There is no separating the so-called “Million Man March” on Washington scheduled for Oct. 16 from extremist Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and ousted NAACP head Benjamin Chavis.
And herein lies the exquisite dilemma for us as Jews. Every fiber of our being cries out against the plight of so many of our fellow citizens. We are painfully aware of desperate conditions in black ghettos – the growth of crime, drug use, teen-age pregnancies and other social pathologies. We are also painfully aware of the indifference of government and the broader citizenry.
Normally, decent people everywhere would be expected to say “right on” to any attempt to draw attention to these problems. Clearly, something needs to be done. And certainly, blacks need to develop greater unity in dealing with these problems themselves. The time is long since gone when others, including sympathetic outsiders, can pick their leaders for them.
The sickening problem for us is that the prime sponsors of the march are declared and outspoken bigots. Even as Farrakhan has lowered his rhetoric somewhat recently, both the Nation of Islam newspaper, The Final Call, and Farrakhan’s lieutenants spew forth a steady stream of hatred toward women, gays, Jews and whites, aimed especially at young college students.
One recalls the infamous speech of Farrakhan spokesman Khalid Abdul Muhammad at Kean College in New Jersey to this effect and the organization’s anonymous book receiving wide circulation on campuses and elsewhere declaring that Jews are responsible for foisting slavery on blacks on the Americas and other places.
The other convener of the march is Chavis, who blamed his ouster last year from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for sexual and financial irregularities in a “right-wing Jewish conspiracy.”
It is important to remember that much of the rise in anti-Semitism in this country in recent years can be traced to the abandonment of the moratorium that existed on this subject after World War II. The renewed anti-Semitism was created by the rise of black nationalism and radical separatists such as Stokely Carmichael (now Kwame Ture), Malcolm X and others who regularly began to attack Jews. Farrakhan is their progeny.
Black friends with whom I have discussed this issue seek to allay such concerns. They point out that a serious problem exists that no one is addressing. They say they are sympathetic to – a few are even joining in the march – in order to identify with any effort to highlight the problem, not to support Farrakhan.
They pledge that if any hatreds emerge in Washington, they will be the first to dissociate themselves from them.
I don’t doubt their sincerity. They will remain friends no matter how they respond.
But they miss something important to them and to us. The most dangerous thing for Jews is not that Farrakhan will spout his usual tirades against us. If he is smart – and he is that – he won’t. Instead he will seek to come across as a statesman focusing on the very real plight of so many blacks, thereby enhancing his role as a black leader.
A march that will bring large numbers of blacks and moderate black leaders to Washington under his banner surely will provide a boost for Farrakhan’s efforts to mainstream himself and his organization, which, no matter what, will remain what it always has been.
To some degree, this has already happened. As the prize winning Washington Post reporter Juan Williams, author of the magnificent “Eyes on the Prize” public television series, has stated, a “Farrakhan paralysis” exists among some, including politicians, because of the leadership vacuum in the black community and the sense that he commands a following that cannot be ignored. Whether or not they recognize it, the threat is to black moderates as much as anyone else.
The further danger is not only that a known and practicing bigot is being elevated to a position of leadership and respectability. Make no mistake about it. Farrakhan is no Martin Luther King Jr. and this is not 1963. King succeeded in gaining voting and other rights for blacks precisely because he encouraged coalitions of whites and blacks, blacks and Jews, and religious leadership in general to enlist behind the effort to make us one people.
It is doubtful that broader bodies of our citizenry will be encouraged to grapple with the unquestioned and more complex problems that now exist for Afro-Americans under the leadership of two such discredited figures.
It is for all these reasons that Jews must look at the upcoming march on Washington with severe misgivings even as we recognize the very real problems