Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

I Was for the Jewish People of Israel: African-American Perspectives on Israel and Black-Jewish Relations in the United States, 1947-1970
by Goldberg, Gabrielle, Ph.D., New York University, 2019, 229; 13421393
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines how Israel's establishment affected the relationship between Black Americans and American Jews in the United States. It traces the efforts of a group of leading American Jews, in the ranks of Jewish advocacy organizations, academia, show business, and the American Jewish press, who attempted to leverage their personal, political and professional connections with various prominent Black Americans, in order to elicit Black American support for Israel after World War II. It asks in turn, how the targeted Black Americans responded to the pressure they faced from these prominent American Jews.

Relying primarily on previously unexamined archival material, this narrative of the changing relationship between Black Americans, American Jews and Israel, addresses the historical conundrum of why American Jews got involved with Black American civil rights to the extent that they did. In contrast to previous studies, this dissertation argues that American Jewish involvement in Black American civil rights constituted a practical quid pro quo. It thus contradicts past conceptions of American Jewish civil rights contributions as primarily a philanthropic undertaking. When prominent American Jews threw their support behind Black Americans, politically and professionally, in the 1950s and 1960s, they made it clear that in return they both wanted and expected Black American support for their interests, including Israel.

Prominent American Jews including American Jewish Congress's Will Maslow, leading American Rabbi and Zionist Stephen Wise, impresario Sol Hurok, and legendary performer Eddie Cantor, among many others attempted to pressure Black American civil rights leaders, like Walter White and Martin Luther King, the United Nations diplomat Ralph Bunche, and famed performers Lionel Hampton, Marian Anderson, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Josephine Baker and many more, to support Israel. In the instances when prominent Black Americans agreed to these terms, their fame, success and influence in their respective fields made them some of the most beneficial Israel supporters in the United States. More often than not, however, American Jewish efforts to leverage their relationships to demand support for Israel resulted in tensions and resentment from prominent Black Americans. This dissertation therefore, demonstrates that the late 1960s clashes between Blacks and Jews, which scholars have heretofore identified as the "death-knell of Black-Jewish relations" in the United States, actually reflected tensions that mounted, often over Israel, during the course of the two preceding decades. Ultimately, this dissertation argues, Black Americans' perspectives on Israel, between 1947 and 1970, reflected the changing nature, tone, and significance of their relationships with the American Jews, who sought to influence them.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Diner, Hasia R.
Commitee: Engel, David, Johnson, Kimberley, Mitchell, Michele, Zweig, Ronald
School: New York University
Department: Hebrew and Judaic Studies and History
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 80/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: African American Studies, American history, History
Keywords: Black power, Black-jewish relations, Civil rights, Israel, Jiggetts, Ida, White, Walter
Publication Number: 13421393
ISBN: 9781392004654
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