Saturday, October 29, 2005

Blacks and Jews: From Afro-Zionism (??) to Anti-Zionism

Once again, we see that issues surrounding Black-Jewish relationships get filtered thru Zionist eyes and minds. UCLA English prof, ERIC J. SUNDQUIST, writes an ahistorical hodgepodge of an essay (excerpted below from his new Harvard University Press book: "Strangers in the Land: Blacks, Jews, Post-Holocaust America"). There are many things that are fundamentally wrong or deliberately distorted within this essay that I would like to address in full. But that's for another time and place rooted in the physical world of struggle and debate, rather than this cyberworld of virtual struggle and debate "Matrixlike." I look forward to those others who will join in on this discussion to hammer home points that I have missed or glossed over in this brief note.

But let me just say that (not necessary in order of importance):

(1) SUNDQUIST is ahistorical when it comes to Black-Jewish relations.

First and foremost, the first Jews were Africans of Khemit (Eygyptian/Sudanese/Ethipoian/Somalian descent in today's modern Northwest African people-sense). Judaism was embraced by Europeans, Asians and Africans since its creation as an organized religion. It has been nurtured over 2 thousand years NOT just in Europe, but in Northwest Africa, Asia, the Middle East and within the Western Hemisphere. Hence, at its roots, Judaism is a multicultural/multinational form of organized religion. However, its European variation became dominant BECAUSE Europe on a whole become dominant as capitalism evolved there as the most powerful military, economic and social force in the world post 1492.

Secondly, Eurpoean Jewry had a significant role to play within the very foundations of capitalist development: slavery and the slave trade. Hence, the root of the tension between Blacks and Jews. I refer SUNDQUIST and others to four books that will help shed lite on this indisputable reality:

(a) Lopez of Newport- Stanley F. Chyet, Wayne State University Press. 1970 (b) Jews, Slaves and the Slave Trade- Eli Faber, NYU Press. 1998 (c) Jews and the American Slave Trade- Saul S. Friedman, Transaction Publishers. 1998 (d) Jews and Blacks in the Early Modern World- Jonathan Schorsch. 2005

Of course, there are many other books that one can refer to. And, of course, there are Black writers on this subject that have spanned the centuries. But to minimize the attempt to dismiss out of hand the harsh realities of European Judaism's white supremacist and capitalist notions and policies, I suggest we look at what these four white scholars of Jewish descent have to say about the history of Black-Jewish relationships and Jewish involvement in the enslavement of African peoples. The last book, "Jews and Blacks in the Early Modern World" is-to date- the most definitive work in English of Jews views and behavior towards African people thruout the history of modern Slavery and the Slave Trade that gave rise to Capitalism. It is a must-read for those of us who seek the evidence that European Jewry -for the most part- assimilated into the evolution of "white supremacy" even tho they were being persecuted as a group by these very same European nations. The African for the Jew -as with all others in Europe regardless of class- became that lowly negative nonhuman base you could never become because of your "whiteness." Because of your "whiteness" (implicity before the 20th Century and explicitly during the 20th Century to the present) you were -at least better off than any Black person on the planet... even if they were wealthier and more educated than you were!)

(2) SUNDQUIST has this tendency, like so many of his liberal colleagues, to equate the plight, oppression and superexploitation of African peoples with that of the plight and persecution of European Jews. That somehow our oppressions are both interchangable and equal in time spent "on the cross." One thing- among many -that distinguishes us Blackfolk from European Jews is the fact that our mothers' wombs -by law- automatically produced capital (even if the child was the master's, it was first and foremost capital destined to appreciate in value and destined to produce capital). That alone distinguishes our horrendous exploitation and oppression from any other people on Earth. But, laws upon laws were heaped upon us to try to reinforce the myth of our subhumanness... and we could not hide from these realities by changing our name or practicing our religion on the down low.

(3) SUNDQUIST talks about "...the decay of bipartisan liberalism into black radicalism...." Black Radicalism is not a degenrate form of struggle! It is the highest moral and political form that our struggle for freedom can take. We know that from the Stono Rebellion, Gabriel Prosser, Dessalines & Toussaint L'Ouveture, Denmark Vesey, David Walker, Mariah Stewart, Harriet Tubman, Henry Highland Garnet, Antonio Maceo, Martin Delany, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Edward Wilmot Blyden and thousands of other Africans of the 15th to 19th centuries who were proud of their radicalism... their relentless fight for freedom and power thruout the Americas. Because I am a 21st Century Black Radical, I am not a "decayed" being. I am a continuator of a powerful nation-changing tradition of high moral and political certainty.

