It’s not the message that has upset Jewish leaders about plans to jump-start the black civil rights movement with a march in Washington Oct. 15, but rather the man behind the effort, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
"It’s very sad that the only leader the African-American community can find to rally around is an unrepentant bigot, an anti-Semite who still holds to his views, hasn’t changed them, hasn’t repented and continues to articulate them," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
"What I continue to find so distressing is why this is tolerated, why there is a continuous blind spot to black anti-Semitism by good people in the black community," Foxman said.
And referring to Malik Zulu Shabazz, the leader of the New Black Panther Party who attended Farrakhan’s announcement of the march Monday, Foxman said: "Farrakhan has now embraced the next generation of bigots; Shabazz is almost his heir."
In February, Shabazz created a stir when he told students at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh that "Zionism is racism," called Israel a "terrorist state," and said: "You cannot be a real Jew and a Zionist at the same time." Ten years ago the Farrakhan-led "Million Man March" galvanized the black community. This time it is being billed as the "Millions More Movement."
Neil Goldstein, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said that to have an event that "promotes African-American self-awareness and pride is a wonderful thing, but the person organizing it isn’t."
"We’re looking forward to the day when African-Americans can stand up with leadership that is inclusive of every group," he added.
Kenneth Stern, the American Jewish Committee’s specialist on anti-Semitism and extremism, said Farrakhan is "someone who has made a career out of anti-Semitism, and Shabazz has the same record."
"There are people who are diminishing the importance of that record, and that is a mistake," he said. "The parallel is if you had David Duke organizing a symposium about environmental issues, people would complain if others came and overlooked his racism. The same should apply to Farrakhan and Shabazz."
Several black leaders, including two former presidential candidates, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton, as well as Washington Mayor Anthony Williams and economist Julianne Malveaux, attended Farrakhan’s announcement. Jackson even praised Farrakhan for his "vision."
Malveaux was critical of Farrakhan’s critics for bringing up his comments of "15 or 20 years ago." But Stern pointed out that Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam are "still promoting the basest type of anti-Semitism." He said that one of the books it promotes views Jews "in a classic, anti-Semitic mode."
The ADL Web site includes excerpts from some of Farrakhan’s most recent speeches. It quoted him as saying Feb. 27 in Chicago: "Listen, Jewish people don’t have no hands that are free of the blood of us. They owned slave ships, they bought and sold us. They raped and robbed us. If you can’t face that, why you gonna condemn me for showing you your past? How then can you atone and repent if somebody don’t open the book with courage. You don’t have that, but I’ll be damned, I got it." On Dec. 11 in New Jersey, Farrakhan was quoted as saying: "The war in Iraq is not your war; that’s Israel’s war. … The rudder that is turning America is not your elected officials; it’s that small influential group of neo-conservatives that are using America’s power to destroy the enemies of Israel."
Referring to Farrakhan’s comments, Foxman said Farrakhan’s words of three months ago "can’t be dismissed as 20-year-old rhetoric." "And he lamented that there is "no leadership to speak out against it, to condemn it, to marginalize it. He has never explained it, never taken it back, never apologized and yet he is still embraced and applauded and put up as the role model. Why?"
Foxman added that by appearing with Farrakhan, the black leaders who attended the announcement "give him credibility and a pass on his anti-Semitism. If nothing else, his embrace of Shabazz should have been enough to say OK that’s it."