NY professor addresses Jewish radicalism

Abbey Stirgwolt

Michael Staub, a professor of the City University of New York, discussed Jewish radicalism and how it compared to the black pride movement.

Credit: Steve Schirra

In the Jewish Defense League of the 1970s, kindness didn’t count.

“Maybe, just maybe, nice people build their own road to Auschwitz,” a member of the militant JDL said.

Last night Michael Staub, professor at the City University of New York, presented an analysis of this and other facets of Jewish student activism in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The presentation centered around a series of slides, mostly from Jewish campus newspapers in the early 1970s. The slides depicted political cartoons, posters and political advertisements printed by various Jewish activist groups of the era.

Staub said the era was marked by conflict not only between Jewish activists and the surrounding communities but also within Judaism itself. Many Jews in the 1960s, Staub said, became frustrated with the lack of speaking out. He quoted Rabbi Joachim Prinz, an early Jewish civil rights activist:

“The most tragic problem is silence … America must not remain silent.”

During this era, the younger Jewish generation began to separate from the older, as many college-aged Jews blamed their parents’ generation for its lack of dedication to Judaism.

As Jewish radicalism began to gain momentum on college campuses across the nation, connections between it and the Black Pride movement became increasingly apparent.

The year 1968 marked the founding of the JDL, which was said to mimic the tactics of the Black Panthers.

“The Jewish Defense League urged Jews to learn self-defense and military training,” Staub said. “Their slogan was, ‘Every Jew at 22.'”

Staub said the JDL likely used the Black Panthers as a “model for Jewish militancy.”

Though many Jews disagreed with the tactics of the JDL, Staub said its methods succeeded in bringing the Jewish plight to people’s attention.

Staub showed numerous other slides which portrayed images of oppressed Jews that were subtly reminiscent of African-American slavery. He said, however, that blacks were likely unaware of the Jewish alignment with their civil rights cause.

“My speculation is that they (blacks) would’ve been blissfully unaware of it,” he said.

Contact religion reporter Abbey Stirgwolt at [email protected].