There was always this tension between Jewish liberalism and Black radicalism or Black self-determinationism... especially in the US beginning in the 20th Century when Jewish petty-borugeois intellectuals began to try to influence and direct Blacks' struggle for justice and democracy in the US. In other words, the Jewish liberal joined a multigenerational Black Freedom Movement that had defined its Black leadership in battle. But there was little respect for this leadership... or for the multicentury history of mass actions by ordinary Blackfolk. No. the 20th century Jewish liberal came to these Black struggles as LEADERS and bearers of the KNOWLEDGE with how to becaome part of the American dream (that wasn't the nightmare).

(4) SUNDQUIST uses our great elder novelist John A. Williams ("Sons of Darkness, Sons of Light") as sort of a counterpoint to the amorphous antisemitic/antizionist Black Radical Ranter (a mixed bag of mixed eras, mixed ideologies and out-of-context quotes whose veracity rely on our historical ignorance).

Let me tell you a little thing about what happened to John A. Williams when he tried to get his last novel- "Clifford Blues"(Coffee House Press) published. His own contracted publisher refused to publish it along with some 50 other publishers. Why? Becuase he dared to write a novel about the plight of a Black man caught in the Nazi web of concentration camps during WWII. He dared to write about the thousands of Black people who were also caught up in this web of horror, degradation, humiliation and mass murder. He dared to write about what happens to peoples' morals and humanity when they are pushed into this cauldron of degradation. Not just the degraded, but also the degrader. He dared to write about homosexuality and its twisted fate within the Nazi Concentration Camp Experience. He dared to expose the myth that just Jews suffered in those Nazi Camps of Death and Humiliation.

Brother John A. Williams finally got his novel publish by a small midWedstern "arthouse" called Coffee Table Press. And because of the strife he experienced and the blocking and denial by the major publishers he added a bibliography that backs up his basic premise: Nazi concentration camps also interred people of African descent.

(5) SUNDQUIST does not and will not acknowledge the fact that Israel is a surragate cop for US/western Imperialism. He does not and will not talk about the development of Israeli apartheid that has led to Nazi-like systematic killings of Palestinian leaders and anyone else around them; the bulldozing of homes and neighborhoods; the walling in of Palestinians; the labelling of every resisting Palestinian as terrorist and ally of Bin Laden; the conscious economic destabilization of the Palestinian economy; the deliberate creation of a myriad of ecological disasters thruout Palestinian communities and cities. SUNDQUIST does not and will not talk about the overt military and economic collaboration between apartheid South Africa and Israel. A collaboration that not only helped sustain a faltering Apartheid regime, but also aided -via its intelligence network and technology- in Apartheid's attempt to kill the South African Liberation Movement. These are some of the things that have directly factored into more and more Blackfolk in the US becoming strongly antiZionist.

But SUNDQUIST tries to cover all this up by equating some antijewish statements made here and there by a few pseudo Black militants with genuine Black radical anti-Zionist assertions. And in this country of lite thought, he is relying on the fact that many "intellectuals" even cannot distinguish between an antiZionist statement and an anti-Jewish one. In addition, SUNDQUIST is also relying on the myth that Black Radicals are mere ranters and ravers and have not one analytical bone in their body.

(6) American Liberalism died with the election of Bill Clinton and was buried with the election of Bush. Blackfolk are far from being necrophiliacs. We seek the rejuvenation of Progressivism and Radicalism as two parts of a multipart Battle against this new Fascism on the rise. "Liberal" Zionism is still racism even tho it may be sugar coated with "good intentions," and a selfcentered mythological view of Black-Jewish relations in the US.

Our "common ground" is the revolutionary ground.

S. E. Anderson

Here's the essay...

From the issue dated October 21, 2005 Blacks and Jews: From Afro-Zionism to Anti-Zionism


In a culture steeped in ethnic friction and contested identities, the idea that the relationship between African-Americans and Jews was once thought special — indeed, critical to the cause of civil rights — seems strange. By the 1990s the belief of earlier Jewish and black leaders that they were each other's strongest allies had long since bred charges of exploitation and betrayal. Animosity between the two groups had become so normal that it was hardly a surprise when the Nation of Islam charged that Jews bore special responsibility for slavery.

