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Jewish groups staying low key in din over black youth marches

NEW YORK, Aug. 24 (JTA) — Khalid Muhammad and the Nation of Islam are coming to town, and Jewish groups are reacting with surprising restraint — both in New York, where the former Nation of Islam spokesman is planning a Million Youth March in Harlem over Labor Day weekend, and in Atlanta, where the Nation of Islam is planning a similar gathering the same weekend. Leaders of Jewish organizations in New York have made a concerted effort to stay low key. They have been able to do so, they say, because Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the black community’s leaders are publicly saying exactly what they had hoped would be said about the unrepentantly racist, virulently anti-Semitic Muhammad. Giuliani, whose administration has denied Muhammad a permit to hold his march in Harlem on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, has called it a “hate march” because of its leader’s “race-baiting and anti-Semitic” comments. “We have reached out behind the scenes, but there’s no reason for us to rachet up the tension and pressure when people are saying what they need to,” said Adam Segall, New York regional director for the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL, the American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress have all publicly said little about the upcoming march. The executive director of the New York Jewish Community Relations Council, Michael Miller, would openly say only that “Khalid Muhammad is an unrepentant anti-Semite, bigot, and any event associated with him can produce no positive net result.” The ADL has at this point confined its activity to sending journalists a background compilation of his anti-Semitic quotes. They include: * “This will be a direct confrontation with the Jews of that area who have misused and abused our people in Brooklyn and Crown Heights for so long.” (Muhammad said this in July while threatening to hold his march in the heavily Chasidic Crown Heights section of Brooklyn if the city did not give him a permit to march in Harlem.) * “If you say you’re a Semite — even though I know goddamn well you’re not a Semite, if you just say you’re one — I’m against you. If you say you’re white, goddammit I’m against you. If you’re a Jew, I’m against you.” (From an interview in the September 1997 premier issue of the magazine XXL) * “Look at it, so-called Jew. Look at it, imposter Jew. Somebody must call you what you are. Somebody must look you in your cold, lying blue eyes and pull the cover off of you today. I don’t give a damn about you, and I will give you hell from the cradle to the grave.” (From his keynote speech at a conference preceding the Nation of Islam’s Million Man March in October 1995) Muhammad and associate Malik Shabazz, national youth director for the New York march, have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan alleging that Giuliani’s refusal to grant them a permit to rally in Harlem is discriminatory. The case was scheduled to be heard Wednesday. No matter what the outcome, the Million Youth March is expected to go on in Harlem on Sept. 5. Organizers expect about 150,000 participants, while city officials anticipate far fewer, according to press accounts. City officials in Atlanta are predicting that a Nation of Islam-sponsored event also called the Million Youth March, scheduled for the same day, will attract little participation. The Nation of Islam applied for a permit to hold its gathering in a park, but the city has not yet granted it, said Michael Langford, director of community affairs for the mayor’s office in Atlanta. In the meantime, the group is apparently planning to hold it elsewhere in the city, but the event has not yet taken significant shape, Langford said. A different gathering, named the Million Youth Movement, is also happening over Labor Day weekend in Georgia’s capital, and will likely draw a much bigger crowd, said Ralph Dickerson, director of youth services for the mayor’s office. That rally is being organized by a coalition of major black groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/Push Coalition, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Urban League, with the cooperation of local black churches. The Promise Keepers, a fundamentalist Christian organization that supports the idea of biblically mandated roles for men and for women, is also a sponsoring group, said Dickerson. “Whether it attracts 10,000 people or a million, it will be a success,” said Langford. The mayor’s office is supporting the Million Youth Movement gathering, but declined to be involved with the Million Youth March, because “we represent everyone, and from discussions with organizers, we kind of sensed where it might be headed.” Despite the quickly approaching date for both events, neither has been widely covered in the Atlanta press. Two Jews long involved in facilitating black-Jewish relations in Atlanta were caught unaware by a reporter’s questions, having heard nothing at all about either one. And a senior official at the Atlanta Jewish Federation’s Community Relations Council said she had also not heard of the gatherings.