SYRACUSE, N.Y. (Nov. 11)
With 500 protestors clamoring outside, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan denied he was anti-Semitic and preached his message of black racial pride and economic self-determination here Nov. 9.
The protestors — singing, chanting and waving signs — congregated opposite the Syracuse University Schine Student Center, where Farrakhan spoke to more than 1,700 people. The protesters argued volubly with supporters of Farrakhan, but no violence broke out.
Police quickly quelled two minor skirmishes and declined to make arrests. When Jewish Defense Organization (JDO) leader Mordechai Levy gained access to the center’s lobby, he was promptly escorted out by in-house security.
Earlier in the day, the Syracuse Area Interreligious Council (SAIC) held a demonstration on the steps of the university chapel. SAIC members, university chaplains, local rabbis and professional and volunteer leaders of the Syracuse Jewish Federation gathered to affirm brotherhood. But area black religious leaders were noticeably absent.
The campus newspaper criticized the Student Afro-American Society, sponsor of the event, for “poor taste” in scheduling Farrakhan’s speech on the 49th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the destruction of hundreds of synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses in Germany and Austria.
Local Jewish groups reacted to the appearance with restrained anger. University Hillel house director Rabbi Milton Elefant helped stage a demonstration outside the Schine Center.
However, Hillel’s plans for a peaceful protest were undermined when it was learned that the JDO was sending armed representatives to join the rally. Elefant rejected the JDO involvement.
Armed Syracuse city police, on foot and on horseback, some leading guard dogs, joined an augmented campus force to patrol the area. Farrakhan’s dapper and well-mannered bodyguards were posted at every entrance to the building.
Farrakhan, leader of the 10,000-member Chicago-based Nation of Islam, was originally scheduled to speak at a large theater, but the facility’s owners cancelled following strong local opposition to his appearance.
Speaking before a predominantly black audience, he avoided reference to accusations that he has called Judaism a “gutter religion” and Hitler a “great man.” But, he noted, “The press is upset because they didn’t hear me say something that maybe they want to print tonight… I can easily defend every statement for the Jewish community members who are here.”
He said the prophet Mohammed “did not want the Jews to say, ‘I am better because you were chosen by God for a duty,’ not to walk around like pompous peacocks saying ‘I am God’s chosen people.’ You must do the work of the chosen in order to remain the chosen.”