WASHINGTON, D.C. — When black newspaper publishers honored Louis Farrakhan as "Newsmaker of the Year" last week, Jewish groups winced.
One of the four criteria for the award from the National Newspaper Publishers Association is the display of a "higher level of moral authority."
The association, which represents some 200 black-owned newspapers, chose Farrakhan as the first recipient of the award because of the vision he displayed in leading October's Million Man March on Washington, said Dorothy Leavell, the association's president.
Jewish leaders voice objections to the choice of honoree.
"To salute this man for his `vision beyond the ordinary' and `higher level of moral authority' because of the Million Man March is to irresponsibly ignore the harm he is doing to race relations in America and the support he is giving to America's most implacable foes throughout the world," wrote Tommy Baer, president of B'nai B'rith, in a letter to Leavell.
"Whatever value there might have been to the stated goals of the Million Man March was more than offset by the racist hatred spewed out by Farrakhan."
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said, "I just find it strange that this would be the first" newsmaker to be honored.
Foxman added that it would be one thing to honor Farrakhan as the most prominent black newsmaker in the way Time magazine honors its "Man of the Year."
But, he said, "to give him an award that includes moral authority I find very distasteful and ironic, because I guess that moral authority includes anti-Semitic and racist rhetoric."
At a news conference before receiving the award, Farrakhan said, "If it were not for the black press and black radio and black persons of consciousness in television, the truth of my world cause will not be known."
The Nation of Islam leader has come under fire most recently for his 18-nation world tour, which included stopovers in rogue nations such as Libya, Iran and Iraq.
Justice Department and Treasury Department officials hand-delivered two separate letters to Farrakhan last week notifying him that he must register as an agent for Libya and that U.S. law prohibits American citizens from spending U.S. currency in countries under economic sanctions.
"I am not an agent of Libya, or any foreign government, and there is no need for me ever to follow that law that I should register," Farrakhan told reporters.
"I think I can receive aid in the program of the honorable Elijah Mohammed, which is for the rise of our people, from any quarter, without strings attached."