Yet the importance of black people for Jews and Jews for black people when both were "strangers" in the Promised Land of America is a matter of voluminous, if perplexing, record. Occupying the shifting margins of national life, Jews and black people shared perspectives on the rewards and dangers of assimilation, the vicissitudes of intermarriage and "passing," and the meaning of citizenship in the face of discrimination and racist violence. Immigrant and native Jews alike found in black people a reminder of their centuries-long persecution, while Africans in America, beginning with their immersion in the Christianity of slaveholders and continuing through the modern civil-rights movement, were shaped by a profound identification with the Jews' biblical narrative. As Ralph Ellison once remarked, "All of us old-fashioned Negroes are Jews."

The alliance between the two groups reached its peak in the aftermath of World War II, but almost immediately began to dissolve, as Jews, with the downfall of educational quotas and other anti-Semitic restrictions, embarked on a rapid ascent of the social and economic ladder, while African-Americans, however much their lives were improved by the end of segregation, began an ascent destined to be far slower and more erratic.

When demoralizing setbacks made African-Americans skeptical of integrationist strategies and aroused them to the color consciousness championed by black power, many moved toward a greater sense of identity, as well as legal entitlement, predicated on race. When Jews moved in the opposite direction, black people perceived them to be abandoning historic commitments to social justice while reaping the rewards of their assimilation to "whiteness." Black people wondered how Jews could feel insecure in America, while Jews wondered how black people could be oblivious to anti-Semitism, let alone indulge in it themselves. In the eyes of black people, the Jewish columnist Nat Hentoff remarked in 1969, Jews were included among the goyim in America; the only question was who "among us are the Germans."

This relatively familiar story of the decay of bipartisan liberalism into black radicalism, on the one hand, and Jewish conservatism, on the other, is not incorrect. But it tells just part of the story. A critical, but less well-understood, cause of the breakup may be found in conjoined events — the Holocaust and the creation of Israel — that might have been expected to strengthen the alliance. Ultimately, they did just the reverse.

Hentoff's alarming formulation — that black Americans might perceive American Jews as Nazis — recognized that the calamity of the Holocaust contained the seeds of resentment: African-Americans feared that their suffering would be diminished by comparison to that of the Jews. Yet it also provided a new way for African-Americans to understand their own history. With the invention of the term "genocide," and its inscription into the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948, the depredations of slavery and lynching, as well as America's own Nuremberg Laws of segregation, began to be seen in a different light, so that Holocaust eventually displaced Exodus as a principal organizing metaphor of black thought.

But 1948 also witnessed the founding of Israel. Just as the new Jewish state altered the identity of American Jews, so it changed black-Jewish relations — providing a concrete referent for the many strands of Afro-Zionism that saw Africa as the homeland of all black peoples, whether the Ethiopianism of Edward W. Blyden, the black Zionism of Marcus Garvey, or claims by the Rastafarians and others to be true descendants of the ancient Israelites. Upon visiting Israel in the early 1950s, the renowned singer Marian Anderson found herself witness to "an act of liberation" that she said also illuminated the "deepest necessities" of black freedom, while the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People proclaimed in 1948 that Israeli independence "serves as an inspiration to all persecuted people throughout the world."

In an opinion no doubt shocking to later anti-Zionists, that same year W.E.B. Du Bois embraced Israel as an example of progressivist liberation from colonial rule, pointing to what Jewish immigrants to Palestine had already accomplished in "bringing a new civilization into an old land" and raising it out of the "ignorance, disease, and poverty into which it had fallen." As late as 1969, the black writer and actor Ossie Davis, speaking in tribute to the prominent Zionist Avraham Schenker, asked his audience to remember that "we, too, seek our Jerusalem."

Yet even if black Americans had the same intensity of identification with a lost homeland as did Jews with Israel, their isolation from Africa, let alone from a single nation brought into existence by United Nations mandate, left them in a far more nebulous position than Jews either before or after 1948. By the end of the 1960s, moreover, Davis's voice was drowned out by those expressing a far more antagonistic view of Israel — and of Jews — as the long tradition of black support for Zionism gave way to expressions of anti-Zionism, presaging more vocal and widespread responses today.

Following the Six-Day War in 1967, and the onset of what proved to be Israel's protracted occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, its example as a national homeland and its role as a model of anticolonial liberation, which had made it a prominent partner to black African nations throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, were turned upside down. For many African-Americans, galvanized by anticolonial struggles in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, the image of the Jewish state underwent a transformation: As Pierre Vidal-Naquet, the French historian who has eloquently responded to Holocaust deniers, would observe in 1987, the "victims" became the "executioners."

