Andrew Young's resignation drove an emotional wedge into the delicate relationship between traditional allies -- American Jews and blacks -- and leaders of both groups struggled yesterday to repair the split.
But their efforts were initially unsuccessful, as both sides acknowledged that deeper issues -- history, emotion, race and self interest -- underlie the rift.
"We have been allies in our struggle because of similar histories," said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "But something has happened along the way."
On the surface, the rift posed simple, basic questions: Should Young have met with an official of the Palestine Liberation Organization? Should President Carter have accepted his resignation? Was Young made a fall guy? And, most importantly, was it pressure from Israeli and Jewish groups that forced Young from the government?
But beneath these questions, a whirlpool of emotions has been forming for more than a decade, emotions that pitted old allies against one another and divided groups among themselves.
Perhaps, nowhere was this more evident than among blacks. What might be called the "conservative" wing of the nation's black leadership attempted to do a quick repair job on the frayed emotions.
Young got on the phone to black mayors across the country. The leaders of the Urban League and the NAACP hastily gathered in New York City, and called a press conference.
The upshot was a joint statement, deploring Young's dismissal and stating: "We trust that this event will not incite or exacerbate tension between the black and Jewish communities."
They called for a summit meeting on the resignation and the relationship between blacks and Jews -- a suggestion echoed later by several prominent Jewish leaders.
But a rift among black leaders was evident. Jesse Jackson, and Southern Christian Leadership Conference members who expressed bitterness over Young's firing, didn't show up at the press conference.
It was this group that first raised tensions. "We have always supported the state of Israel's right to exist, but we question Israel's relationship with South Africa," SCLC president Lowery said in introducing Jackson at the organization's annual meeting in Norfolk, Va., just hours after Young's resignation.
Young had been scheduled to speak to the group, of which he was one of the founders. But when Jackson took his place at the podium, he said:
"The Klan didn't move on Andy. We've been together through too much not to be able to talk. We must talk. It's time to talk. It's time to talk."
The reaction among Jewish groups was one of defensiveness. They claimed they had sought no confrontation, and were confused to find themselves part of it.
Privately, however, some Jewish leaders complained of an undercurrent of anti-Semitism among some black leaders that has festered since the rise of Stokely Carmichael in the 1960s.
"It has hurt everyone," one prominent liberal said. "There has been serious damage to the old liberal Democratic coalition. But the issues have been very difficult to resolve because they involve questions of self interest."
Publicly, Jewish leaders complained Young had been made "the fall guy," and that in meeting with a representative of the PLO he was reflecting a serious drift in Carter administration policy which they deplore.
Rabbi Daniel Polish, associate executive vice president of the Synagogue Council of America, a national umbrella organization for reform, orthodox and conservative faiths, said Young's misleading account of the PLO meeting -- not the meeting itself -- was the crucial issue.
"Obviously I disagreed with that meeting, but I certainly don't think that warranted his resignation," Polish said. "I think black America can and does, understand the jeopardy that Israel is under. At a time like this I understand the feeling of frustration and anger in the black community . . . . That anger is taking precedence over the calmer and cooler understanding of the realities of the Middle East that usually prevails."
Jack J. Spitzer, president of B'nai B'rith International, issued a statement stressing the unity between the black and Jewish factions, and saying that "in many ways" Young's "resignation is regrettable."
"To broaden it into a black-Jewish issue is dishonest and demagogic," Spitzer said.
The ongoing debate over affirmative action has been the most visible source of public disagreement between blacks and Jews, and in recent years -- with two major affirmative action cases before the Supreme Court -- has put the severest strain on the old alliance.
The disagreement first surfaced when blacks and Jews found themselves for the first time lined up publicly on opposite sides, in the 1974 case of Marco De Funis, a white who claimed he was a victim of reverse discrimination.
Jews have traditionally opposed any system that bears any resemblance to numerical quotas. Jews tend to be overrepresented -- in proportion to their percentage of the population -- in the professions and in education, and as one prominent leader of the American Jewish community put it yesterday, "We're only 1 percent of the population -- what if they say only 1 percent of our people can be doctors?"
The rift became a rupture with the celebrated Allan Bakke reverse discrimination case last year, and the very high-visibility of that debate precluded downplaying or ignoring the widening black-Jewish split. The NAACP and the American Jewish Committee were vocally at odds.
But the strain on the delicate coalition goes back further than the affirmative action debate, and in fact reflects what was perhaps the most divisive split in the black movement itself
While the exact date is difficult to pinpoint, one Jewish leader traced the beginnings of the split to the time "when blacks first manifested themselves to whites playing a dominant role in the movement. They began to thrust out the whites, and many of them [the whites] were Jews," he said.
One Jewish attorney and former civil rights activist here was more succinct. "The split really started with the issue of the Black Is Beautiful thing -- they wanted to do it themselves. They really didn't want any white help. That's when it began."
"Got the feeling it started around the time of Stokely Carmichael and black power," said another leader of a respected New York-based American-Jewish organization, who asked not to be identified. "Before that, there were quite a number of Jews in the South" organizing marches, sit-ins, and registering black voters, he said.
At about that same time, a series of unrelated events served to deepen the already-apparent black-Jewish divisions. In the fall of 1967, the Middle East erupted into what is now known as the Six-Day War, and American Jews suddenly began reasserting their kinship with the Jews in Israel.
"The Six-Day War was a watershed for Jews," said a Washington-based representative of a national Jewish lobby group. "When the Jews started putting together their agenda items, they put Israel at the top."
Added another Jewish rabbi here, "Israel became the priority item, and it took precedence over everything else -- including even the oil civil rights coalition.
In the rare cases when the question of Israel's survival comes on a direct collision course with the fragile black-Jewish alliance, in the words of one Jew, "Every Jew will take a position for Israel."
"Of course, he [Young] had to be dismissed," said Naomi Davis, a teacher at the Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington. "I don't care about breach of etiquette. He gave comfort to the enemies of Israel, which is our only ally in the middle East."
Blacks look on the issue differently. And the Young incident rekindled old animosities.
"I don't think that any responsible person, black, white, Jewish or PLO, would want to exacerbate tensions at this time," said Rep. Parren Mitchell (D-Md.), a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. "But we are fools if we don't deal with what is real."
"Out on the streets, the perception, the feeling is that the Israeli government went out of its way to embarrass and humiliate a black man . . . The feeling is that somebody did Andy Young in," he added in an interview. "And when you ask who did him in, the people say the Israelis."
"Now, having said that, the question is where do we go from there," Mitchell added. "I happen to think that this thing may have given us a golden opportunity to discuss the whole package of black-Jewish differences."
$2Staff writers Warren Brown, Keith B. Richburg, Dennis Kneale and Carlin Romano and researcher Maralee Schwartz contributed to this article.