With the 20th-anniversary civil rights "March on Washington" but two weeks away, its organizers yesterday reaffirmed their support for the Aug. 27 gathering here and said they were putting aside their differences on foreign policy to get behind the general march theme of "Jobs, Peace and Freedom."
Key supporters of the march, representing civil rights groups, labor unions, women and American Jews and Arabs, downplayed reports that there are any serious divisions among organizers, saying the broad-based coalition planning the commemorative march remains intact.
March organizers said participants are coming from 325 cities and that they expect the march to attract a crowd comparable to the 250,000 people who attended the march in 1963.
Several Jewish groups had been at odds with march leaders in recent weeks over expansion of the march's focus to include foreign policy questions, specifically criticisms of U.S. arms shipments and involvement in the Middle East. Some black, Arab and anti-nuclear groups had pressed for stronger language in a proposed foreign policy paper being prepared by march organizers, but march leaders promised Jewish groups last week they would avoid any specific statements about U.S. foreign policy anywhere in the world, including the Middle East.
"Coalitions are formed and strengthened by choosing consensus issues: Our consensus issues are jobs, peace and freedom," Coretta Scott King, widow of slain 1963 march leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., told a news conference yesterday.
She praised groups she said had worked to resolve the conflict over the march's foreign policy positions and said she was "heartened by our ability to compromise and to reach accord over such volatile issues as the Middle East."
Robert Lipshultz, representing Rabbi Alexander Schindler, a march convener, said American Jews still support the goals of the march just as they did 20 years ago. But he acknowledged the tension that had grown up around some march statements that Jewish groups regarded as anti-Israel, saying he was "very gratified" black leaders had agreed "to remove them from the agenda."
He and D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy said they were confident the march has the "overwhelming support of the Jewish community," particularly now that the foreign policy concerns of some Jewish groups had been allayed.
Former Sen. James Abourezk, president of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and another march convener, said his group is mobilizing several thousand Arab-Americans to attend the march and that its 44 chapters have contributed nearly $10,000 so far to help finance the event.
"We have people who have suffered as an ethnic group, and we feel the need to join with other ethnic groups," Abourezk said.
Fauntroy said the march would support "the nonviolent resolution of conflicts . . . but not go into specific detail on how that should be done because there are some differences on how to achieve these goals."
March leaders have promised Jewish groups they will screen march placards and banners to make sure there aren't any anti-Semitic or anti-Israel statements, but Fauntroy did not specify yesterday what kind of signs might be regarded as anti-Israel.
One group, the International Green Party, yesterday challenged the decision to opt for general rather than specific foreign policy language in march position papers. A group spokesman said the organization, which is concerned with anti-nuclear and environmental issues, plans to carry signs in the march specifically critical of Israel's "West Bank settlement expansion in the Middle East."