish leaders to discuss Pollard,
who recently underwent successful kidney surgery.
Meanwhile, if Obama doesn't step up and rebuke
Biden's attack on Pollard, chances are he agrees
with the vice president. I I

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