Senator Lieberman Hangs Tough But Where Is Black Leadership?
In 1984 Jesse Jackson couldn't do it. In 1993 the Congressional Black Caucus couldn't do it and in 1996 Jack Kemp couldn't do it. But maybe Senator Joseph Lieberman can. Though he did bend during yesterday's appearance on Meet The Press, Senator Joseph Lieberman did not break, in the face of virulent opposition, in his stated intention to meet with Nation Of Islam Leader Minister Farrakhan in an effort to possibly build bridges and work constructively on important causes.
And by doing so, with the exception of Ed Rendell, the former Mayor of Philadelphia and current chair of the Democratic Party, Lieberman has held to his position longer than any politician in recent memory, who has dared to say something good about the Muslim leader and his followers - even discussing the possibility of working with Minister Farrakhan and the NOI wherever appropriate.
While Senator Lieberman's comments regarding the Minister did contain misinformation, errors, mistakes and half-truths, he was firm in some very important areas. First, he continued to give credit where credit was due acknowledging the good works and relevance of the Minister to the Black community and to America, and secondly, he rejected the notion that Minister Farrakhan must get on bended knee and apologize prior to a meeting with him.
This customary demand - that the Minister apologize - before any dialogue begins, comes courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) - a Jewish organization that states its purpose is to fight hate and discrimination but who has made opposing Minister Farrakhan and the Nation Of Islam its reason for living.
I personally believe that the ADL's advocacy of hate crimes legislation has little to do with stopping church burnings but is part of a larger effort to one day use such legislation as the pretext to have the Nation Of Islam outlawed.
I doubt that the Black civil rights groups who are rallying around the hate-crimes legislation have considered that groups outside of the black community hope to use these laws against groups inside of the Black community that they can't control.
The ADL works against the Nation Of Islam in spite of the clear history that no member of the Nation of Islam has ever been arrested for harming or killing a Jewish person, and in the face of the existence of real Whites who publicly intend to hurt Jews.
In spite of a lack of evidence to support their dubious claim and in light of the fact that Whites are responsible for virtually all of the anti-Jewish acts perpetrated in this country, the ADL says that anti-Semitism runs highest in the Black community.
The ADL has been successful in scaring Jesse Jackson, Kwesi Mfume, Hugh Price, Benjamin Hooks, Julian Bond and countless other Black leaders away from Minister Farrakhan at different points in time.
The ADL even got the actor Bruce Willis to denounce the Minister after he (Willis) had performed the cardinal sin of speaking words of praise for the Muslim leader in 1998.
The only man of national stature who has not scratched where he didn't itch, bended his knee or spoken out of both sides of his mouth in public when it comes to the ADL is Ed Rendell, who in April of 1997 actually invited Minister Farrakhan to Philadelphia to help him ease racial tensions in that city.
Mayor Rendell, who is Jewish, ignored the ADL and others who opposed his work with Minister Farrakhan.
After Minister Farrakhan came to the city and met with the Mayor and community leaders and successfully eased tensions in a part of the city, Rendell's favorability among both Blacks and Jews shot up.
Today he is the chairman of the Democratic National Committee and still will not apologize for working with Minister Farrakhan.
Senator Lieberman, though his public pronouncements are not as strong as those of Rendell, has similarly recognized that you cannot ignore a leader of Minister Farrakhan's stature and popularity if you desire to represent all of America and are genuinely interested in working with the Black community and not just in simply taking votes from them.
Even Senator Lieberman's wife has asked the ADL to back off of her husband telling them that "Joe can meet with whoever he wants".
At a certain point --though some try to avoid this implication - those who ignore Minister Farrakhan are actually ignoring and disrespecting Black people. Not because all Black people love Minister Farrakhan or follow him but because so many say that they he speaks for them or say that they agree with most of what he says.
You cannot claim, with any credibility, if you are a Jewish or White leader, that you are concerned with solving the problems that plague the Black community like discrimination, broken families, poor education, drugs, crime, poverty and disease, if you continue to attempt to demonize Minister Farrakhan or ignore him.
It is impossible to show love and respect for a community that suffers from these problems and ignore one of the few individuals who has been successful in solving these problems.
That is irresponsible leadership.
And Senator Lieberman has thus far been able to avoid falling into this trap.
Because in Connecticut he has seen with his own eyes what the Minister and the Nation of Islam have done for those in the state that Lieberman represents.
On Meet The Press yesterday, he made it clear that he has been impressed by those he has met in his state who are Muslims and the work of personal transformation that he has seen, particularly among the Minister's male followers.
Any responsible leader with a significant urban constituency that is battling the previously mentioned problems at the very least, is betraying his constituents if he or she doesn't seek to learn from and dialogue with the Nation of Islam.
The problem has been because Black leadership is so divided and in competition with one another for support and acceptance by those outside of the community, that they have not been able to make this argument to the Jewish and American political establishment with one voice and with any type of backbone.
The problem has been that some Black politicians, religious leaders and educators continue to live a double life when dealing with a few White and Jewish individuals and organizations that give them access to key power centers and financial support.
These Black leaders smile in the face of these individuals and groups, take their financial contributions and dinner invitations and read the anti-Farrakhan talking points wherever they are ordered to do so, all while claiming to represent the Black community.
But these same Black politicians, religious leaders and educators, for the most part, can't claim that they are as in touch with the masses of Blacks or have addressed the issues that are most important to Blacks as have Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.
