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December 30, 2019 12:11 pm

Jews and Slavery Reparations

avatar by Harold Brackman

Opinion

Jonah Pesner of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism at the ACT to End Racism rally, April 4, 2018.

In The Chicago Tribune, Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center, has offered his prescription for racial healing through reparations for slavery.

Rabbi Pesner calls for the Jewish community to end its “silence” about “the continued legacy of slavery.” Jews, so often “proudly on the front lines of social justice causes” must now awaken from their torpor about reparations.

Though our grandparents may have pulled themselves up by the bootstraps to overcome poverty and discrimination, “we can now understand that they and many of us also benefited from, and continue to benefit from, the same white privilege that allows for the continued discrimination against black Americans.”

But Rabbi Pesner fails to provide either a contemporary or historical context. American Jews are not going to take kindly to him making them guilty beneficiaries of “white privilege” during this Hanukkah season when in Jersey City and New York something like a slow-motion pogrom is occurring, committed mostly by African American assailants, some of whom are followers of Louis Farrakhan, whose big lie is that Jews “dominated” the slave trade.

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Carl Sandburg’s “city of big shoulders” has been central to American struggles with racial injustice since Abraham Lincoln was nominated for president in Chicago in 1860 warning of “a house divided” over slavery.

Does the rabbi know that blaming Jews for “white privilege” also originated in Chicago? In 1967, the National Conference for New Politics sought to mobilize white and black radicals. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a keynote begging the delegates to reaffirm white-black cooperation. His plea was spurned.

Instead, the radical Black Caucus, representing at most 20% of delegates, seized control and demanded unanimous adoption of their 13 Point Program. Among the Points: ‘‘We, as black people, believe that the United States system is committed to the practice of genocide. …  [We demand] immediate reparation for the historic, physical, sexual, mental, and economic exploitation of black people … [and] condemnation of the ‘imperialist Zionist war.’” White New Leftists — particularly Jews — were all but written out of the black liberation struggle.

Rabbi Pesner’s agenda demands Jewish “atonement” for slavery and kicking the wheels off Reverend King’s interracial crusade. He always believed that disadvantaged whites — not only African Americans whose ancestors were enslaved — were victims of slavery and segregation.

Today, Holocaust survivors and their families still receive restitution from Germany and other countries. Japanese-Americans and their families who were interned during World War II were rightly granted restitution in 1988. But Palestinians — including generations not born in Israel — dubiously claim they deserve reparations and “the right of return.”

If Rabbi Plesner is really serious, he should propose reparations; not for slavery, but for post-slavery Jim Crow segregation that stifled the aspirations of free blacks. There are African-Americans alive today who suffered the sting of Jim Crow when JFK was president, just as there are Jews today who survived the Holocaust and whose children and grandchildren still suffer the aftereffects of genocide. Why go back to Abraham Lincoln’s time for rationales to privilege with reparations recent African immigrants whose ancestors were never slaves?

Yet there is a compelling argument for restitution to people who have suffered great injustices or whose families have been victimized in living memory. Included are both Holocaust survivors and African-Americans and their families victimized by Jim Crow. But don’t pay historical reparations for the sins of long-dead slave masters. Their sins were paid for by the  365,000 Union soldiers, white and black, who died winning the Civil War.

Today’s politically-correct activists like Rabbi Pesner “virtue signal” by embracing race hustlers like Reverend Al Sharpton.

We need to do better.

Harold Brackman is an authority on relations between Jews and African-Americans.

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