Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, after causing controversy with bitterly anti-Semitic remarks at a July rally in Washington, has deeply divided black and Jewish leaders here with his plans for a major speech Saturday.
After several meetings described as friendly but emotional, including some with Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, Jewish leaders say they have failed to persuade black leaders to join them in denouncing Farrakhan before his appearance at what they expect to be a full house of 18,000 at The Forum.
"I am dismayed," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center here, which documents and searches for Nazi war criminals. "I can't understand any reluctance, black or white, to respond to someone like Louis Farrakhan. He has shown the world that he is an international ambassador of hate."
The Los Angeles area has the second largest Jewish community in the country, estimated at 600,000 of its 8 million residents. Jews and the city's 1 million blacks have cooperated closely in electing Democrats such as Bradley to office. But there have been tensions between the two groups, and those tensions are being exacerbated by Farrakhan's appearance.
Irv Rubin, national chairman of the Jewish Defense League, said he will announce a series of demonstrations against Farrakhan and the Forum event at a news conference Wednesday outside the Beverly Hills home of Jerry Buss, owner of The Forum, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Kings.
"The black leadership is scared stiff by Farrakhan's popularity and his power," Rubin said.
Hier said a long Monday meeting, chaired by Los Angeles Urban League President John Mack, included several prominent black and Jewish leaders and failed to resolve their tactical disagreement. He said black leaders indicated that they could not comment before they heard Farrakhan speak and felt that any pre-speech publicity would only swell Farrakhan's audience.
Mack and other black leaders who attended the meeting could not be reached for comment.
Willis Edwards, president of the Beverly Hills-Hollywood NAACP, did not attend and said, "I prefer not to comment . . . because I don't know what [Farrakhan] is going to speak about . . . . I think leaders get too excited about what she said or he said. Jewish leaders have a right to say what they want to say. Minister Farrakhan has the right to say what he wants to say."
A full-page advertisement denouncing Farrakhan and signed by several religious and political leaders is scheduled to appear in Friday's Los Angeles Times.
Bradley spokeswoman Ali Webb said the mayor will have no statement until Saturday morning. "He is pursuing a separate strategy," she said.
Repeating techniques that drew nearly 10,000 people to his July 22 speech at the Washington Convention Center, Farrakhan supporters, including a new local group called Friends for the Benefit of Economic Unity (FBEU), have spread leaflets throughout black neighborhoods here announcing the Saturday speech.
The FBEU also has announced a Friday night fund-raiser hosted by former football star Jim Brown to honor several black community leaders. Two announced honorees, singer Stevie Wonder and state assembly member Maxine Waters, have said they will not attend.
FBEU secretary Linda Evans said the Nation of Islam was a sponsor of the group, which she said raises money "to set up job training and job banks for minorities and poor people." She said black leaders who have agreed to attend the fund-raiser include Compton Mayor Walter Tucker, Inglewood City Council member Danny Tabor, and Thomas Kilgore, a Baptist minister close to Bradley.
Jewish leaders here have listened to a tape of the Washington speech and say it reveals Farrakhan as an electrifying speaker who is likely to draw large audiences even if black leaders ignore him. In the speech he said, "I'm not backing down from the Jews because I know their wickedness. I'm not separating just Zionists out, because the Zionists are the outgrowth of Jewish transgression."
Washington Mayor Marion Barry on Monday told city religious leaders that Farrakhan's "anti-Semitic impeachments . . . . didn't help our city at all." Barry spoke out after Jewish leaders implored him to respond. He 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."