"We have got to be for the Arabs," exclaimed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leader Stokely Carmichael in 1968, for "we are Africans wherever we are." Israel, he said, "is moving to take over Egypt. Egypt is our motherland — it's in Africa. ... Egypt belongs to us since 4,000 years ago."

The Israelis, by that line of argument, were enemies of the third world, puppets of American power; the Arabs, as the black writer Richard Gibson claimed in 1967, were among the standard-bearers for "a world of color that fights for its liberation from Mozambique to Mississippi." Brotherhood with the Palestinians and identification with Egypt — in a political variation on the Afrocentric metonymy wherein the land of the pharaohs is taken for the whole of Africa — provided a psychological bridge to African wars of liberation and a symbolic recovery of a homeland otherwise unachievable.

Although evidence of black rejection of Israel dated to creation of the state — for example, in the journalist George Schuyler's scalding opinion that the Israeli War of Independence proved that the Bible is the "Jewish Mein Kampf" — the disintegration of black support for Zionism in the wake of the Six-Day War led, in extremity, not just to identification with the jihad of Arab nations but to an exterminationist mentality. The writer Amiri Baraka thus gave Malcolm X's vision of sovereignty for black urban enclaves a grotesque twist: "In order for the Black Man to survive," said Baraka in 1965, he must take steps to ensure that he has "what the Germans call Lebensraum."

A politically effective coalition between African-Americans and Jews might have continued so long as Jews believed that such rancorous views were part of the rhetorical war for third-world liberation. As Baraka's calculated figure of speech suggests, however, the rise of black anti-Zionism grew from black power's allegiance both to anti-Western revolutionary movements and to a domestic agenda in which the "black" homelands of Egypt and Palestine were deemed to be one with the "occupied" ghettos of the United States. Enemies abroad thus merged with enemies at home.

Jews, said Malcolm X in an interview, updating the anti-Semitic stereotype of the gouging Jewish merchant, "sap the very lifeblood of the so-called Negroes to maintain the state of Israel." Despite suffering genocide in Europe, contended the Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, standing alongside Yasir Arafat at a 1968 Al Fatah rally in Algeria, the Israelis are "trying to solve their problems at the expense of another people. The same thing happened ... to the Black people in America."

Along with conflict over racial preferences and black appropriations of the Holocaust, such a blurring of the distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism estranged not just Jewish conservatives and moderates but also those among the Jewish New Left who otherwise welcomed the radicalism and ethnocentrism of Black Power. The call for an end to the Jewish state, reasoned the young activist M.J. Rosenberg, admitted of no negotiation: "There is no such thing as 'progressive' anti-Semitism," he said.

At the same time, many of those African-Americans who now read the modern Exodus of Jews as a story of colonial conquest continued to find in Zionism a compelling example of national liberation. As a "nation within a nation," whose integrity is guaranteed by the survival of Israel, American Jews know that "they have to fight 365 days a year wherever they are in the world, to remain Jews and to keep Israel as a Jewish homeland," the poet Haki R. Madhubuti argued in 1973. Seeking a model for the Black Panthers' combination of armed struggle and community service, Cleaver himself cast back to the time of Theodor Herzl and the beginnings of modern Zionism, when Jews "had no homeland and were dispersed around the world." The Panthers, he argued, could likewise foment a revolution that will "sweep the people forward into nationhood."

Such paradoxical entanglements of black Zionism with black anti-Zionism are nowhere more vivid than in John A. Williams's 1969 novel, Sons of Darkness, Sons of Light, which hypothesizes a coming race war in the United States. Williams was dismissive of his novel, and not entirely without reason. The plot is contrived and the action sensational, but his anatomy of pro- and anti-Zionist ideologies is nuanced, astute, and more than a little prophetic.

The book's subtitle is A Novel of Some Probability, and the story is set prospectively in 1973. The action revolves around two characters: Eugene Browning, a middle-class black intellectual radicalized by the failure of the civil-rights mainstream, and Itzhak Hod, an Israeli who had served with the paramilitary Irgun during the War of Independence, before becoming a Nazi hunter and mercenary. Driven to despair following the killing of a black youth by a white policeman, Browning hires the Mafia to kill the policeman. The Mafia in turn contracts with Hod, who carries out the assassination, setting in motion a race war between the black community and the police.

