Yesterday I wrote about the attack on Daphna Ziman and Jews in general by Rev. Eric Lee of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during a ceremony honoring Martin Luther King on the 40th anniversary of his assassination. Ziman, who had just received a humanitarian award from the African-American fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi, fled in tears after Lee took the stage and blamed Jews for the plight of blacks in America.
Roger Simon has two follow-ups in one post today. Lee attempted to give a half-baked apology/explanation, which wound up falling flat. Later, he issued a more formal apology, but it still seems as though Lee blames others for misunderstanding him:
I unequivocally denounce any anti-Semitic sentiments, statements and behavior and assure you that such hatred is not reflective of my character and my work. Specifically, I do not believe, and the SCLC does not subscribe to the belief, that Jews control the entertainment industries or are responsible for negative characterizations of African Americans. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” My commitment is to ensuring justice is promoted for all of G-d’s people.
Well, OK, that sounds great — but this is what preceded it in the first response (emphases mine):
In a very small part of my presentation, I referenced a meeting I had with Rabbi’s and other community leaders. A Rabbi stated in that meeting that the close relationship between the African American and Jewish communities had been disconnected after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. I further referenced in my speech that my response to the Rabbi was that the Black Power Movement emerged after the assassination of Dr. King and it was a direct response to the negative characterizations of African Americans through the silver screen, TV and the music industry, industries that are influenced by many in the Jewish community. I then stated to the Rabbis that the Black Power Movement was our effort to define for ourselves our own identity rather than be defined by anyone else. I then indicated in my presentation that I told the Rabbis’ that before a genuine coalition could be rebuilt between our communities, there would have to be dialogue and efforts made to deal with the negative characterizations of African Americans.
So in the space of a few hours, he suddenly disabused himself of the belief that the entertainment industry is controlled by Joooooooos? Doesn’t that seem rather less likely than, say, he discovered that people had paid attention to his rantings and it had made him look mean-spirited and bigoted? Recall that yesterday we discovered that Lee has participated in protests with famously anti-Semitic individuals and organizations like CAIR and Cynthia McKinney. Does he denounce their anti-Semitism as well?
As Roger points out, negative African-American stereotypes may occur in popular culture, but it doesn’t come from the Jews, including himself. Simon, a Hollywood veteran (which we don’t hold against him, by the way), writes that in his thirty years in the business, he has never seen anyone — Jew or Gentile — do anything but attempt to put blacks in the best light in entertainment. I’m not sure I’d go that far as an entertainment consumer; I’d recommend Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle as an trenchant opposing viewpoint. But in the two decades since Townsend’s film, any negative stereotypes about the black experience have found most of their reinforcement from black artists in the rap industry.
In any case, the apology from Lee seems a bit disingenuous, almost like Obama’s insistence that “nobody has spoken out more fiercely on the issue of anti-Semitism than I have.” Let’s see some action first, like disavowing CAIR and McKinney. In fact, let’s just keep a closer eye on Reverend Lee and see what comes out of his mouth in the future.