LONDON, Aug. 1 (JTA) — Lawyers for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan have succeeded in overturning a 15-year-old ban on his visiting Britain.
Jewish groups had been instrumental in getting Farrakhan barred from the United Kingdom in 1986 on the grounds that his presence could stir up racial tension.
Jewish leaders reacted with dismay after the High Court in London struck down the ban Tuesday.
“Louis Farrakhan has long espoused racist and offensive views. He has never repudiated his obscene anti-Semitic comments,” said Neville Nagler, director general of the Board of Deputies, an umbrella organization that represents most British Jews.
Lord Janner, chairman of the British-based Holocaust Educational Trust and a vice president of the World Jewish Congress, described it as “a sad day for all of us in Britain who work for good race relations.”
He said Farrakhan’s “nasty references to Jewish people” had “stirred up racial tension” in the past.
A spokesman in Britain for the Nation of Islam, Minister Hilary Muhammad, said there were “literally thousands of black and white people in the U.K. who would like to hear what Louis Farrakhan has to say even though they may not agree with his teaching.”
The Nation of Islam — a black nationalist movement that differs significantly from mainstream Islam — is estimated to have as many as 10,000 members, supporters and sympathizers in Britain.
It organized a 10,000 Man March in Britain in 1998, modeled on Farrakhan’s 1995 Million Man March in Washington.
Last November, then-Home Secretary Jack Straw justified excluding Farrakhan because he had expressed “anti-Semitic and racially divisive views.”
The Jewish community has long had concerns about Farrakhan.
In 1984, he praised Hitler as “a very great man.”
In another speech that year, he said, “The nation of Israel will never have any peace because there can never be any peace structured on injustice, thievery, lying and deceit and using the name of God to shield your dirty religion.”
The Nation of Islam argues that Farrakhan’s quotes have been taken out of context and points out that in the Hitler speech, he added that he was “not proud of Hitler’s evil toward Jewish people.”
“A lot of quotations used to exclude Louis Farrakhan are misquotes, misrepresentations, or words not said by him,” said his British lawyer, Sadiq Khan.
He argued that “Farrakhan is not anti-Semitic and does not preach a message of racial hatred and antagonism.”
But in interviews on Tuesday, he refused to say that Farrakhan repudiated or condemned the anti-Semitic quotes attributed to him.
Another lawyer for Farrakhan, Nicholas Blake, said in court that the Nation of Islam leader regrets the offense and hurt he had caused the Jewish community.
But David Pannick, who represented the government in the High Court hearing, said Farrakhan’s consistent message is that “Jews have money and power, black people are the victims of the fact that Jews have money and power, and they are responsible for holding down black people.”
Beverley Hughes, a Home Office minister, said the government was “very disappointed by the ruling.”
Farrakhan, who is 67 and was treated for cancer last year, will not be allowed to enter Britain until the High Court publishes the reasoning behind its decision on Oct. 1.
The government has until then to decide whether to appeal.