Murray Friedman Would Not Recognize Temple University
Last week, Temple University’s Feinstein Center for American Jewish History held a Zoom event on “The Weaponization of Discourse: Israel/Palestine, Antisemitism, and Free Speech on Campus.” The conference’s real target, however, was to attack and demonize the State of Israel.
But this was a particularly tragic event for those of us who remember Murray Friedman, who died in 2005.
Friedman founded the Feinstein Center more than 30 years ago, and although the Center was always open to competing ideas, it remained firmly in support of Israel and the freedom of Jews to live there in peace and security.
The son of an immigrant peddler, Friedman grew up during the Depression in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. He joined the Marines, attended Brooklyn College, fought for civil rights, and headed community relations for the ADL in Virginia just as the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision was handed down.
After crossing swords with James Kilpatrick, intellectual mastermind of the South’s “massive resistance” campaign against public school desegregation, Friedman was caught in the crossfire between the ADL’s New York office and Virginia’s Jewish community, fearful of antisemitic backlash. He fell on his sword, resigning and moving to Philadelphia to head the American Jewish Committee’s regional office.
For more than 40 years, he distinguished himself as a community activist and historian of Philadelphia’s Jewish community, and of the national Black-Jewish civil rights coalition, whose “collapse” he chronicled in a still-impressive 1995 book.
Friedman pulled no punches, admitting the roles of Jewish paternalism and self-interest in the formation of the African-American/Jewish alliance. But he featured the role of left-wing Black politics and Black antisemitism, culminating in the rise of Louis Farrakhan and his role in fostering anti-Jewish hate (which has only increased over the past 25 years).
An insider will have to detail the “takeover” by anti-Zionists at the Feinstein Center — but it’s a sad turn of events for a man who spent his life fighting to tell the truth about the Jews and Israel.
At a time of renewed Black-Jewish tensions, Friedman’s work is worth revisiting. Friedman once argued that African-Americans and Jews needed a time out from each other. Readers will have to decide whether this is still true in the current crisis triggered by the police homicide of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
It used to be exultantly said that “we stand on the shoulders of giants.” Now, at Temple University, upright men like Murray Friedman are being buried deeper.
Historian Harold Brackman is coauthor with Ephraim Isaac of From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, and African Americans (Africa World Press, 2015).