Another evolving twist in that long and quirky relationship between African Americans and the Jewish community. CNN’s latest on the Black outreach efforts of Christians United for Israel. Heather M. Higgins in CNN writes:
Until relatively recently, “there wasn’t a voice for Christian Zionism in the black church,” said Pastor Michael Stevens, the African-American outreach coordinator for Christians United for Israel, speaking to the mostly West Indian crowd in Brooklyn.
“Because of that, you heard from Farrakhan, Sharpton and Jesse Jackson – they became the poster children for the African-American community as it related to black-Jewish relationships,” Stevens said. “If there is no outreach, this is all our community knows.”
Black leaders like Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan and Jackson have been sharply critical of Israel, decrying its treatment of Palestinians.
Stevens’ mission, by contrast, is to build a bridge between the nation’s black and Jewish communities based on support for Israel, partly by pointing out what he calls parallels between the two groups.
This is actually a rather touchy subject spreading well beyond the sermons of a lone Black evangelical singing the praises of the Jewish state. The relationship has always been somewhat tense and rather complicated, with new political dimensions emerging since the election of President Obama – the first Black president. That’s led to the question of what the first Black president was going to do about the state of affairs in the Middle East, specifically the Palestinian question. Jewish supporters, partly relying on the strength of their ties with – and control of – the Black political community, expected Obama to take a more openly favorable stand with Israel on a range of issues.
But, the Obama Administration hasn’t exactly stuck with that script – to the chagrin of many in the American Jewish community. Equally complex is that the most high profile Black political figures have taken more pro-Palestinian stances, but primarily from the perspective of anger over the general treatment of Palestinians by Israeli military and law enforcement. Palestinians and other Muslim organizations, also taking advantage of the prevalence of Islam in African American communities, have made efforts to exploit that perspective to their favor. Our Post-9/11 world makes it uglier, with increased surveillance of many African Americans with ties to Middle Eastern causes … and, yes, including those directly aligning themselves with specific terrorist causes. That’s a larger conversation.
This latest wrinkle in the rocky Black/Jewish relationship tests the question of what Jewish support for the President will look like in 2012. President Obama is viewed by many Jews in Israel and in the U.S. as being soft on the Palestinian Authority; what is really a nasty level of tension between the White House and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is elevated to a general sense of suspicion that President Obama is somehow anti-Israel. This creates problems for Democrats who typically capture anywhere from 60%-70% of the Jewish vote during an election cycle. And, recent reports suggest Democrats are having issues with Jewish fundraising efforts since that particular community traditionally raises quite a bit of cash for the party.
Enter conservative activists, evangelicals and Republican strategists looking for a political opening to exploit. A quick glance at Christians United for Israel’s leadership finds longtime conservative politicos like Gary Bauer at the top, as well as Bishop Keith Butler, John Hagee, Jonathan Falwell and others. All well known for their political activities and all fervently pro-Republican.
This is a classic case of, once again, Black folks caught in the middle of other folks’ wars. If it’s not evangelicals or the Jewish community wanting Black support for Israel, it’s Palestinians or Muslim Arabs wanting Black empathy and advocacy. The unanswered question: what do Black people get in return?