Pastor preaches partnership between blacks and Jews

By: Michael Nassberg

 Pastor Glenn Plummer spoke to students at Binghamton University on March 11.
Hillel at Binghamton and the Binghamton University Zionist Organization (BUZO) hosted guest speaker Pastor Glenn R. Plummer, president of the Fellowship of Israel and Black America, on campus on March 11. Plummer spoke on the subject of "Building Bridges: Blacks, Jews and Israel." His talk was followed by a question-and-answer segment and closed with a period for socialization and individual conversations with Plummer. Although the attendance was smaller than event organizers had hoped, reaching approximately 40 people, the lecture seemed to be well-received by those present. Organizers were also very pleased with Plummer’s message, which reverberated as a rejoinder against the recent appearance of Cynthia McKinney.

Based out of Detroit, MI, where he is currently running for Congress, Plummer approached the topic through a combination of historical explanation and personal accounts. He began his lecture by giving background information on the Ethiopian Jews, who, until the last few decades, had lived in the mountains of Northern Ethiopia for centuries without interference from the modern world. However, when their presence became known, they came under oppression from the government and others. In 1991, which Plummer pointed out was at the time when most present in the audience had barely been born, Israel evacuated thousands of Ethiopian Jews in an undertaking titled Operation Solomon. According to Plummer, this was the first time in history that a nation made an effort to move Africans to another country to escape oppression.

He pointed out that, to his bewilderment, the historical event was completely unknown to him for most of his life. He described reading an article about the Black Hebrew Israelites, a group of a few hundred people who left the United States for Israel and set up a residence in Dimona, but whom he did not believe were really Jewish. After taking a camera crew to Israel to film a documentary on the subject, Plummer learned about the Ethiopian immigrants, who, unlike the Black Hebrew Israelites, were full citizens of Israel. The Ethiopians, he discovered, could trace their roots back to Israel genetically, their DNA proving origins reaching back even further than many Israelis themselves. This led him to learn more about their history and Judaism, as well as make numerous visits to Israel.

Having established the idea of an ancestral connection between blacks and Jews, he went on to enumerate the many parallels that exist in each culture’s experience. Primarily, he referred to African Americans and Jews sharing a history that includes slavery. He drew a distinction between blacks in other parts of the world who had not experienced slavery as black Americans had. He compared the mentality he was exposed to, that of putting the issue in the past and not being as vocal about it, to the Jewish tradition of relating the story of their slavery every year at Passover. Being in his 50s and only a single generation removed from family members who experienced slavery personally, he understood how this knowledge can affect the psychology of a people, seeing this as just one of many connections to the Jews.

To preface the next component of his lecture, Plummer gave the audience a quick background on the history of the Civil Rights Movement, noting first that half of the NAACP’s founders were Jewish. He then explained that three different parties had vied for leadership of the movement: the Christian clergy (pastors such as Martin Luther King Jr.), the Nation of Islam (Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X) and secular organizations, often college students and liberals (such as the Black Panthers). According to Plummer, the majority of Americans sided with King’s beliefs, noting that King was a Zionist, wholeheartedly "exalting" the ideal that Israel represents, of a people returning to their promised land.

Plummer also explained King’s support of the Jews as stemming from a line from the book of Genesis that he took to heart: "I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you." He believed that blessing Israel would mean blessing their descendants, including his Christian followers. Plummer expressed his own belief that King was rewarded by God, through the success of his movement, for holding and acting on this belief. He argued that no other people have seen such rapid upward mobility in such a short span of time. "How do you explain that?" he asked – how does a leap from oppressed slaves to leaders of communities, to heads of state, occur so quickly without a blessing from God? He added, "I’m convinced of it."

Furthermore, he explained that the Civil Rights Movement, despite being led by religious Christians, did not receive support from white Christians. However, they were assisted by the Jews. Later, during the question-and-answer segment, he gave details of a little-known fact of history: That on the day King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, he was the 10th speaker in the "March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom" program. Immediately preceding him was Rabbi Joachim Prinz, who famously stated that bigotry and hatred were not the worst problem the world faced, but that "the most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence."

Plummer concluded his lecture by stating his belief that it is important for the black community to learn more history and to recognize the Jewish people for the assistance they gave at an important time in the past. He stated that he is a friend to Israel because "they need a friend" and that he thanks the Jews on the behalf of his people. Lastly, he made clear to the audience that most people do not think like McKinney or Louis Farrakhan, reminding those who are pro-Israel, "You are not alone."

After the lecture, many students expressed their appreciation for Plummer’s message while asking him questions. One such question dealt specifically with how people should respond to those like McKinney. Plummer’s answer was to not engage with them, reasoning that people are not really convinced of her views and could be receptive to a discourse opposed to hers.

Said Rabbi Shalom Kantor, "I am really impressed with the caliber of students that have created an atmosphere that allowed for such an amazing presentation. Plummer brought tonight a new perspective and a new manner of approaching Israel advocacy and the anti-Israel forces that can rear their heads."

"I thought his message was very good," added Teddy Stalbow, president of BUZO. "I wish there was more cooperation among the communities. We’re going to keep on trying."

For those interested in reading more, Plummer recommended reading "What Would Martin Say?" by Clarence Jones, which includes a chapter on King’s perspective on antisemitism.