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Thought-Provoking, But Not Definitive
on June 14, 2007
Kaufman's basic assumption is that the alliance between African-Americans and Jews was never as smooth as history makes it out to be. By exhaustively researching that alliance and presenting it through the points of view of six prominent leaders of the Civil Rights movement, Kaufman provides a unique overview of the racial issues of the previous century, but it is not without flaws. First, like many liberals, Kaufman is too broad-minded to take his own side in an argument. Thus, he goes into great detail in explaining away Black antisemitism, but never seems to realize that there is no Jewish equivalent. Black outrage over the lack of Jewish support for affirmative action is constantly brought up throughout the book, but the use of quotas to restrict Jewish admissions to Ivy League schools is mentioned only twice, creating the impression that Jews were opposed to affirmative action out of a desire to avoid competition, rather than out of fear of being shut out (again) of the professions. He routinely glosses over the records of many of the militant Black leaders who took over after Dr. King's assassination, making them seem simply outspoken or radical, rather than thuggish or criminal, as in the case of the Black Panthers, for example. Anti-semitic acts are routinely explained away as having been taken out of context (his history of the Oceanhill-Brownsville controversy provides a context for the reading of a virulently anti-semitic poem on WBAI that all-but excuses it). His coverage of the Crown Heights riots (in the updated version of the book) avoids mentioning critical facts about the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum and subsequent acquittal of Lemrick Nelson which cast the Black community in a poor light (the jury actually partied with Nelson after the acquittal). The final chapter of the book is a discussion of the importance of the alliance, but it is written on the presumption that political conservatives dislike both Blacks and Jews and are relishing the fight, which is stated explicitly, and which diminishes the value of the book as a historical record. In the end, it's simply an attempt to get Jews to keep giving money to Democrats and Blacks to continue to vote for them so that they can defeat those evil conservatives. Given the rise of anti-semitism since 9/11, the history in this book is even more critical to understanding the schisms in American culture, but Kaufman's bias reduces its value, taking what could have been the definitive history of a critical alliance in the Civil Right movement and reducing it to a partisan appeal.