Taking up the cause of black rights at just the moment the novel's American Jews appear to be retreating from it, Hod then sets out on his own to kill Herman Mahler, a celebrated Southern white supremacist responsible for the murder of three black college students. Hod's action proves pivotal in the novel's exposition of contending views of Zionism.

Williams took his title from a Dead Sea apocalyptic text known as The Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness, which depicts a war waged by the tribes of Israel against their enemies. In quoting from the War Scroll in an epigraph to his novel, Williams ignores its prediction that God will intervene on the side of the Sons of Light. He thus secularizes his first frame of reference, the 1948 War of Independence, as though to confirm that the Jews' restoration to their lost homeland was a political, not a messianic, event.

Given the novel's publication in 1969, and its action set in 1973, however, its second frame of reference is the Six-Day War, one of whose official names proposed by the Israelis was the "War of the Sons of Light." In writing about a black nationalist uprising in such a context, Williams might well have been expected to adopt an anti-Zionist perspective. But his treatment proves to be far from predictable.

In Hod's career with the Irgun, our attention is directed first to the analogy between black power and the Zionists' anticolonial war of liberation against British rule in pre-1948 Palestine. It is not the Arab Palestinians, but the Jewish Palestinians, who are equivalent to African-Americans, each oppressed by a colonizer.

At the same time, Williams introduces a contrary analogy. Lying in wait to assassinate Mahler, Hod is surprised by the brother of one of the murdered black students, who is bent on a mission of vengeance. Recognizing the black man's prior right, Hod allows him to kill Mahler. But he also sees something in himself that complicates the equivalence of black nationalism and Zionism: "Hod looked at the Negro's eyes and understood. Once he himself had stood like the Negro — at Deir Yassin, it was — so intent on slaughtering that nothing else mattered." As a veteran of the April 1948 battle of Deir Yassin, Hod stands for a legendary moment of reckoning in the Israeli national conscience and in the creation of revolutionary consciousness among Palestinian Arabs.

During the civil war preceding independence, Jewish forces had to open a corridor between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, which would otherwise have become isolated within territory allotted to Arab Palestinians in the United Nations' partition of Palestine. Creating that corridor was deemed indispensable in defining the state and protecting the Jews of Jerusalem from Arab armies once independence was declared. Among the villages along the corridor, lying near the northwest entrance to the city, was Deir Yassin.

There were varying views of the degree of force needed to accomplish the mission, just as there are now varying accounts of the tactics that were used and why they went awry. What ensued, in any event, was a difficult house-to-house battle that evolved into what most analyses speak of as a massacre of civilians, though how many, under what conditions, with what justification, and with what, if any, ulterior aim remain matters of intense dispute. Whether or not the action was part of a strategy to bring about the "transfer" of Palestinian Arabs, the battle at Deir Yassin came to be seen by many Arabs, as well as some Israelis, as a principal cause of the momentous outflow of Palestinian Arabs that followed, most of them expecting to return after Arab nations had driven out the Jews or, in later years, once their right to return had been negotiated.

The approximately 700,000 refugees became, as Cairo Radio put it in 1957, "the cornerstone in the Arab struggle against Israel." They also became the Palestinian people, whose ultimate fate would plague the region and the world on into the next century and whose rallying cry would forever be "Deir Yassin." At the height of the post-1967 campaign of terror carried out by the Palestine Liberation Organization, for example, an assault on Ben Gurion Airport took the code name "Operation Deir Yassin." In the words of the Birzeit University scholar Sharif Kanaana, Deir Yassin became "a symbol of everything that happened to Palestinians."

Sons of Darkness, Sons of Light evokes that history in complicated and sometimes paradoxical ways. As Hod's role makes clear, American black nationalists who resort to guerrilla warfare are comparable to the Irgun. But in post-1967 terms, they are also comparable to the Palestinians, despite the fact that the isolation of African-Americans from potential allies in Africa and from the people of the black diaspora puts them at a greater disadvantage in undertaking an armed uprising. In reversing the names of the combatants in his title, and thus foregrounding the tactics of the PLO, Williams also illuminates his epigraph drawn from the War Scroll, part of which reads: "They shall all together sing the hymn of return."

