There is a lot of talk and a lot of fear that the schism between blacks and Jews may widen in the wake of Mideast peace initiatives by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and black leader Jesse Jackson.
But the situation has provided an opportunity that no one seems to have recognized.
And that is that the rift -- which began with the resignation of U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young -- has ripped away the cloak of silence that has blanketed black-Jewish tension in this country for the last 10 years.
Blacks and Jews now have the chance to air their very real differences, which were too often smoothed over in the past.
Until the events of recent weeks, they were most visible in the DeFunis , Bakke and Weber cases, in which white males sought to have affirmative action programs in higher education and employment overturned because, they said, the programs had discriminated against them in favor of blacks.
Powerful Jewish organizations opposed black interests in those cases. Jews -- particularly those on university faculties -- have been concerned that affirmative action programs for blacks would set them back.
Blacks, for their part, charged that the term "quota", which had meant the exclusion of Jews, now was being used by Jews in opposing attempts to promote blacks.
Now, the trips of American blacks to Arab nations and their call for some recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization have brought the dissension to center stage again.
There is considerable risk in this new dialogue because of the volatility of the Mideast and the emotionalism of the subject.
It is important that the discussion stick solely to the issues and avoid any hints of racism or of anti-Semitism. In that regard, some black leaders have not been careful. Jesse Jackson himself fell into this trap when he spoke of his concern about the role of "Jewish" merchants in black ghettoes." Such stereotypes are a throwback to the "kike" and "boy" period and should be avoided.
A statement of cooperation issued Thursday by the Human Rights Forum, a coalition of Washington area civic, religious, civil rights and human relations groups, moves in the right direction. It said:
"We sense there is a problem in human relations and we will do everything we can, using the good offices of the 23 organizations involved, to remind ourselves how much we mean to each other."
Nationally, Jews still occupy high-visibility positions in leading civil rights organizations such as the National Urban League and the NAACP. Some blacks have complained that some Jews have used such positions to become self-appointed experts on blacks when dealing with other whites in the power structure. Yet other blacks see them as a positive presence.
Clearly, both sets of leaders should use this period as a chance to redefine their relationships and work out the serious issues that divide them.
One informed black observer put it this way: "We do not need enemies but we need friends whose roles we define . . . " Blacks and Jews must now find what they can do together to benefit each group.
Both groups have been linked historically by oppressions of the past, but because Jews have had greater success in entering the mainstream of society, the relationship between the two has changed. It logically follows then that the roles of the two groups vis-a-vis each other must change.
Already, dialogues are taking place in some quarters and groups of Jews have approached black leaders privately to indicate their willingness to talk about issues together.
There is the risk that the waters will be hopelessly muddied by such emotional nonsense as questioning the right of black leaders to express views and to operate in the international arena. Moving beyond emotionalism and rhetoric to issues is going to take strong leadership.
It is going to require an effort on both sides to reestablish rapport and wrestle with the tough questions. The rules of the game have changed. Now the players must reshape their strategy.