WASHINGTON -- The NAACP, whose unwillingness to break relations with black Muslim leader Louis T. Farrakhan has upset some Jewish groups, moved yesterday to rebuild bridges by calling for a meeting next week with Jewish leaders.
"The NAACP should reach out to the leaders of the American Jewish community so the Jewish community can hear directly where we stand," said the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
He said such a meeting might take place in New York, where the NAACP is scheduled to hold its annual conference at the end of next week.
Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, said he had "not heard from Dr. Chavis or anybody else about a meeting of this nature. It is always worthwhile to meet and air our differences."
Dr. Chavis said the NAACP, which is based in Baltimore, was proud of its "historic relationship" with American Jews, which dates to the group's founding in 1909. He said the civil rights group is "absolutely opposed to all manifestations of anti-Semitism."
However, he also said that the "NAACP believes that there is a necessity to continue a constructive dialogue between the Nation of Islam and the NAACP."
"I don't want the Jewish community to say, 'If you talk to so-and-so, then you can't talk to us,' " Dr. Chavis said. "The NAACP must have the capacity to talk to the widest diversity of communities in the United States."
Civil rights leaders have been under pressure to distance themselves from the Nation of Islam since the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith publicized a speech in November by a spokesman for Mr. Farrakhan, the black separatist group's leader, at a New Jersey college.
The aide, Khalid Abdul Muhammad, called Jews the "blood suckers of the black nation," labeled the pope a "cracker" and urged blacks to kill white men, women and children in South Africa.
Mr. Farrakhan announced last week that he had demoted Mr. Muhammad, and the NAACP said it was satisfied with the move. Despite the demotion, Mr. Muhammad spoke two days later in Baltimore on behalf of the Nation of Islam. He didn't mention Jews.
Mr. Foxman said he was "disappointed and saddened" at the NAACP response to the demotion. "I wish Ben Chavis had waited a little longer to see some concrete deeds before he took Mr. Farrakhan at his word," he said.
Dr. Chavis was the first major civil rights leader to denounce the Muhammad speech. In an address Jan. 17 at the Smithsonian Institution, he said that he was "appalled that any human being would stoop so low to make such violence-prone, anti-Semitic statements."
Mr. Muhammad had attacked the NAACP in the New Jersey speech. He charged that the group was long under the control of Jews and did not truly represent blacks.
"He did insult us," Dr. Chavis said yesterday, "but because he insulted us, we're not going to blame every member of the Nation of Islam for what he said. That doesn't mean all Nation of Islam members should be vilified."