In conciliatory speech, Jackson praises Zionism

July 08, 1992|By Paul L. Montgomery | Paul L. Montgomery,New York Times News Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Describing Zionism for the first time as a "liberation movement," the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson brought a message of reconciliation yesterday to a conference of the World Jewish Congress.

Leaders of Jewish groups said later that the speech could lead to a rejuvenation of political cooperation between black Americans and American Jews.

Mr. Jackson went further than before in affirming the right of Israel to exist, delegates said. While not abandoning his support of Palestinian rights, Mr. Jackson said the victory of Yitzhak Rabin's Labor Party in the Israeli elections last month was "a breath of fresh air for peace and security for Israel."

In an hourlong address at the World Jewish Congress' conference on anti-Semitism, Mr. Jackson repeatedly condemned the stereotyping of Jews and attacks on Jews over the centuries that culminated in the Holocaust.

But leaders of Jewish groups said they were disappointed that he did not repudiate specific statements by the Rev. Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, and some black rap groups. However, they said they accepted Mr. Jackson's reasoning that he did not want to dignify the attacks by noticing them.

Edgar M. Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, called Mr. Jackson's address "a good speech, even though he chose not to mention black anti-Semitism."

Mr. Jackson and several of the leaders of Jewish groups at the convention said that it was the culmination of years of effort by Mr. Jackson to patch up his relationship with Jews. The decision for Mr. Bronfman to invite Mr. Jackson to speak was controversial within the organization, and produced long debate.

In the end, comments by some of the leaders who heard the address seemed to indicate that it was well-received. "I for one had grave reservations," said Isi J. Leibler, the congress' co-chairman. "But I think now it has been a great success."

Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said the speech could be the beginning of efforts to bring back the Jewish-black civil rights coalition of the 1960s.

"We will be overjoyed to revive that coalition," he said.

Mr. Jackson has had strained relations with Jews during much of his political career, most memorably after he referred to New York City as "Hymietown" in the 1984 presidential campaign. He has also made numerous appeals for conciliation since then.

Last spring, Mr. Jackson said that he had worked hard to forge alliances with Jewish voters. "We've worked together mightily to build bridges and will continue to do so," he said.

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