NEW YORK (Jan. 31)
The National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (NJCRAC), at its annual Plenary Session last week in Tucson, Arizona, gave implicit endorsement to the legal efforts of the Jews of Skokie, Ill., to prevent the American Nazis from conducting a march in that community.
The Plenary Session, by consensus, instructed the executive committee of NJCRAC to incorporate in its Joint Program Plan for 1978-79 a policy statement which will reassert the commitment of the Jewish community to the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. At the same time, it will take the view that Jewish communities have the right and the responsibility to pursue Constitutional and lawful remedies to specific situations which threaten their rights as U.S. citizens and community peace and order.
The Joint Program Plan is used as a policy and program guide by NJCRAC’s nine national and 102 local community relations agencies. There was no record vote on the proposal. A spokesman for NJCRAC said that the substance of the directive was binding on the executive committee but that drafters would have latitude in language.
The action was taken on the recommendation of a caucus group after extended debate had indicated a split on more precise terminology. Sol Goldstein of Skokie, a Holocaust survivor and leader of the Jewish move there to prohibit the march, concurred in the Plenary Session action. He participated in the plenary as a member of the delegation of the Public Affairs Committee of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, which backed the suits. The attorney for the Skokie Jewish plaintiffs, Jerome Torshen, also participated and concurred.
DILEMMA FACED BY JEWS
The debate and caucus last Wednesday morning followed a major speech by NJCRAC chairman, Theodore R. Mann, the previous night. Outlining the dilemma faced by Jews in approaching the question, he said that two powerful elements of the Jewish psyche were at loggerheads: the ancient tradition of protecting dissidents–citing Amos, Hosea and Isaiah as outstanding personalities in that tradition–and, on the other hand, the more recent and still burning memory of the Holocaust.
He said there have been hundreds of Nazi incidents in the 15 years since NJCRAC took its stand on prior restraint. The situation in Skokie, however, differed from the rest because, with its large population of Holocaust survivors, it has a high potential for anguish and violence, Mann said. Because the situation there was unique, he said, “we ought to be reluctant to draw brood general conclusions from it.”
He said it is an insult to suggest that Jews who are fighting the Nazi march are abandoning the belief in free speech that is inherent in the Jewish tradition. “They are simply crying out to all of us, ‘Don’t let this become the kind of society in which we must choose between supine betrayal of the memory of our loved ones on the one hand or violence on the other. Give us an alternative.’ What we are trying to resolve together is whether there are any alternatives.”