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Tue Jan 19, 2021, 11:15 AM Jan 2021

Can Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff reinvigorate the Black-Jewish alliance?

Can Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff reinvigorate the Black-Jewish alliance?
Georgia's newly-elected senators could revive the historic partnership that battled white supremacy in the '60s

JANUARY 18, 2021 11:00AM

The stunning victories of the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the Georgia Senate runoff elections on Jan. 5 provide some hope amidst the gloom of the attempted coup that occurred the next day at the U.S. Capitol. The unlikely triumph of these two men — an African-American pastor who preaches from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s former pulpit and a youthful, liberal Reform Jew — evokes fond memories of the storied Black-Jewish civil rights coalition. That now-defunct "Grand Alliance" battled the same forces of white supremacy whose ideological descendants stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. While Warnock and Ossoff's twinned political activism does display some surface similarities with the mid-century alliance, in many ways it is different. These differences suggest ways to bridge the divide that led the coalition's collapse in the late 1960s.

The Warnock/Ossoff campaigns inspire many to reminisce about the relationship between Dr. King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. There is no image more iconic in American Judaism than their march alongside one another in Selma. Their intervention occurred a few weeks after Black protesters, including the late John Lewis, were viciously assaulted by state troopers as they tried to cross the Alabama River. The fact that campaign ads for Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in the recent Georgia races were not above racial and anti-Semitic innuendo makes the comparison more compelling. (A Loeffler ad apparently darkened Warnock's skin, while a Perdue ad lengthened the size of Ossoff's nose.) These visual slurs underscored a truism noted in the occasional Black-Jewish dialogues that took place during the Trump era: A common foe was re-emerging. That foe was a white American Christian nationalism, seemingly hellbent on affirming that Blacks and Jews were neither whites nor Americans nor worthy of Christian fellowship.

As the Black-Jewish alliance imploded in the late 1960s, many Blacks complained that Jews had lost sight of that foe. Perhaps with that we drive to the heart of what caused the crack-up of the Grand Alliance. Blacks and Jews have bickered over many issues in the past half century. They have argued over affirmative action. They have staked out opposing positions over the state of Israel. They have disagreed on the promise of liberalism (whose promise was kept to one group, but not to the other). Their contentions devolved into quack conceptions of racial inferiority peddled by Jewish neoconservatives, while Black demagogues trafficked in slanders about Jewish complicity in the slave trade. Yet perhaps no charge complexified and threatened their alliance as much as the one that Jews had become white. ...........(more)


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