Public Enemy, the militant black rap group at the center of a controversy last summer after one of its members made antisemitic comments, has provoked more protests from Jewish organizations over the group's new single. The lyrics, which constitute three of "Welcome to the Terrordome's" 56 lines, are "Crucifixion ain't no fiction: so-called chosen, frozen/Apology made to whoever pleases. Still they got me like Jesus" and "Backstab, grab the flag from the back of the lab, told the rab {rabbi}: 'Get off the rag!' " In a letter to Tommy Mottola, president of PE's record label, CBS Records, Jeffrey Sinensky, director of the civil rights division of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, writes that the song "contains blatantly anti-Semitic lyrics, including the repulsive and historically discredited charge of deicide on the part of the Jews." After castigating CBS for continuing to distribute PE product, Sinensky writes: "If those in positions of leadership in the creative arts wink at such blatant bigotry, it sends the message to millions of young Americans that these sentiments are acceptable." Officials at CBS Records said Mottola was on vacation and could not be reached for comment; other company spokesmen also were unavailable. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies in Los Angeles, says he is not particularly concerned about the "rab" line, which PE leader Chuck D (Carlton Ridenhour) confirms is specifically about Cooper: Following last summer's controversy, the two appeared together on a number of television and radio programs focusing on racism in music, and just 10 days ago, Chuck D paid a visit to the Wiesenthal Center. "I have as good a sense of humor as anybody else," Cooper says about the line. "What bothers and troubles me deeply is the Farrakhan parlance of 'the so-called chosen,' which speaks volumes as to the impact that kind of ideology has with this group." Several PE songs have praised Louis Farrakhan, the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam, as a "prophet" and visionary for his agenda of self-empowerment and black capitalism. Cooper adds that "the allusion to crucifixion is outrageous." "Rabbi Cooper is a fine man and a responsible person who's doing his job," says Chuck D, "but this record is a black man's perspective on PE in 1989 and also on black America. Just as 'Nightline' or the New York Times or the 'Today' show would relate what happened in 1989 from a middle-aged, American, white perspective, I looked at it as a black man in my 20s. I just called it as I saw it. ... People are looking at it in a deeper, more paranoiac context." For three years, Public Enemy has been shaking things up with a black radical overview that confronts what it sees as social and political complacency both in the black community and in society as a whole. Last year, the Village Voice's annual critics poll named the group's "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" as the year's best album, and a new song, "Fight the Power," served as the theme for Spike Lee's visceral film "Do the Right Thing" -- and, unofficially, for black students during the Labor Day confrontations with police at Virginia Beach. Not surprisingly then, "Welcome to the Terrordome" is another aggressive sonic collage: It talks about the murder of Yusuf Hawkins in Bensonhurst, the Virginia Beach riots, the assault on the Central Park jogger and "Malcolm X and how it was a black hand that shot him and how the same thing happened to Huey Newton," according to Chuck D. On the single, he says "It's weak to speak and blame somebody else when you destroy yourself," and also suggests caution because "Every brother ain't a brother, 'cause a color just as well could be undercover." "I'm keying on a lot of different issues," says Chuck D. Both Sinensky and Cooper conceded they were reacting to the few lines as quoted in a Tuesday New York Times story and had not actually heard the record. Chuck D, speaking from his Long Island recording studio, offers his interpretation of the lyrics in question: " 'Crucifixion ain't no fiction' -- that's based on the Christian belief ... that I was raised with. Jesus was crucified, he was controversial, know what I'm saying? He died a controversial death, but I didn't say by whom, just that he was crucified by evil people, not a constituency. " 'So-called chosen ...' -- I question anybody being God's chosen people because I believe everybody is God's chosen people, everybody is on this planet the same. There's no such thing as black and white -- it's known that the original man came from Africa and everybody evolved from that seed, this is my understanding. " 'Frozen' -- the Jewish community was appalled at the {published antisemitic comments}. They were 'frozen,' slang for stopped dead in their tracks. " 'Apology made to whoever pleases' -- I came out and made the apology, but 'still they got me like Jesus,' which doesn't imply that the Jewish community is crucifying me, but that I got crucified by the media and the media hype coming afterwards. I'm not comparing myself to Jesus." Controversy is nothing new to PE: the group, with Chuck D as its principal wordsmith and theoretician, has been dubbed "Prophets of Rage" and "Black Panthers of Rap." Their innovative sonic blasts and confrontational lyrics have helped rekindle the black power movement with PE's target audience -- black youth. The group's third album, a futuristic projection titled "Fear of a Black Nation," will be released Feb. 21, the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X. The album includes "Terrordome." Problems began last year when Richard Griffin, known as Professor Griff and an ardent follower of the teachings of Farrakhan, started making increasingly strident statements about whites in general, and singling out gays and Jews in particular. Despite his title as minister of information, Professor Griff was not PE's official spokesman but acted as the leader of the