Drop anti-Semitism, Kemp urges Farrakhan Jews react angrily to speech praising self-help philosophy

September 11, 1996|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK -- Trying to squelch a growing protest over his admiring comments about Louis Farrakhan, Jack Kemp called last night on the Nation of Islam leader to "renounce anti-Semitism."

"Racism, bigotry, scapegoating and anti-Semitism are evil and must be eradicated at every turn if we are to move forward as a society," the Republican vice- presidential nominee told an influential Jewish audience at a dinner here.

"Tonight it is in that spirit that I call on Louis Farrakhan and his followers to renounce anti-Semitism for once and for all."

Kemp included the appeal in a speech to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations after a storm began to build over remarks he made in an interview published Sunday in the Boston Globe.

In the interview, Kemp called Farrakhan's self-help philosophy "wonderful," and said he wished he had been invited to speak in October at Farrakhan's "Million Man March" in Washington.

Kemp, a former congressman who is more warmly regarded than Bob Dole in the Jewish and black communities because of his voting record and outreach efforts, stressed in the interview that he does not endorse all the teachings of Farrakhan, who has made statements widely viewed as anti-Semitic. Even so, he acknowledged that his remarks would "send rockets off if this is taken out of context."

Indeed, his remarks drew a quick protest from the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, which complained in a letter to the Globe published yesterday that Kemp's positive comments were "not representative of the poison Minister Farrakhan peddles."

An even stronger denunciation came from the National Jewish Democratic Council.

"The Jewish community does not differentiate between the FTC message and the messenger," said Stephen Silverfarb, deputy executive director of the group. "It's like allowing Adolf Hitler to take the podium."

But Kemp told the Jewish leaders last night that his "lifelong commitment to racial and ethnic reconciliation in America has been sorely misrepresented" in news accounts stemming from the Globe interview.

"It's the campaign season and, as you know, headlines can often override the facts," he said.

"All of you here tonight and everyone in the country and everyone in the state of Israel who knows Jack Kemp knows how strongly I abhor racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism."

Quoting Elie Wiesel, the writer and Holocaust survivor, who was in the audience, Kemp said, "Indifference to evil is evil." He added: "I believe that with all my heart."

The audience responded with appreciative, but not enthusiastic, applause.

After Kemp's speech, Kenneth Jacobson, a spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League, said that the ADL "welcomed" Kemp's remarks but that Kemp's own standing on anti-Semitism was never in question. "There is still an issue" of giving credibility to a "demagogue," Jacobson said.

Wayne Berman, Kemp's campaign director, downplayed what appeared to be an effort at damage control. Berman told reporters that Kemp wanted to clarify remarks "taken out of context."

But the Dole campaign was clearly concerned that its chief emissary to the Jewish community might have weakened his appeal to this key voter group. Earlier yesterday, during a stop in New Jersey, Kemp canceled interviews with local reporters and refused to answer questions from the press corps traveling with him. He also consulted with officials of the Anti-Defamation League.

Some of Kemp's Jewish supporters insisted that his remarks had been blown out of proportion for political purposes. "This is a non-issue that the Democrats are using to distract attention from Kemp's efforts to encroach on what they consider their turf," said Matthew Brooks, executive director of the National Jewish Council, which supports Republican candidates.

Jewish voters tend to be among the most loyal in the Democratic coalition, sometimes supporting Democratic candidates by a margin of 80 percent.

Kemp has been highly popular in the Jewish community, however, since the start of his congressional career because of his early and ardent support for Israel. Dole's record is regarded as mixed because he has often supported arms sales to Israel's foes.

Pub Date: 9/11/96

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