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Farrakhan's Million Family March alerts Jews

Washington Jewish Week
October 19, 2000

WASHINGTON—Five years have passed since the Million Man March, and Rev. Louis Farrakhan sings the same song, but in a different tune. His words have been softened and his comments toward Jews less overt, but his message is one that makes the Jewish community wonder if he has changed his ways.

Thousands convened Monday on the National Mall in support of the Million Family March. Families traveled from all over the United States to support Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. Unlike the Million Man March, when then-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry attended the march and demonstrated his support for Farrakhan, D.C. Mayor Tony Williams was out of town Monday. However, a city official did address the crowd. Carolyn Graham, deputy mayor for families and children, applauded Farrakhan for organizing the march.

A mayoral proclamation also was read, welcoming the march to Washington and proclaiming Monday "Million Family March Day in Washington, D.C." David Friedman, Washington, D.C., regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, criticized Graham's participation. "To see the mayor of Washington, D.C., embracing an anti-Semite through proclamation and official welcome sends a terrible signal to the entire community that those who preach hate will be accepted in to the mainstream," Friedman said.

"We're writing to the mayor, expressing how troubled we are and asking him to explain how he can espouse principles against bigotry and at the same time praise the organizers of the march," Friedman said. "They came up with something that endorsed and legitimized him."

Jim Wareck, special assistant to the mayor, noting that "there hasn't been an inch of space between the mayor and the ADL on bigotry and anti-Semitism," said Graham "was there not to represent the office, but herself."

"She was not serving as a surrogate for the mayor," he said.

As for the proclamation, Wareck said, "I cannot recall an event for which we turned down a proclamation. You've got a significant number of people in the District who don't support Farrakhan," but saw the march as one of black pride.

David Bernstein, Washington area director for the American Jewish Committee, also was disappointed in the proclamation. "We were gratified [Williams] didn't go to the march, but we thought the proclamation that was read was much more supportive of the march than we originally" thought it would be, he said.

As for Graham, Bernstein said, "she purported to be there on behalf of the mayor." But Ira Forman, one of the organizers of the Jewish political group Citizens for a Pluralistic D.C., believes "the mayor's absence spoke volumes, especially when you compare it to the former mayor's very visible connection to the Million Man March."

Among the diverse group of guests was a representative of the mufti of Syria, whose anti-Semitic remarks came at no surprise. As the crowd cheered in approval, the Syrian representative, who was not clearly identified, referred to the Zionist-controlled media in the United States and called Israel a "Nazi state which was developed illegally on Palestinian land."

In addition to the anti-Semitic tone that was apparent by some of the speakers who addressed the crowd, some anti-Semitic literature was distributed by an organization called the Israelite Network.

Farrakhan's speech touched on a variety of subjects, from abortion to Middle East peace. Referring to the latest fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Farrakhan said he hopes there can be peace between the two groups. But, he concluded, "there should be justice for the Palestinians who suffered these past weeks."

Farrakhan made no mention of support for Israel or the suffering Israelis have endured. The crowd cheered in recognition and support of Farrakhan's comments. Farrakhan's two-hour address included such comments as "Abraham was not a Jew or Christian, but an upright man" and "Abraham can only be our father if we live upright."

Toward the conclusion of his speech, he told the crowd, "I am a Jew, Christian, Muslim, Masonic. " As the crowd and Farrakhan chuckled a bit, he continued, " I am all of that and then some I refuse to let anything limit me."

Farrakhan captivated his audience of mostly mainstream African Americans. Though the Nation of Islam leader did not make any overtly anti-Semitic comments, he spoke of poison in today's society. This poison, he said, has affected Judaism. "We see black Jews, Ashkenazi Jews and Semitic Jews fighting," he said, noting the poison has to be identified and fixed.

Friedman said, "It is vintage Farrakhan to present himself as a unifier when in fact he has such a long and infamous hatred for the Jews." Over the weekend, Farrakhan, appearing on NBC's Meet the Press, reiterated his charge that Jews control many prominent African Americans, although he did not provide any evidence.

"If I stood up tomorrow and said, 'I regret saying that there is Jewish control over black artists and black athletes and black professionals,' I would be lying," he said. "The Jewish people have that kind of control. That is maybe to their credit, but it is to our pain, and I want to relieve our people of that pain.

"I think we can restructure a relationship that is more equitable, that is more reciprocal rather than a master-slave relationship or that paternalistic relationship of the one who has the money to fund black organizations, to fund black newspapers, to fund black magazines so that it quiets our voice," Farrakhan said.

At the march, at least one Muslim participant didn't dwell on Farrakhan's past statements. "Years ago, Farrakhan spoke badly about the Jews because he was talking about those individuals who contributed to slavery. But he has evolved his message and found another way to reach more people."

Jews, the man said, "should want to move forward and accept the minister's message." Asked whether Farrakhan is a representative of the mainstream black community, the New Yorker said, "He has evolved and is helping all black people to be better."

But Bernstein said the "increasing acceptability" of Farrakhan "erodes one of the greatest achievements of the civil rights era the social norm that requires men and women of goodwill to distance themselves from racist views."

Farrakhan's Million Family March received a great deal of support from mainstream black organizations, including the Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP.

Washington Jewish Week staff contributed to this article.

© Washington Jewish Week, 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission


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