Farrakhans South African visit sparks concerns among Jews

JOHANNESBURG — South African Jewish leaders are not happy about an upcoming visit here by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Farrakhan, notorious for his anti-Semitic and racist comments, has requested a meeting with South African President Nelson Mandela during his stay, which was scheduled to begin Friday, Jan. 26.

It is unclear whether Mandela will meet with the American black Muslim leader.

Farrakhan also has requested meetings with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other political and religious leaders in South Africa.

"The Jewish community of South Africa knows all about Mr. Farrakhan's anti-Semitic statements," said Mervyn Smith, president of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.

"Anti-Semitism is a classic form of racism which has no place in the new South Africa. We hope he will not repeat his statements here in South Africa or anywhere else."

Farrakhan has referred to Jews as "bloodsuckers" and Judaism as a "gutter religion."

Farrakhan, who will be accompanied by a delegation of 34 people, including Muslims, Christians and Jews, is scheduled to spend the first three days of his visit in Cape Town. His trip includes other stops in Africa and the Middle East.

Milton Shain, director of the Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town, echoed the concerns expressed by many in the Jewish community.

"We can't deny him entry into the country," he said. "Nevertheless, we, as South Africans, are trying to bring people together, whereas Farrakhan is a divisive force. I sincerely hope he is not entertained in the upper echelons of government."

Joe Simon, chairman of the South African Zionist Federation, said the Jewish community would "carefully monitor his press statements and interviews."

"Should they in any way attack Jews or the Jewish community, we will react with decisiveness," he said.

News of Farrakhan's visit has even prompted reactions from the political arena.

Harry Schwarz, a former parliamentarian and former South African ambassador to the United States, said, "The man has made a number of very serious statements which are racist" and apply to non-Jews as well, he said.

"South Africa has a delicate race relations situation in which we can't afford racist comments from anyone, particularly not from people who come from outside the country."

Anyone who is "anti-racist should make a stand" against such remarks, he said, adding that nothing could be said in South Africa that could diminish the spirit of reconciliation symbolized by Mandela.

Tony Leon, the leader of South Africa's Democratic Party and a member of Parliament, said of Farrakhan, "I doubt if he has anything to teach South Africa about the values of tolerance, mutual respect and freedom of religion."