Of course there are some very good Black religious leaders and educators and a few Black politicians- on the local level - who have integrity and work very hard on behalf of their people and who can work with Jewish and White individuals and organizations and accept their support without becoming prostitutes.
But they are in the minority. This double-life that many prominent black leaders live is most evident to Minister Farrakhan who is privy to the real feelings of these leaders who dis him in public and praise him in private. All the while, he never lashes back at them or exposes their duplicity, by name.
In an interview between Minister Farrakhan and a Jewish journalist Jeffrey Goldberg in 1998, published for the first time by economist Jude Wanniski earlier this month, the Minister talks about how the double-life scenario works and how repulsive it is to him and any self-respecting Jewish or white person.
"Now you have dialogue with many members of the black community. Some are honest. Some are dishonest. I would never divulge what I have heard from some black leaders what they say behind the backs of Jewish leaders. I myself cringe. Now I'm not falsifying or exaggerating. There are people among us that don't like the Jewish leaders because they're forced to be unmanly. Because they need, and because they need your support, they need your money, they need so much from the Jewish community, they suffer from indignities...that they are not manly enough, I would put it to be honest with you. And there is something about kings and rulers and people of power, they like to hear what makes them feel good. And I think the Jewish leaders are lulled into a sense that these black people that they pour money into or put confidence in, really, really, really are your friends. And I really, really, really am your enemy, because I speak straight words, even if they're wrong, they're straight. When you mean to tell me you would trust somebody that has never taken a dime from you, that has not asked you for a dime, and speaks straight words to you. You won't trust him. But you trust somebody that is on your payroll that's stroking you, at how great you are, but behind the door is saying things that would make you throw up. That's what I hate in the relationship. Too much damnable hypocrisy, even on both sides"
And that is one of the reasons, in my opinion, that the meeting between Minister Farrakhan and Senator Lieberman did not happen already.
No Black political or religious leader or academic of standing had the courage to publicly support the idea of the meeting, even though several have publicly stated their "grave concern" over deteriorating Black and Jewish relations.
Are these Black leaders and intellectuals serious about healing Black-Jewish relations or just in getting some grant money or a publishing deal for writing about that troubled relationship? This goes for Black liberals, progressives, populists and conservatives.
If they were serious, then they would have supported the proposed Farrakhan-Lieberman meeting when it was first announced.
Some Black politicians, who are Democrats, even went out of their way in public, to silence discussion about the possible meeting between the Minister and the Senator, hoping that it would not negatively impact the Gore-Lieberman ticket.
If Black politicians, Pastors and intellectuals had called for the meeting with one-tenth of the energy that they call for political appointments the meeting would have happened before the Million Family March as was originally intended.
Why the silence?
In my opinion, part of the answer lies in the envy and jealousy that many of them hold in their hearts toward Minister Farrakhan. Some of them resent his influence and popularity among their own people and a growing number of non-Blacks. This was particularly evident after the Million Man March and the recent Million Family March.
These leaders buy into the invidious comparisons that White and Jewish leaders make in public and private between Black leaders. These comparisons are made in a way to get Black leaders to compete with one another for the favor of those outside of the community.
I also think the meeting did not occur because Black leaders and organizations have been taking their funding and marching orders for so long from those outside of the community that they are actually "behind the curve" when it comes to recognizing what is in the best interests of their people and this country.
So, in effect, they have to be told that the Farrakhan-Lieberman meeting is "ok" by Jews and Whites before they will publicly say so themselves.
And a Jewish Mayor and Jewish Senator have to publicly come out and say they admire Farrakhan and want to work with him before a Black Mayor and Black Congressmen and/or woman can do the same thing with permanence.
Jewish politicians are running to Minister Farrakhan while Black politicians are still afraid and nervous about dealing with him. Though some of that is beginning to change, there is still something very wrong with that picture.
I suspect as more Jewish and White politicians continue this trend the Black ones will "get into the act".
I even feel that some Black leaders resent that Senator Lieberman went around them to deal with Minister Farrakhan and is praising some of his work when he has been silent about theirs.
Yes, it really does get that petty with some Black leaders. Of course White and Jewish leaders suffer from similar ego problems.
And lastly, I think the meeting did not occur because forces deep inside of the Gore-Lieberman campaign that are loyal to the ADL, have worked to back Senator Lieberman off of his previously expressed desire to meet with Minister Farrakhan.
Not everyone is on the same page regarding Minister Farrakhan inside the Lieberman campaign - some want the meeting for various meetings and others don't.
All of this played a part in the peculiar nature in which it was "announced" that Senator Lieberman wanted to wait until after the election to meet with Minister Farrakhan.
Notice that there was no official statement from Lieberman about delaying the meeting with the Minister until over a week after a campaign spokesperson, Dan Gerstein, told the New York Post (an ADL friendly paper) that the meeting was delayed.
Gerstein told me the day after his comments were published in the New York Post that there was no "official statement" regarding any delay in the meeting.
By and on what authority then, was Gerstein speaking, if Senator Lieberman himself had not issued an official statement?
Who really wanted the meeting delayed until after the election?
Now that Senator Lieberman has hung in there for two months on this issue and taken the worst that the ADL can dish out I think he deserves some support from all who think that it is time for a Black man who says what he means and means what he says to meet with a Jewish man who some say has a similar reputation, in an effort to build bridges and solve problems for the good of both the Jewish and Black community, in this country and abroad.
And it is time that we take a roll call among the leadership in the Black community on where they stand on this meeting.
It is time to separate the men and women from the boys and girls.
Monday, October 30, 2000