December 24, 1979 12:00 PM

His critics call him “Jesse Jetstream,” and even his allies see the point. In a year of travel, toil and trouble, the Rev. Jesse Jackson turned up at almost every bubbling caldron in the world for an ostentatious stir. In South Africa he castigated the “terrorist dictatorship” of the Botha government to a crowd of adoring blacks. Later that month, like a heat-seeking missile, he flew to the side of U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young in the wake of his resignation, then plunged into the black v. Jew backwash with a headline-grabbing trip to the Mideast. After visiting the Israeli memorial to the Holocaust, he spoke with appalling insensitivity—”Now I can understand the persecution complex of the Jews that makes them almost invariably overreact to their own suffering.” A few days later he was in the embrace of PLO leader Yasser Arafat, advising him and his followers: “Do not be deterred by suffering, jail or death.”

Jackson, at 38, has come a long way from Greenville, S.C., where he was the son of a post office maintenance man. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference gave him an early taste for publicity. Retailing himself as an all-purpose black savant, he became a purveyor of memorable quotes. “Down with dope, up with hope,” he chants to schoolchildren. For President Carter’s post-Camp David malaise-in-America speech, he provided this call to arms: “We’ve got to stop crying and start sweating, stop talking and start walking, stop cursing and start praying.” “He’s a master,” declares Chicago Sun-Times columnist Roger Simon, a lapsed Jackson admirer, “an accomplished demagogue.”

Some old friends think Jesse has gone too far. The Administration may well be rethinking its affection for him in the wake of reports that he bartered his PLO support for an infusion of Arab money into his Chicago-based Operation PUSH, a black self-help organization that pays him $50,000 a year. Jackson reportedly warned that without financial assistance, the black community “will learn to recite the alphabet without three letters—PLO.”

Operation PUSH has had money troubles, and an offshoot, PUSH-Excel, which preaches the work ethic to school-age kids, is under attack by some blacks as a sop to middle-class whites. No major newspaper in Chicago will run Jackson’s weekly column, and community leaders are increasingly deaf to his strident appeals. Jackson is not sounding retreat. His project in 1980 will be to register graduating high school seniors to vote—and, he promises grandly, “We will continue interpreting domestic issues and maintaining our international vigilance.”

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