Veteran civil rights leader Bayard Rustin has linked the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in recent months to the "respectability" he said Andrew Young, D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy and other blacks have given the Palestine Liberation Organization.
In an address on black-Jewish tensions, Rustin maintained that Fauntroy and other black leaders who went to the Middle East last year to meet with PLO representatives "were in part responsible . . . for you cannot give respectability to one terrorist group without every other terrorist group benefiting from that respectability."
Rustin, head of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, launched this year's Sunday Scholar series of the Washington Hebrew Congregation. In his talk, he reviewed the events surrounding President Carter's dismissal of Young 14 months ago as ambassador to the United Nations following his unauthorized private meeting with Zehdi Labib Terzi, the PLO observer at the United Nations.
"I did not like what Andrew Young did nor what Fauntroy did nor what [Joseph] Lowery did, but the basis for what they did did not lie with themselves but with the president of the United States, Jimmy Carter," said Rustin. Following Young's ouster, Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Fauntroy made overtures to the PLO in an effort to begin a Middle East peace initiative.
Faulting Carter for blaming the Young firing on pressure from the Jewish community, Rustin said, "The Jewish community had absolutely nothing to do with Andy Young being thrown out." At the same time, he blamed Jewish leaders for not "descending on Washington and making [Carter] speak the truth. . . . If Jewish leaders had spoken out more critically of that battle, it would not have taken some of us in the black community three weeks before we had clarified it."
The pressures and conflicts that surrounded the Young firing strained the longstanding alliance between blacks and Jews. In introducing Rustin to the nearly 1,000 people who gathered for the Sunday morning session, Rabbi Joshua Haberman of Washington Hebrew Congregation acknowledged that "all of us would agree that we have at least a period of adjustment in black-Jewish relations."
In analyzing the rift between the strong civil rights-era allies, Rustin contended that the black community has "moved from a problem of race, to a problem of class."
In the '60s, he said, blacks "fought for the right to vote, the right to public accommodations and the right to send our children to schools of our choice. These were things that all white people had and most blacks did not have . . . The absence of them was due to racism."
By contrast, he continued, the struggle of blacks today is for "education, housing, jobs and medical care. Those are not black issues and cannot be made black issues . . . . For every black who needs these four things, there are four or five or six white people who need the same thing. That cannot be called a civil rights struggle."
Rustin contended that "the very victories we had [in the civil rights movement] created new problems we were not prepared to understand nor to face." Rustin, as an aide to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was one of the earliest battlers for civil rights, and launched one-man sit-ins and freedom rides more than a decade before they became part of any organized movement.
The opening up of public accommodations to blacks, for instance, doomed many black businessmen, Rustin said. "The black business middle class was laid waste. Black business had existed only because blacks were forced to use black business . . . The minute hotels were opened [to blacks] downtown, there was not a black hotel left . . . . There is not in the ghetto a first-class restaurant left in the country, because the minute blacks could eat in restaurants downtown," they abandoned black establishments, he said.
What is left in the black community, he said, are "those small businesses that most blacks don't want" and that tend to be operated by Jews working 14 or 15 hours a day -- "the mom-and-pop stores, little corner eating places, little clothing shops."
Rustin, who has always had strong ties to the Jewish community and has been tireless in his support of a variety of Jewish as well as black causes, stressed both the theological and economic ties between blacks and Jews throughout history. "It is not insignificant," he said, "that of the $8 million I raised for Martin Luther King, over half of it came from Jews." Even as slaves, he pointed out, "we essentially called ourselves Christians but we based our ideas of liberation on Judaism" and the Old Testament.
The tall, slim, white-haired civil rights leader reached again for the Old Testament to try to explain today's black-Jewish tensions. Drawing a parallel, he said, "Moses, in a sense, asked for it by taking the Jews out of Egypt and across the Red Sea and he got precisely what black leaders in this day got -- grumbling, people saying 'you told us things would be better and they are worse. Why didn't you leave us where we were?'
"If Moses had had allies who were non-Jewish, they [the Israelites] would have jumped on those allies before they would have jumped on Moses. There is nothing that a group, as a group, will kick against more quickly than those who helped them when they were weak," Rustin continued.
"That is the human condition; we want allies when we are weak -- and we deeply resent them . . . Jews must understand," he said.
Rustin added that there are "some good signs and some bad signs" in black-Jewish relations today. "One of the bad signs, and I make no bones about it, is that many people in the black community, in their agony, have turned against Jews, and in doing so we have turned against ourselves."