WASHINGTON, D.C. — An editorial in Howard University's student newspaper has stirred black-Jewish tensions after more than a year of concerted efforts to repair relations between the black school and the Jewish community.
In its March 8 issue, The Hilltop newspaper lambasted the Anti-Defamation League for allegedly spying on black leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
It also attacked the ADL for what the paper claimed was an attempt to disrupt former National Association for the Advancement of Colored People leader Benjamin Chavis' outreach to Nation of Islam head Louis Farrakhan.
The editorial, "Attacks on black leaders make Anti-Defamation League an unwanted guest at Howard," also reprimanded Afro-American studies department chair Russell Adams for working with the ADL.
It called ADL regional director David C. Friedman a "pariah" when he was on campus at Adams' invitation.
While the editorial vilified the ADL, an accompanying cartoon represented ADL as a devil walking around a building at the university.
Tension between the school and the Washington area's Jewish community arose early in 1994 after ADL exposed in the national media anti-Semitic comments made by former Nation of Islam spokesman Khalid Abdul Muhammad.
In a Washington press conference which drew national attention, Farrakhan said he did not like the manner in which Muhammad gave the speech but agreed with the "essential truths" in it, Friedman recalled.
Muhammad subsequently spoke at Howard University and a black student leader, Malik Zulu Shabazz, "led the crowd in a chant of: `Who has your leaders in a vice grip? The Jews! The Jews!' " Friedman said.
"The [past] president of Howard waited a week to make any comment," he added.
In April, 1994, the university was the site for a conference on the "black Holocaust." Speakers included several leading black spokesmen known for their anti-Semitic views, including Steve Coakley, a former aide to the late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington; Tony Martin, a Wellesley University professor; and City College of New York Professor Leonard Jeffries.
The event was a "wall-to-wall hate fest," Friedman said.
The "black Holocaust" is the term Shabazz uses for slavery in the United States and the pre-civil rights treatment of African Americans, the "real" holocaust for which he claims that Jews were largely responsible.
The allegation of Jewish dominance of the slave trade is asserted in "The Secret Relationship," a book published by Farrakhan's Nation of Islam.
Howard officials condemned the conference, held teach-ins and began repairing relations with the Jewish community.
And, a new university president, Patrick Swygert, who had a long-standing relationship with the Jewish community, was hired.
The Hilltop's recent editorial said the ADL "has historically engaged in domestic spying" in the name of monitoring racism, that it has "especially monitored and attacked black leadership," including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and mounted "an enormous slander campaign" against Jesse Jackson during his 1994 presidential bid.
"The ADL threatened to persuade corporations to stop funding the NAACP to combat Dr. Benjamin Chavis' relentless pursuit to unite with" Farrakhan, it said. "For the past 11 years, the ADL has been in a bitter conflict with Farrakhan. The ADL has published volumes of slanderous literature against the popular black leader."
The editorial also found it "alarming" that Howard University officials "would allow such an organization to have input in our activities. African American studies chairman Russell Adams has worked closely with the ADL, and he should be held accountable."
In a letter to the editor in the March 15 edition of The Hilltop, Swygert criticized the editorial for impugning "an esteemed member of the faculty" and "demonizing" a group of "American citizens."
The college president took exception to "the words, the tone and the apparent purpose of the editorial and the cartoon."
But Swygert stated he would not "defend or advocate on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League. Howard University respects the right of anyone to take issue with the [ADL], its ideas, actions and positions."
He added that "disagreement with the ADL can be expressed without resorting to symbols and language that are offensive and, particularly so to African-Americans."
ADL was disappointed with Swygert's position.
In a letter to the college president, ADL national director Abraham H. Foxman wondered "whether the bridges we have been trying to construct go only one way."
ADL's Friedman added, "An attack as outrageous as this demanded more than simply an expression of support for academic freedom."
David Gaither, The Hilltop's editorial page editor, wrote the editorial, but he said the topic was discussed, according to usual policy, among the newspaper's section editors.
A personal encounter between Gaither and Friedman, on campus for the university's Charter Day, inspired the piece, Gaither said.
"I personally have knowledge that ADL has historically attacked black leadership," said Gaither, a Nation of Islam member. The editorial was not at all intended "as anything against the Jewish community," he said.
"It was solely against the Anti-Defamation League. The problem is that the two have been seen as synonymous, and they're not."
Although the tone of the editorial seemed to be a personal attack on Friedman, Gaither denied this intent. "He just happened to be seen on campus."