WASHINGTON, D.C. — Louis Farrakhan suspects that his father may have been Jewish.
At least that's what he tells Henry Louis Gates Jr. in the current issue of The New Yorker magazine.
Speaking of his father's white Portuguese parents, the Nation of Islam leader said, "I'm going to tell you something. You really want to know what I think? I think they were members of the Jewish community."
He added: "I believe that in my blood, and not in a bad way. Because when I was a little boy I used to love listening to the Jewish cantors in Boston. They had a program, and every week I would listen. I was struck by the cantor, and I've always loved the way they sing or recite the Torah."
Gates, citing an academic source, says Farrakhan's assertion about his lineage is "highly probable" given that nearly all people of Iberian descent in Jamaica and Barbados are of Sephardic Jewish ancestry.
Farrakhan was born in 1933, the son of Mae Clark, who was from Barbados. He was named Gene after his father, a light-skinned man with straight hair from Jamaica. His father, Gates writes, was a philanderer whom the family rarely saw.
"If in my lineage there are Jews, I would hope that in the end, before my life is over, I not only will have rendered a service to my own beloved community of black people but will also have rendered a service to the Jewish community," Farrakhan was quoted as saying.
In the interview with Gates, which reportedly lasted nine hours, the Nation of Islam leader also made reference to "wise Jews who plan evil," the international conspiracy of Jewish bankers and overwhelming Jewish complicity in the slave trade.
Jewish groups expressed outrage over Farrakhan's latest public statements.
"Farrakhan's effort to make it appear that he is merely criticizing the `evil' he finds in his own `Jewish' antecedents is a reflection of the bizarre and ludicrous nature of his entire behavior towards Jews," Phil Baum, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, a planned protest against the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith fizzled last week when Washington, D.C., police denied former Nation of Islam spokesman Khalid Abdul Muhammad entrance to the B'nai B'rith office.
Flanked by four bodyguards in black fatigues, Muhammad took a moment to rail against the ADL and the Jewish community before he departed the scene.
"This is a criminal organization and a criminal enterprise that has lied and spied on black leaders and black organizations," said Muhammad, who was dismissed as Farrakhan's spokesman in 1994 in the wake of a national controversy surrounding a vehemently anti-Semitic speech he delivered at Kean College in New Jersey.
Muhammad called the ADL and its parent organization, B'nai B'rith, one of the "main arteries of improper propaganda and nefarious activity" that has greatly influenced the larger American Jewish community.
In brief remarks to reporters, Muhammad said the black man and black woman "are the chosen people of God and we want to put an end to this lie of the so-called Jews, these people who crawled out of the caves and hills of Europe just a few years ago claiming our birthright."
Standing astride Muhammad was Malik Zulu Shabazz, the leader of the Washington, D.C.-based Unity Nation who gained notoriety for leading anti-Semitic chants at Howard University student rallies in 1994. Shabazz said the ADL is an "oppressive" organization that "comes from a people that are by nature evil and wicked."
Tommy Baer, international president of B'nai B'rith, called the protesters "messengers of hate" that "are harming relations between blacks and Jews, and between blacks and whites."
"We would prefer that there be serious dialogue between responsible Jewish and black leaders who oppose this hateful rhetoric to improve relations and discuss important issues," Baer said in a statement.
Muhammad said that by locking their doors, B'nai B'rith and the ADL showed that they are "afraid to deal with us head on."
He added, "It would be better to just deal with me because there could be an occasion where we would return with an army."
After the abortive protest, another rally against the ADL planned by Muhammad and Shabazz fell flat when officials at Howard University announced they would not be allowed onto the campus. The two have been barred from the university since 1994.