Los Angeles Jewish leaders reacted in anger Sunday to Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan’s speech calling Israel a “wicked hypocrisy,” attacking him as an anti-Semitic demagogue reminiscent of Hitler.
They also assailed Mayor Tom Bradley as irresponsible for failing to speak out against the controversial Farrakhan before his speech. They predicted, with some sadness, that black-Jewish relations in Los Angeles would suffer long-term damage as a result.
While Bradley broke a week-long silence to criticize Farrakhan at a press conference Sunday afternoon, other black leaders withheld comment, saying they did not “want to muddy the waters” by taking public positions that could distract attention from the mayor’s remarks.
Grass-roots reaction among blacks, however, indicated that the appeal of the Chicago-based leader of the Nation of Islam had struck home with many: About 3,000--many wearing dark suits and dress clothes, others wearing POWER T-shirts--appeared at the Airport Park Hotel in Inglewood to sign up with POWER (People Organized Working for Economic Rebirth), Farrakhan’s economic self-help group.
While most black leaders remained reluctant to comment on Farrakhan, Jewish officials continued their denunciations of him and his message.
“I have never seen the Jewish community more concerned over an issue than they are concerned now,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies.
The timing of Farrakhan’s speech augmented its impact on Jewish sensibilities, officials said. Farrakhan spoke one day before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, one of the two High Holy Days of the Jewish calendar.
“We mourn the lack of black fortitude in the face of bigotry,” Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin of Stephen S. Wise Temple said in sermons at two Rosh Hashanah services held in the Scottish Rite Temple on Wilshire Boulevard.
Zeldin asked his congregation to write letters “as a friend, not as an antagonist” to Bradley about his silence.
He said his remarks, however, were addressed not only to Bradley, whom he called “a good man and a good friend,” but also to Bishop H.H. Brookins of the A.M.E. Church and Los Angeles City Councilman Robert Farrell--all prominent blacks who withheld comment on Farrakhan before his speech.
“Jews,” he said, “have never held back on condemnation of white racists when blacks were being attacked and we expected the same . . . They have damaged black causes because of their silence.”
2,000 Copies of Letter
Allen I. Freehling, rabbi at University Synagogue, another of Los Angeles’ largest temples, wrote a letter to Bradley. He said he would distribute 2,000 copies among those attending Rosh Hashanah services.
“At a moment of serious crisis, you have failed to be a responsible leader for reasons that are not at all easy to explain or understand,” Freehling, who is president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, wrote the mayor.
“You and a host of our black brothers have chosen to remain silent at the very moment when every moral imperative requires you and them to speak up loudly, clearly and in a forthright manner in anticipation of the public appearances in our community of a much-quoted demagogue whose diatribes of filth and hate embody broad and vicious attacks upon America as a nation, white people as an entity and world Jewry as a religious body.”
Calling Farrakhan “a racist . . . anti-Semitic . . . anti-American,” the letter said it was “sad, because you (Bradley) are a man of good will. . . . This silence of yours has permitted a wedge to be driven between the black community and other enclaves in Los Angeles.”
Hier, of the Wiesenthal Center, said Farrakhan’s speech was “sheer demagoguery. . . . He did not tone down his hatred.”
He said Farrakhan attacks Jews and Israel because “it is the mortgage payment on the loan from Kadafi.” POWER received an interest-free, $5-million loan from the Libyan leader.
“The most frightening thing about the speech,” Hier said, “is that so many people can be so easily misled. So many people rise in thunderous applause to such a demagogue. It recalls the ‘Sieg Heil’ shouts from the Nazi storm troopers.”
Hier said the Wiesenthal Center paid a free-lance television crew $300 to videotape Farrakhan’s speech for its archives.
Rabbi Alfred Wolf of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, another major Southland Jewish institution, said the speech reminded him of Nazi propaganda he had heard while growing up in Hitler’s Germany.
“It was a typical anti-Semitic speech . . . to appeal to two instincts: one, a combination of group pride and the desire for prosperity, and, the other, to appeal to the lowest instincts of hate and prejudice,” the rabbi said.
Responding to the mayor’s denunciation Sunday of Farrakhan’s speech, Marshall Grossman, vice president of the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, said the remarks “fell short of what is required of the mayor of a great city. The mayor’s strategy was destined for failure from the beginning because it was bottomed on the assumption that you can negotiate an acceptable level of rhetoric with a hate monger.”
However, Howard Friedman, national president of the American Jewish Committee, said: “It seems to me that the mayor, though a little belated, made a good statement. We wish he would have been forthcoming earlier but I am gratified that he was forthcoming now.”
Four prominent blacks appeared at the mayor’s news conference but declined to comment on Farrakhan’s speech.
“Mayor Bradley speaks for us today,” said Raymond Johnson, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. The others were Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles); John Mack, president of the local Urban League, and Mark Ridley-Thomas, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Attempts to reach Councilman Farrell and Bishop Brookins were unsuccessful.
Times staff writers Janet Clayton and Ralph Cipriano contributed to this story.