Jewish community officials have welcomed Michael Jackson’s announcement that he will be returning to the studio to re-record a song with anti-Semitic lyrics.
However, they remain concerned how the offensive lyrics got on the album in the first place.
The action by the pop superstar, termed, “unprecedented” by several Jewish spokesman, followed a week of intensive public pressure and harsh criticism in the media.
The Criticism focused on the words “Jew me” and “kike me,” contained in the song “They Don’t Care About Us.” The song is included in Jackson’s new album “HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I.”
In the re-recorded version Jackson plans to substitute the words “do me” and “strike me” for the offensive lyrics.
The original slurs were immediately protested by the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and in editorial comments in The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and Daily Variety, the entertainment industry trade paper.
In an initial reaction to the uproar, Jackson had apologized for the “unintentional hurt” he had inflicted and promised to attach a written plea for tolerance and against racism and anti-Semitism in all copies of the album not yet shipped out.
However, a demand for a stronger action was voiced by Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director, and Army Archerd, the influential Jewish columnist for Daily Variety.
Jackson phoned Archerd last week after the columnist had criticized the pop star for putting old anti-Semitic slurs “back into common conversation.”
If he could erase the offensive words, he would, Jackson said, adding, “Haven’t you ever done something that you wish you had never done? I dos, so now I’ll change it.”
At the same time, Jackson sent another letter of apology to Foxman.
In a phone interview, Foxman described Jackson’s action as “unprecedented and a significant reversal,” and credited Michael Schullof, president of the Sony Corp. of America, for “making it happen.”
Schullof and Sony, the parent company of Jackson’s record distributor, Epic Records, “showed sensitivity and corporate responsibility,” Foxman said.
But Foxman also said it is Jackson’s responsibility to use his fame and influence to speak out against the use of anti-Semitic, racist and hate words.
“At the very least, he should do public service announcements and perhaps even team up with Sony to do a `Concert Against Hate,’” Foxman said.
In his earliest response to the controversy, Jackson had said many of his closest friends and advisers were Jewish and that they had raised no objections to the lyrics before they were recorded.
One was Sandy Gallin, Jackson’s manager, who told the Los Angeles Times last week that he did not realize the ramifications of the lyrics.
“I personally had no idea,” said Gallin. “It (the slur) has not been in use for many, many years, and was not something that children would recognize as racism. The mere usage of the word, of bringing it back, is the essence of where the mistake was.”
Bust some in the Jewish community continued to express concern that the offensive lyrics had not been flagged.
“I’m very pleased that Michael Jackson admitted he made a mistake but the larger question is how and why he recorded those lyrics in the first place,” said Rabbi James Rudin, director of interreligious affairs of the American Jewish Committee.
“It seems that he is surrounded by a bunch of yes-men and it is the responsibility of real advisers to tell [an artist] that he has crossed the line,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Hier said he hoped that Jackson’s prompt apology and actions to rectify the situation would send a message to other artists that anti-Semitism and bigotry are unacceptable.
“It’s unprecedented in the music industry for an artist to go back and remove offensive words,” he said.
Hier echoed the sentiments of many of his colleagues in stating that he does not think that Jackson used the anti-Semitic slurs intentionally, but rather that superstar did not understand the implications of his words.
He said that during a tour of the Wiesenthal Center’s Museum Of Tolerance, Jackson was overwhelmed and tearful, which are not the characteristics of an anti-Semite or bigot.
“This is a person who is so out of touch with reality that he did not realize,” Hier said.
Sony executives have reportedly invested $30 million to promote the Jackson album and hope to sell 20 million copies. Some 2 million have already been shipped to stores.
The first week’s sales of the two-disc “HIStory,” retailing for about $25, were reported at midweek at between 375,000 and 470,000.
These figures were described by industry sources as “robust,” but not record breakers.