WASHINGTON, D.C. — Denouncing Louis Farrakhan's key role in the upcoming Million Man March on Washington, the Anti-Defamation League says Farrakhan has aggressively promoted anti-Semitism and racism.
In a full-page newspaper ad, the ADL says it "cannot be ignored" that "this march will be the largest event led by an anti-Semite in recent American history." The ad appeared Friday of last week in The New York Times and Tuesday in the Washington Post.
The Oct. 16 march has been billed by Farrakhan as a national "day of atonement." He has called on African American men to take more responsibility for their communities and commit themselves to a restoration of values.
While acknowledging the need for African Americans to address problems plaguing their community at the march, Jewish groups remain concerned that the event could give further legitimacy to Farrakhan and the anti-Semitic views he espouses.
The ad reads, in part: "What if a white supremacist called for a march on Washington? If this happened, no matter what the cause, no matter how legitimate the issue, no one could ignore the fact that a hatemonger was the driving force behind the march. The same is true of minister Louis Farrakhan and the Million Man March."
The ADL's sharp public criticism represents a departure from other Jewish groups, most of which have been hesitant to issue any public statements regarding the march, mindful of averting tensions between Jews and blacks.
Abraham Foxman, the ADL's national director, said that for historical and moral reasons, the ADL decided it could not be silent.
"This is a major manifestation that anti-Semitism is moving into the mainstream of a very significant segment of our society," Foxman said.
Foxman said the ADL decided to act after the Hartford, Conn., school system said it would excuse absences of those who participate in the march, and invited Nation of Islam members to recruit students.
Farrakhan has called on African Americans across the country to stay away from jobs and school the day of the march, Oct. 16.
Hartford is largely made up of minorities. State statistics show the school population to be more than 80 percent black and Hispanic.
Ethan Felson, director of the Community Relations Committee of the Greater Hartford Jewish Federation, said, "We have an obligation to educate about the racist and anti-Semitic messages of Louis Farrakhan.
"But a lot of urban legislators feel that there is no alternative for them but to support this march."
Other Jewish groups had mixed reactions to the ADL ad.
Phil Baum, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said the ADL ad should have appeared "closer to the event" and been produced with many Jewish groups.
Before the ADL ad, the AJCongress issued a similar statement. It recognized the "profound crisis affecting the life of black America," but added the march is being convened by "one of our country's most prominent and unrepentant public bigots."
Said the AJCongress, "Because of this record, we cannot remain silent. History teaches that the importance of the message cannot permit us to overlook the nature of the messenger."
Other Jewish groups distanced themselves from the ADL ad.
"Our consensus opinion was that this was not the time for the ad," said Karen Senter, co-director for domestic concerns at the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.
Responding to the criticism, Foxman said, "They're entitled to be wrong."
In a clear sign of how carefully NJCRAC is approaching this issue, Senter issued an internal memo to member agencies, calling for a measured response "so as not to allow Farrakhan or the media to distort or make Jewish reaction an issue." The ADL is not falling into that trap, Foxman said.
Farrakhan "is making an issue about it, every time he opens his mouth anti-Semitically and racially," Foxman said.
A broad coalition has formed for the march, with endorsements from community leaders and national black groups including the Congressional Black Caucus. Such backing is worrisome, Foxman said, because no one appears to object to Farrakhan's role.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) board, however, voted not to endorse the march, said Myrlie Evers-Williams, who heads the board, at a recent World Jewish Congress meeting in New York.
"I'd like to hear those who are going [to] at least express themselves about the racism and anti-Semitism of the man who's the Pied Piper," Foxman said.
"What troubles us is the fact that [Farrakhan] has attracted the endorsement and support of people in the past who would have seen it as abhorrent to be seen with him or identified with him in any way,"Baum added.