Long-standing antagonism between Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and prominent Jewish leaders resurfaced Friday, just three days before the Million Man March on Washington, after release of an interview in which Farrakhan accused some Jews and others of exploiting blacks financially and called them “bloodsuckers.”
In an interview with Reuter Television that was taped Oct. 4 and made public Friday, Farrakhan touched on several sensitive subjects that previously outraged Jewish leaders and prompted charges of antisemitism against him.
The originator of Monday’s march said some Jews and others take money out of black communities but give nothing back, linked Jews to the American slave trade and charged that one Jewish person encouraged a murder plot against him because the person “hated me as Jew.”
The remarks were prompted by questions about several past controversial statements by Farrakhan, and he employed less emotional language than he had previously, remarking at one point, “I don’t say that there is great enmity between blacks and Jews.”
But his words brought swift condemnations from several Jewish leaders, who said Farrakhan’s statements demonstrate continued racism and should discourage people from participating in the Million Man March.
“A hatemonger should not be leading a (civil rights) march on Washington,” said David C. Friedman, executive director of the Washington office of the Anti-Defamation League of B’Nai Brith. “It’s an illusion for people to feel that they can participate and endorse this march without in any way showing support for Farrakhan.”
The controversy erupted amid clear indications that, even if the Million Man March fails to attract the huge crowd its organizers predict, it is already influencing national politics and the everyday lives of Washington area residents.
President Clinton has decided to deliver a speech on the impact of race on American life Monday, White House officials say, and retired Gen. Colin Powell - a potential presidential candidate - has agreed to discuss race in a television talk show appearance Monday morning. Aides to both say both men timed their remarks to coincide with the march.
And around the Washington area, Alexandria public schools canceled bus service Monday to accommodate drivers who wanted to attend the march; D.C. Mayor Marion Barry requested that 128 National Guard troops be on duty in his city Monday, and transportation officials continue to plan for a potentially nightmarish rush hour Monday morning.
But the inclusive, tolerant tone that Farrakhan has struck in weeks leading up to the march was disrupted for the second consecutive day by release of the Reuter interview, which formed the basis of a television story distributed to 1,200 broadcast outlets in 85 countries.
Organizers are predicting that the Million Man March will draw hundreds of thousands of black men to Washington in response to Farrakhan’s call for them to “straighten their backs” and atone with God and one another. The march was endorsed by a number of prominent African American politicians and clerics after Farrakhan promised it would be ecumenical and broadbased.
In the Reuter interview, Farrakhan raised subjects that have caused divisions before. “It was rabbinical scholars who developed the Hamitic myth that we as black folk were the children of Ham, cursed black,” he said. ” … Jews were involved in the slave trade. Jews held slaves in this country.”