Well before the Six-Day War, a mystique of "the Return" had permeated Palestinian culture, especially in refugee camps. A lost sovereign state of Palestine was pictured as a bride awaiting her betrothed or a mother waiting for her sons to return — but in a violent vanquishing. Calling upon Palestinians to avenge Deir Yassin, Al Fatah's monthly publication, Our Palestine, addressed its readers beginning in the early 1960s as "Children of the Catastrophe," and, more specifically, as "Sons of the Catastrophe," the true sons of light who would liberate the homeland of Palestine from the Zionist infidel and occupier. As Egypt's foreign minister, Muhammad Salah al-Din, put it in 1949: "It is well known and understood that the Arabs, in demanding the return of the refugees to Palestine, mean their return as masters of the Homeland, and not as slaves. With greater clarity, they mean the liquidation of Israel."

Having emerged from the second catastrophe of the Six-Day War as not just the Palestinians' only hope but also, for the moment, the Arab nations' only weapon of war, Al Fatah and the PLO, which had effectively become one by 1969 — the year Arafat was elected chairman of the PLO and the year Williams's novel appeared — became the embodiment of nascent Palestinian nationalism and, with it, the radical anti-Zionism that persists today.

As Williams sees it, the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness, the Israelis and the Arabs — or is it the other way around? — stood in a potentially irresolvable mirroring relationship from the moment of partition, if not from time immemorial. Is the "hymn of return" meant to allude to the return of victorious Jews to Eretz Yisrael after 2,000 years of exile? Or is it the triumphant return of displaced Palestinians in some history still to be written?

In Deir Yassin lay the paradox of statehood, as well as the paradox of the anti-Zionism espoused by black power — approbation of the Jews' right to a homeland, their right to exist, alongside disapprobation of the Jews' right to defend their homeland against enemies who refuse to recognize their right to exist.

In returning to Israel at the end of the novel, Hod seeks a way out of that quandary. "To consider Israel fairly," he ruminates, "you had to consider the Arabs and if you considered them fairly, would you then have an Israel? They stood in such great, great numbers, overwhelming numbers, at the gates of the nation." Hod is referring not just to the military threat posed by hostile Arab nations, but also to the demographic threat embodied in the Palestinian argument for the right of return, inscribed in the PLO's Covenant as a way to eliminate Israel by rolling back its borders and absorbing it in a Greater Palestine.

The War Scroll prophesies the victory of the Sons of Light, but victory in the Six-Day War, however much it strengthened Israel, not only failed to eliminate external threats but, in some respects, created a more dangerous one. In Hod's valor and clarity of purpose in 1948, upon which rested nothing less than the security and survival of Israel, Williams appears to say, one finds also the beginnings of a dilemma not solved in 1967 — indeed, made all the more intractable.

In leaving the outcome of his novel's race war inconclusive, Williams also leaves an ideological and epistemological puzzle. American black nationalists are neither the Irgun nor the PLO; they are not about to achieve their own state, let alone drive white America into the sea. Likewise the assertion that the Palestinians are victims of colonial rule, nearly a truism on the left today, was far more ambiguous in Williams's time. If the reading of history that found in Zionism a model for anticolonial liberation proved to be simplistic, it was no less so than Black Power's counterreading of Zionism as colonialism.

Pinpointing events that would define the tragic course of Israeli-Palestinian relations for decades to come, Williams also crystalized a key factor in the collapse of the once vital, if always precarious, coalition of African-Americans and American Jews. That the recovered homeland of Jews was and remains a strong ally of the United States, while African-Americans can point to no such "black Zion" of their own, has only made the collapse more poignant.

By the late 20th century, amid acrimonious charges and countercharges about black anti-Semitism and Jewish racism, a few Jewish and African-American compatriots still maintained strong convictions of brotherhood, but the time seemed to have come and gone when the two groups had obvious reasons to join hands. Mindful of "our respective exiles," said the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel in a 1987 birthday tribute to the black civil-rights activist Bayard Rustin, African-Americans and Jews must each cultivate their own traditions and "create their own community, their own fraternity."

Whatever its future, the black-Jewish question is no less central today than it was throughout the 20th century. At times a true alliance, at times a marriage of convenience, and more recently a bitter quarrel, the relationship between the two groups reset the course of American liberalism — its promise of belonging to the nation, as well as the seeming demise of the idea of one nation to which all could belong. The history of their association still holds important lessons for Americans ever in search of common ground. --------------------

Eric J. Sundquist is a professor of English at the University of California at Los Angeles. This essay is adapted from Strangers in the Land: Blacks, Jews, Post-Holocaust America, to be published next month by Harvard University Press. Copyright © by the president and fellows of Harvard College. ------------------
Section: The Chronicle Review Volume 52, Issue 9, Page B6
Copyright © 2005 by The Chronicle of Higher Education