The 20th anniversary civil rights march on Washington has aroused concern among some Jewish groups, several of whom view the official "call" or agenda of goals for the Aug. 27 gathering here as containing language detrimental to the interests of Israel.
One group, the Jewish War Veterans, last month withdrew its endorsement of the march, and three others have informed its organizers that they do not plan to participate.
March organizers Coretta Scott King, widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.; D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy; and Dr. Joseph Lowery, head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, are sending a letter this weekend to major Jewish groups in an effort to encourage their participation.
The letter, according to Lowery, will assure Jewish leaders that "there is nothing in the call or official proclamation that can be properly construed as being anti-Israel. We welcome and covet the support of all Americans."
"The Jewish community was with us strongly 20 years ago and we want them with us now," Donna Brazile, director of mobilization for the event, said yesterday.
The controversy was set off in January when Jewish groups received copies of "A Call to the Nation," a statement of aims put out with the announcement of another march on Washington. Among other issues, the statement attacked the nuclear arms race and opposed "the militarization of internal conflicts, often abetted and even encouraged by massive U.S. arms exports, in areas of the world such as the Middle East and Central America . . ."
The reference to the Middle East disturbed several Jewish groups who support U.S. military aid to Israel. Some also expressed concern about participation in the march by groups they considered hostile to the interests of Israel and the Jewish community.
The Jewish War Veterans, one of the original sponsors of the 1963 March on Washington, decided to drop its endorsement of the event, and earlier this month the chairman of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council wrote member agencies urging them to use caution in considering any involvement with the march.
But other Jewish groups yesterday minimized the conflict, saying the major factor affecting the participation of the Jewish community is that the march is being held on a Saturday, which is the Jewish Sabbath and a day when observant Jews pray and avoid travel and other activities.
The Union of American Hebrew Congregations has continued to act as a "convener" of the march after receiving assurances "that we weren't going to be caught in something that would be anti-Jewish," according to David Saperstein, co-director and counsel of the group's Religious Action Center.
"People who disagree with us on Israel are involved in other human rights issues with us," said Saperstein. "The important thing is for us to be involved in this commemoration and to remain strongly involved and work with groups that have traditionally been our allies."
Brazile said yesterday that organizers expect to have at least as many, if not more, marchers as the 250,000 who joined the 1963 gathering. She said buses are coming in from 310 cities around the country.