“The accusations do not truly characterize the statements made during the presentation, nor do they accurately characterize my life or my position as President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles.”
But then he writes:
“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.”
Negative characterizations of African Americans by whom? I assume he means Jews here. Is he referring to the Jew Stanley Kramer who made Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and The Defiant Ones with their “wretched characterizations” of African Americans. Or perhaps the Jew Ed Zwick who directed Glory about the brave company of black soldiers in the Civil War? Or maybe he’s talking about me. I wrote the screenplay for Richard Pryor’s Bustin’ Loose, which won an Image Award from the NAACP. If Reverend Lee thinks I did something wrong, if I wrote evil stereotypical characterizations of African Americans, I would like to know.
Obviously I am being facetious here. In my thirty-some years in the Writers Guild of America, I did not hear one member of any race, color or creed seeking to do anything but put African Americans in the best light. Of course there may be some that I missed, but the vast majority of writers and directors I know, virtually all in fact, Jews and non-Jews, bent over backwards to do the right thing in their characterizations of African Americans.
Reverend Lee’s calumny is shameful and racist on the face of it. It comes straight from the pages of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – the collection of lies about Jews supposedly authored by the Czar’s secret police, exploited by anti-Semites for over a century and used as a justification for death camps. Lee should be ashamed of himself for propagating this nonsense. Not only does he owe a formal apology to the Jewish people, he should start informing himself about the, yes, diversity of all ethnic and religious groups. An apology is not enough. Real reeducation and serious dialogue is necessary.
UPDATE: The following second response from Reverend Lee has been made available to Pajamas Media. It is clearly much more of a formal apology:
Date: April 10, 2008
To: Mrs. Daphna Zinman
From: Rev. Eric P. Lee
It is with deep regret and my sincerest apologies that any comments I have made have caused you pain and distress. It was never my intent to insult you or the Jewish community, with whom I have a respected and long standing relationship. It is my hope that any misunderstandings may be clarified such that both our communities may move forward with mutual respect and a commitment to our shared struggles against any form of injustice.
As a Christian, and as an African American, we have long embraced the history of Israel’s plight of slavery, oppression, deliverance and freedom as symbolic of African American’s plight against slavery, oppression, deliverance and freedom. Our communities are joined together in this struggle.
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.
I am reminded of a part of a Seder ceremony in which the children of Israel are fleeing Pharaoh’s army and celebrate the drowning of their pursuers in the Red Sea. G-d’s response was disappointment because all are His children. I wholeheartedly believe that we are all G-d’s children and in the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “we must learn to live together as brothers, or we perish together as fools”.
Rev. Eric P. Lee