The news that the civil rights leader Andrew Young had resigned from a Wal-Mart advocacy group and apologized after making disparaging comments about Jewish, Korean, and Arab small-business owners sent us scrambling to the online archive of Commentary magazine, whose November 1979 number carried an article headlined "The Andrew Young Affair."
The latest flap involving Mr. Young had him telling the Los Angeles Sentinel, "Those are the people who have been overcharging us — selling us stale bread, and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they've ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it's Arabs, very few black people own these stores."
But the Commentary article was about an earlier Andrew Young affair — the one in which he resigned as President Carter's ambassador at the United Nations after meeting with an official of the Palestine Liberation Organization in violation of what was then American policy.
The Commentary article noted that in the aftermath of the resignation, Mr. Young denounced Israel for having "become the oppressor" of the Palestinians, for engaging in "terroristic" raids and "constant bombing" in Lebanon, and for "losing their moral advantage." A New York Times op-ed piece from a professor sympathizing with Mr. Young followed, saying that the resignation "brings into sharp focus the immense power of the Israeli lobby in this country."
The Commentary article put the Young affair in the context of the Cold War, noting that during the trial of the Russian Jewish dissident Anatoly Shcharansky, "Young noted tellingly that America, too, has political prisoners." The article reported that Jesse Jackson warned America against "backing into another Vietnam war" by backing Israel in the Middle East.
"Though the Young affair appeared to be about black-Jewish relations, it was actually about democracy and its enemies," the Commentary article said, describing "the determination to render America incapable of defending Israel or any other ally, or even itself."
It left us thinking that the battles in which this newspaper is engaged have been fought now for more than a generation. For all Israel's critics try to distinguish between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism — and we acknowledge, there is such a distinction; it surprised us not one iota to see Mr. Young fetching up as a critic of Jewish merchants. The critics at Human Rights Watch and the United Nations who complain of Israel's actions in Lebanon, the professors at Harvard and the University of Chicago who rail against the power of the "Israeli lobby"are making charges that are as stale as the bread Mr. Young accuses the Jewish merchants of selling.
Mr. Young's apologists may point to his achievements in the civil rights struggle, or blame his outburst on his advanced age, or at bitterness over the loss of his ambassadorship. But how, then, to account for his attack on Koreans, or Arabs? Could the paid spokesman for Wal-Mart be hostile to capitalism? Or just to entrepreneurs?
Mr. Shcharansky is now an Israeli politican, Natan Sharansky. The author of the Commentary article, Carl Gershman, who then was executive director of Social Democrats USA, is now president of the National Endowment for Democracy (his son Jacob, our Albany bureau man, was born the year the Commentary article appeared.) Rev. Jackson was last seen in Connecticut, campaigning against Senator Lieberman. And the struggle for civil rights in America and human rights in the Middle East — a struggle in which Andrew Young was once a leader but then lost his way — marches on, two steps forward, one step back.