One of the nation's largest Jewish organizations yesterday denounced alleged death threats and other acts of harrassment by Jewish militants aimed at prominent black leaders who have expressed support for the Palestine Liberation Organization.
"We thoroughly abhor, condemn and repudiate such actions" said Dick Cohen, spokesman for the 1.2 million-member Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
"Such behavior has no place in our society. We condemn it in the strongest terms," he said.
Cohen was responding to allegations Wednesday night by members of the Black Leadership Forum, the national umbrella group representing black civil rights and political leaders.
Ironically, the charges and the concery they generated come at a time when both black and Jewish leaders say they are trying to alleviate the black-Jewish dispute that has developed in the last few months.
The charges of harassment, mostly aimed at the militant Jewish Defense League, came during a Washington meeting in which the black leaders called for black-Jewish reconciliation and expressed unity on civil rights and social policy.
Chief among those making the charges was Jesse Jackson, who heads Operation PUSH, a black economic self-help group. His Middle East visit with -- and embracing of -- PLO leader Yasser Arafat last summer drew cries of outrage from the American Jewish community.
Jackson, contending that his trip and actions were largely misrepresented by the media, said he has been the target of death threats, picketing and bizarre incidents, such as "people placing the heads of dead animals at my door."
He blamed most of the alleged actions on the JDL but said he and other black leaders have also been the targets of economic reprisals from some moderate Jews.
Brett Becker, national director of the JDL, yesterday ridiculed Jackson's charges.
"The JDL considers Jesse Jackson and, at this point, only Jesse Jackson, among the black leaders to be an Arab bootlicker," Becker said.
He added that the JDL is "encouraging forms of civil disobedience, like sitting in at his [Jackson's] office."
Meanwhile, police in Chicago, confirmed that they have established 24-hour surveillance of Jackson's home and office.
One of the top priorities at the Black Leadership Forum's meeting was to end the bickering between blacks and Jews, and among blacks, over the Palestinian issue, a black-Jewish rapprochement was also the aim of a three-day symposium sponsored here last week by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
The symposium was the first major exchange of views between black and Jewish leaders since U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young resigned last summer, an action that gave rise to the current black-Jewish conflict.
"No one denies there are differences, but we're trying to resolve them positively," said the UAHC's Dick Cohen. "I think we went a long way toward doing that in our Washington meeting."
The Black Leadership Forum issued a similar statement Wednesday.
"We respect the right of old friends and allies to disagree with us from time to time, as we disagree with one another," it said in part.
"We certainly do not believe that the shared concerns of those who are actively committed to liberation, justice and equality are well served by unfounded charges of 'anti-Semitism,' 'reverse racism' or 'racism.'"