Is there a growing split between African Americans and Jews -- two of the primary pillars supporting the Democratic Party's big tent?
For the two of us, who have worked side by side to advance Democratic values in Congress for nearly two decades, that seems a silly question. We know from personal experience what it's like to be, respectively, an African American member who has always counted Jews among his staunchest supporters and a Jewish member representing a district with a large African American population.
But after two of our African American colleagues lost primary elections recently, some commentators -- and many Republicans cynically pursuing their own partisan interests -- claimed a growing rift between these two critical Democratic communities. So perhaps a review of the facts of the Jewish-African American partnership is in order.
Most fundamentally, African Americans and Jews have a shared past of appalling oppression. As the victims of some of the most horrific crimes in humanity's history -- the centuries of slavery and Jim Crow in the United States, the centuries of official persecution that culminated in the Holocaust in Europe -- African Americans and Jews bear a common memory of injustice.
Not surprisingly, today our peoples share an unshakable commitment to social justice -- and a willingness to employ the authority of the federal government to achieve it. Working together, African Americans and Jews have long been among the foremost advocates for the dispossessed, forgotten and overlooked in this country.
At the beginning of the last century, the two groups led the fight to pass "stop the lynching" laws and together founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In the 1960s African Americans and Jews fought together in the civil rights movement led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. And in the summer of 1964, the murders in Mississippi of civil rights activists Andy Goodman, Mickey Schwerner and James Cheney -- two Jews and one African American -- galvanized the nation, spurring the final push to end apartheid in America.
Inside Congress, that same partnership for progressive values has prevailed. No two groups have voted more alike than Jewish and African American members. So far in this Congress, Jewish House members have supported positions taken by the NAACP 83 percent of the time. In contrast, white non-Jewish members voted with the NAACP only 51 percent of the time. In the last Congress, Jews in the House were with the NAACP on 89 percent of the votes, while non-Jewish white members were only 51 percent of the time.
Jewish and African American lawmakers joined forces to support hate-crimes legislation, which would increase the penalties for crimes directed at people because of their perceived race, color, religion or national origin. Both groups share a strong commitment to legislation that works to prevent profiling of ethnic and religious minorities.
Make no mistake, some leaders within our communities -- elected or otherwise -- have differences of opinion, and they deserve respect for the sincere, thoughtful positions they take. They also deserve the freedom to express themselves without being forced to bear the burden of speaking for an entire group.
For instance, some African Americans and Jews have approached recent debates on the Middle East from different perspectives. Of course, there is a long and distinguished tradition of nonviolence in the African American community. Jews should recognize that when some black elected officials advocate a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the Middle East, it does not necessarily make them anti-Israel. And a secure peace is what all of us ultimately want most of all.
From the civil rights movement and the war on poverty in the 1960s to the fight for election reform and economic justice today, the coalition of African Americans and Jews has been a powerful force in American politics.
We share a storied legacy of working together to build peaceful and progressive communities.
Rep. John Lewis of Georgia is the House Democratic chief deputy whip. Rep. Martin Frost of Texas is chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.