Jewish protest will hurt relations, Chavis says

June 09, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer

NAACP Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. said yesterday that Jewish protests of Louis Farrakhan's expected appearance at a black leadership summit in Baltimore would only worsen black-Jewish relations.

Dr. Chavis said in an interview that he hoped the protest leaders would "reconsider and withdraw their plans. . . . There is nothing that the NAACP has done that would warrant demonstrations at our national headquarters."

But Michael Lerner, the Jewish activist from New York who is organizing the Sunday afternoon protest at the NAACP's Northwest Baltimore headquarters, said the "moral witness" would go on because "it's important to protest racism wherever it exists."

"We're not protesting the NAACP, we're protesting Farrakhan," said Mr. Lerner, editor of Tikkun, a progressive Jewish magazine. "We are Jews who support the NAACP and believe America must do much more to repair the damage done to black people by slavery and continued racism."

In a separate development, Minister Farrakhan's Nation of Islam has rented the Baltimore Arena for a free, men-only rally June 27 featuring the black separatist leader, who teaches that whites are "devils" and that Jews hold undue financial power in the United States.

The appearance is part of a "Let Us Make Man" tour whose self-help message has drawn crowds of black men in seven cities. The Nation of Islam prepaid the standard fee of about $17,000 to rent the Baltimore Arena, said Edie Brown, an arena spokeswoman.

The Baltimore Arena clearly is required, as a public facility, to rent its space to all comers regardless of their message, said Stuart Comstock-Gay, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. But he said it was unclear whether the Nation of Islam's plans to admit men only violate anti-discrimination laws.

The event might be considered a public accommodation to which women could not legally be barred, he said. Conversely, he added, the First Amendment right of association might entitle Minister Farrakhan to choose his audience.

"If Farrakhan wants to deliver his message to black men, then every white woman who sits in a chair could deny his right to deliver the message to whom he wants," Mr. Comstock-Gay said. "The law is murky, and I know of no plans to challenge [the Farrakhan appearance]."

Dr. Chavis hinted strongly that Minister Farrakhan would attend the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's 2 1/2 -day summit, although he said the NAACP won't issue a list of participants before the conference begins Sunday.

"We invited the heads of all major national African-American organizations," Dr. Chavis said. "This is a summit for all of our leaders, not for some of our leaders."

Dr. Chavis said three summit sessions would be closed to the public to encourage the black leaders to speak candidly. He said those sessions would be on the themes of black economic development; youth, crime and community empowerment; and moral and spiritual renewal.

Two summit events will be open to the general public: a revival-style "mass meeting" 7 o'clock Sunday evening at Bethel A.M.E. Church in West Baltimore, and a "town hall meeting" from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday at Dunbar High School in East Baltimore.

WMAR-TV (Channel 2) plans to pre-empt "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy" Monday to televise the first half of the town hall meeting live, the station said. The Black College Satellite Network, a nonprofit educational network available to those with satellite dishes, will cover many of the public events. C-SPAN is considering taping part of the summit.

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