Skokie again becomes a dirty word


NEW YORK, Dec. 5 (JTA) – For many American Jews, the word “Skokie” stirs up memories of the 1978 First Amendment case that upheld a neo-Nazi group’s right to hold a rally in that Illinois community, home to numerous Holocaust survivors.

The episode even spawned a movie, starring Danny Kaye.

So it may be precisely to capitalize on Skokie’s symbolism that the Ku Klux Klan plans to demonstrate Dec. 16, on Shabbat, in the Chicago suburb some of them describe as “Jewtown.”

The KKK event, announced by the Mercer, Wis., chapter, will be held on the steps of the Cook County Courthouse.

As the courthouse is county property, a local Skokie permit is not necessary. Thirty to 40 Klansmen and other white supremacists from the region are expected to attend.

Outraged, Chicago Jewry is reacting.

“History has shown us that evil and hateful words, if unchecked, all too often lead to evil deeds and hate crimes,” said Richard Hirschhaut, Midwest regional director for the Anti-Defamation League.

“We have to raise our voices against those who would divide our community and attempt to sow fear,” Hirschhaut said. “Even the most pathetic sociopath who spews a message of bigotry and hate ought not be dismissed as unimportant, lest their message reach and potentially influence others.”

The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and local Skokie Jews have thrown their support behind a “Peace and Harmony” rally that the Skokie Commission on Human Relations has scheduled for the following day.

Hirschhaut said he succeeded in dissuading the Evanston Ecumenical Action Council, comprised mostly of Christian denominations, from confronting the Klan. Instead, the council agreed to join the Sunday rally.

The ADL also is endorsing another reprise of “Operation Lemonade,” a four-year-old project that, like a walk-a-thon, cleverly raises money based on each minute a hate group demonstrates and donates it to organizations that work toward neutralizing such groups.

There are only 2,000 to 2,500 card-carrying KKK members in the entire United States, said Hirschhaut, who has a 1-inch-thick file on the Mercer, Wis., chapter leader, Michael McQueeney.

Skokie – now home to large communities of Asians, Latinos and blacks – is still scarred by a shooting spree in the region 17 months ago. A follower of the white-supremacist World Church of the Creator gunned down the African American basketball coach of Northwestern University and a South Korean college student, and injured nine Orthodox Jews on their way to synagogue.

The coach, Ricky Byrdsong, and two of the Jewish victims were Skokie residents.

Holding a post-KKK counter-rally is an “approach that makes a lot of sense to us,” said Michael Kotzin, executive director of the Jewish federation.

“The circulation of hate, no matter how small and marginal, is a legitimate concern and there’s going to be a reaction from the Jewish community – and from the friends of the Jewish community.”

But not all Jews are satisfied with peaceful responses.

The Jewish Defense League, founded by the late militant Rabbi Meir Kahane, says it intends to block the rally, “peacefully if possible, but forcibly if we must,” the group’s local leader told the Chicago Sun-Times.

On its Web site, the JDL vows to “uphold the dignity and honor of our silent and undefended six million dead,” and calls on “all Jews, regardless of there [sic] personal politics, to put aside all of their differences, which are dwarfed by this outrage, and act together to prevent this event from occurring.”

“We will not respect any law that would allow such a flagrant and boorish abuse of our cherished freedoms,” the group declares.

Such a declaration concerns Hirschhaut, Kotzin and Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen, who say it will surely attract even more media, generating exactly the sort of publicity the KKK is seeking.

“We are asking Skokians and our friends to stay away from the courthouse and show the Klan our hatred for their ideas by ignoring them and instead joining us at the ‘Peace and Harmony’ rally on Sunday,” Van Dusen was quoted as saying in the Sun-Times.

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