PE security force that offers martial choreography complete with Uzis during concerts. Professor Griff would open PE concerts with caustic commentary on the politics of oppression, but absent antisemitic overtones, which seemed reserved for interviews with British journalists eager for controversy. The black head of PE's label once dismissed Professor Griff as a "racist stage prop," but his statements were never repudiated by Chuck D, nor was Professor Griff censured. Last May, however, after Chuck D missed an interview with Washington Times reporter David Mills, Professor Griff offered himself as a substitute, in the course of which he blamed Jews "for the majority of wickedness that goes on across the globe," cited a white supremacist tract as a key source and accused Jews of subsidizing the slave trade that brought blacks to America. After the story was picked up by the Village Voice, PE found itself the target of widespread criticism and demonstrations by a number of Jewish groups, including the militant Jewish Defense Organization. In June, Chuck D issued the statement that "The real enemy is a system, not a people. ... We aren't anti-Jewish, we aren't anti-anybody. We're pro-black, pro-black culture and pro-human race. ... Professor Griff's responsibility as Minister of Information was to faithfully transmit those values to everybody. In practice, he sabotaged those values." Chuck D then fired Professor Griff. During the next few days, however, matters became convoluted, as Chuck D announced PE had disbanded because of music business pressures ("whiteballing," he called it); a few days later, PE was back together, with Professor Griff reinstated as "community liaison," but essentially muzzled. Some industry insiders familiar with PE's history have suggested that the lyrics that inspired the latest protest were a result of Chuck D's feeling cornered, his credibility in the black community threatened by pressures from the white power establishment. After the controversy erupted over the statements in the Washington Times article, Chuck D talked with Rabbi Cooper. "I grabbed the peace flag from the 'back of the lab,' which is our minds, where we come up with the rhymes, the solutions," said Chuck D. Chuck D acknowledges that he felt himself being pressured beyond a reasonable point. Cooper says he applauded Chuck D's dismissal of Professor Griff, but when PE brought Professor Griff back in, "I told him we weren't satisfied." "I'm not going to go for that," says Chuck D. "I've got a black community that I have to answer to. I view them as a constituency that looks to me. I view myself accountable for whatever happens in my group, but I felt there was no need for another apology." Of that apology, ADL's Sinensky says, "If anything, I would characterize what they did as a sham to 'dismiss' Professor Griff for the outrageous antisemitic interview that he gave, only to immediately take him back into the group, reconstitute the group, which was never really defunct." And, Sinensky adds, "looking at it from the perspective of the ADL's experience of 75 years, I think it's fair to say we understand the language of bigotry only too well. Despite Chuck D's effort to put the most favorable cast on his words, it's only too clear to us what is intended." According to Cooper, when Chuck D visited the Holocaust Museum for an hour-long tour with Cooper and a survivor of Auschwitz, it was apparent he knew little about Jewish history or concerns. "But he shared none of Griff's views, and he's not an antisemite. There's nothing in my contacts with him that has led me to believe he was one. We never thought Chuck D was the problem." Cooper has been addressing "the new sound of music -- racism" for some time now, recently taking out full-page ads in industry magazines for open letters in which he pointed out controversial lyrics and statements by groups such as Public Enemy and metal rockers Guns N'Roses, which has made anti-black, anti-gay and anti-immigrant statements. "What bothers me is that not a single major performer, songwriter or producer has gone public criticizing the racism of these individuals. If a country-western group promoted the KKK or the White Aryan Party, what would the reaction of blacks be and how long would that group last in the entertainment field?" Cooper feels that in rock, the battle over violence against women has been "long lost. It's now part and parcel, front and center of the entertainment industry. With racism we must each respond to the social contract, and we need to draw the line. Chuck D communicates to millions, mostly young blacks, and I have to take his message seriously. Why doesn't he turn his talents to expose and attack racism in America, instead of marketing it?" According to Chuck D, that's exactly what PE has been doing all along. Part of the problem, he says, is that many people, white people in particular, don't understand the nature of rap and its urban language, or the "edge" in his writing. " 'Terrordome' is keyed on the paranoia of a lot of people not familiar with the black class structure, the way we talk, how we indicate our feelings," he says. "I use these metaphors and black lingo in a way that I know I have the interpretation, which is the righteous interpretation." As for the Nation of Islam and Farrakhan, Chuck D says, black nationalism -- the cultural pride, and social and economic empowerment espoused by the Nation of Islam -- will be crucial in the immediate future. "We have to believe that we blacks are as strong as possible because of a structure that only promotes white," he says. "Once that breaks down and comes from a humanist point of view, you'll see the black structure be more giving. ... I'm not crying that we're victims, but ... we've got to do the best we can to win, or do the best we can to keep from losing. 'Welcome to the Terrordome' is really speaking to the 1990s, meaning we've got to do the best we can to avoid it being that terrordome."