Mayor Marion Barry yesterday censured remarks made in July by Louis Farrakhan and told a group of religious leaders "the anti-Semitic impeachments that he Farrakhan made didn't help our city at all."
Barry's statement to the executive committee of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, which came after Jewish community leaders implored him to speak out, was in response to Farrakhan's speech July 22 at the Convention Center here. In that speech, the leader of the Nation of Islam spoke of the "wickedness" of Jews and asserted that "black people will not be controlled by Jews."
But Barry did not repudiate Farrakhan personally. After his speech, the mayor made clear that his remarks to the Interfaith Conference were "very specifically" targeted at Farrakhan's comments of July 22. Barry said he did not speak out earlier because: "I don't like to create a situation . . . . I don't think we ought to react to everyone."
Farrakhan could not be reached for comment at his Chicago headquarters yesterday.
Response to Barry's speech by Jewish leaders generally was favorable, although several said they wished the mayor had censured Farrakhan immediately after he spoke, instead of seven weeks later.
Barry, in his speech, supported First Amendment freedoms but cited Farrakhan's remarks, last winter's bombings of abortion clinics in this area, and distribution in the city of anti-Catholic posters as evidence that "some things go too far . . . . I think as mayor, and also as citizens, we have a responsibility to speak out and to speak up."
Barry said that Farrakhan's statements should not be interpreted as a reflection of conflict between blacks and Jews, but rather of tension between Farrakhan's organization, the Nation of Islam, and the Jewish community.
"Conflicts between the tenets of the Nation of Islam and the Jewish community should not be magnified and projected as a general black-Jewish struggle," Barry said. "This is an anti-Semitic statement against a group of people, but it's not black people against Jews."
Farrakhan's appearance in Washington in July, which was promoted by word of mouth and posters, drew more than 10,000 listeners and was seen as an indication that the Chicago-based religious leader has attracted a growing following here and around the country.
Farrakhan also has drawn large crowds in Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia and Houston.
Farrakhan first came to public attention after going to Syria in January 1984 with the Rev. Jesse Jackson to help obtain the release of downed U.S. Navy airman Robert Goodman Jr.
Farrakhan subsequently was dropped from Jackson's presidential campaign after making comments indicating admiration for Adolf Hitler.
Currently, Farrakhan is promoting black-owned businesses through an organization called "People Organized to Work for Economic Rebirth," which he established with a $5 million loan from Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi.
Rabbi Sidney Schwarz, executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, commended Barry "for your courageous statement today."
He later said he thought that the remarks of the mayor, who had been silent on the issue, removed the "ambiguity" from Barry's position.
Rabbi Andrew Baker, Washington area director of the American Jewish Committee, said Jewish community leaders had lobbied the mayor for weeks to make a statement. He said that Barry agreed to do so in a meeting Aug. 23, and the Interfaith Conference meeting was selected as an appropriate platform because of its focus on group hatred in the Washington area.
David C. Friedman, a spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League, was not entirely satisfied with the mayor's remarks.
"While we were very pleased that Marion Barry has decided to make a public condemnation of the rhetoric of Louis Farrakhan, we, on the other hand, felt that this was certainly too little, too late," Friedman said.
The Interfaith Conference is composed of representatives of different faiths, but does not include any member of Farrakhan's Nation of Islam, the Muslim organization led by the late Elijah Muhammad.
Donald F2xsmith, a photographer with The Final Call, a newspaper published by the Nation of Islam, challenged conference members on that issue yesterday, asserting that the organization should include a representative from the Nation of Islam. He and other supporters of Farrakhan at the meeting questioned whether their leader's comments had been taken out of context.