CHICAGO, March 1 (JTA) — Louis Farrakhan says he is trying to reach out to Jews — but mainstream Jewish leaders aren’t buying it.
The 66-year-old Farrakhan has spoken publicly of reconciliation since battling prostate cancer for the last several years, and the Nation of Islam leader invited a spokesman for a fervently Orthodox, anti-Zionist group to address a crowd of 20,000 black Muslims over the weekend in Chicago.
But Jewish leaders said the appearance of the Neturei Karta, who say the Holocaust was divine punishment for the Jews’ abandonment of the Torah, was a ruse.
Farrakhan “hasn’t mended fences with 99.99 percent of the Jewish community,” said Ira Youdovin, the executive director of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, adding that the Neturei Karta are “about as far off the screen in Jewish life as they can possibly be.”
Farrakhan’s chief of staff, Leonard Muhammad, introduced the Neturei Karta rabbis at a news conference Monday, saying that the two groups have visited each other’s communities over the last several months.
“These Jews are people of the book and they are a model of what black-Jewish relations could be,” Muhammad said. “They are not handicapped by the pressures of organized Jewish groups,” Muhammad added, referring to the widespread criticism that Farrakhan has received from virtually all segments of the Jewish community.
The news conference came at the culmination of what has been called the 2nd International Islamic Conference, held in Chicago over the weekend.
The conference, which was held in conjunction with Saviours’ Day, the NOI’s most important annual gathering, brought together Farrakhan’s group with Imam W. Deen Mohammed, leader of the orthodox Muslim American Society and son of the late Elijah Muhammad.
Elijah Muhammad led the Nation of Islam for decades. After his death in 1975, his son led the movement toward orthodoxy, and in 1978, Farrakhan broke away under the old Nation of Islam name. He revived Elijah Muhammad’s teachings, which veered from traditional Islam.
The rabbis’ participation in the Chicago event is just the latest indication of increased cooperation during the past year between the NOI and the Neturei Karta. Last fall the Final Call, the Nation of Islam’s newspaper, published photos of a smiling Farrakhan meeting with Neturei Karta leaders.
“The alliance between these two groups serves their mutual purposes,” said Michael Kotzin, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago. “As far as the Jewish community is concerned, it certainly seems that what Farrakhan really seeks is the appearance of reconciliation but not the real thing. In any event, he’s not going to get very far so long as he continues to promote these kinds of anti-Zionist positions and fails to revoke his own longstanding attacks on the Jewish people as the enemies of black Americans.”
The spokesman for the group, Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, used a news conference Monday to denounce Zionism. “Judaism is Godliness and Zionism is materialism and politics,” said Weiss, who was accompanied by three other rabbis from Neturei Karta, which is based in Jerusalem.
“Judaism is humble, and Zionism is arrogance. Zionism is an abomination and a heresy to God.”
The Neturei Karta group is theologically opposed to a sovereign State of Israel, claiming that Jews must wait for the Messiah before assuming political leadership in the Land of Israel, which Weiss referred to as Palestine during his comments.
Weiss’ views on the State of Israel were echoed by NOI’s Muhammad, who said that “ultimately, the State of Israel will be inhabited by righteous people.”
Muhammad also quoted Farrakhan’s view that Israel “is a holy land,” and will “spit out those who are not righteous,” in a veiled reference to the political state of Israel.
Weiss said that Farrakhan’s earlier anti-Semitic statements, such as calling Judaism a gutter religion and calling Hitler a great man, have been misconstrued by the media and by Jewish groups.
“For example, he [Farrakhan] calls his own followers to be a ‘dirty religion’ if they don’t follow it faithfully,” Weiss said.
In a pamphlet issued by Neturei Karta, the group claims that in calling Hitler a great man, it is “abundantly clear that the Minister was praising Hitler’s economic achievements.” —JUF News