The Nerves of Stone Award for 1997 should go to one Stanley Halpern of Boca Raton, Fla. Halpern is 70, retired, a former political activist who, he says, opposed the Vietnam War long before it was popular to do so.
Halpern is also Jewish and spends much of his time these days talking to Jewish organizations. His topic: Jews have an imperative to start a dialogue with Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam who, among other things, stands accused of being the country's foremost Jew-baiter.
But here comes Halpern, not only urging a dialogue, but defending Farrakhan against the three most cited incidents that have left people charging him with anti-Semitism: the "Hitler is great" remark, the charge that Farrakhan called Judaism a "dirty religion" and the publication of the Nation of Islam book "The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews."
Halpern feels so strongly on the Farrakhan subject that he has written an eight-page newsletter that he sends to folks throughout the country. It is on these pages that Halpern attempts to explain Farrakhan to the Jewish community, in hopes that someone will begin what he sees as a long overdue dialogue. What follows is reprinted from Halpern's newsletter with his permission.
"The Hitler is great remark: Farrakhan in his anger at being called a Black Hitler responded by saying: 'Hitler was a very great man. He wasn't great for me as a Black man but he was a great German and he rose Germany up from the ashes of her defeat I' Farrakhan also noted 'Hitler's evil toward (the) Jewish people,' and added 'don't compare me with your wicked killers.' (He later said he meant Hitler was great in a historical sense of being influential or wickedly great. He did not say Hitler was great because he killed the Jews but that Hitler was great because he rebuilt the German economy.) I think anyone who claims or implies that Farrakhan said Hitler was great because he killed Jews is coming from a racist attitude and for Jews to mindlessly continue to repeat that libel is demeaning to the Jewish tradition of fairness. I"
"Judaism is a dirty religion: Farrakhan used the term 'dirty religion' to describe specific practices and policies of the State of Israel toward the Palestinians. I"
"Why 'The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews'?: How let down most Jews felt with Farrakhan's remarks. Weren't the Jews always on the side of Afro-Americans? Who can forget that the Jews were in the forefront of the civil rights movement. It was at this point that the book 'The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews' was published. Its main contention was that it was not true that Jews always helped the Blacks. In fact during slavery the Jews were proportionately more involved than any other group. The key word here is 'proportionately' and not 'dominate.' That the Jews dominated the slave trade would on the face of it be ridiculous, but that the Jews were percentage-wise more involved than any other group is a creditable argument. I venture to say that most Jews have not read this book."
Halpern spoke about the book yesterday from his Florida home. Didn't he think the book should have mentioned that those Jews involved in the slave trade had very few other occupations available to them? Didn't the book lump those Eastern European Jews, with their own history of oppression, with that minority of Western European Jews involved in the slave trade?
"I would have been happy if they said that also," Halpern admitted. "[But] the book was the answer to the claim that Jews were always supportive of blacks. We Jews did a lot of great things. Unfortunately, we did a few bad things. What would be wrong with Jews apologizing for what a tiny minority of our people did in their involvement in the slave trade?"
Halpern claims that, thus far, few Jews have bothered to answer that question or to support his call for a dialogue with Farrakhan. Reaction to his efforts has been "slow, very slow," he confesses.
In June, part of Halpern's newsletter appeared in the Boca/Delray edition of the Jewish Times.
"I sent the op-ed piece to 20 to 25 Jewish professors at different colleges throughout the country. I got two answers, both negative," Halpern says. A persistent cuss, Halpern says he's been trying to get a Jewish-NOI dialogue going since 1985. Jewish leaders would be advised that now is a good time for dialogue with Farrakhan. He's been on his best behavior in years, as far as making outrageous statements about Jews goes. Halpern wasn't even riled by Farrakhan's latest charge that rich Jews helped Hitler come to power at the expense of poor Jews.
"I've heard rumors about that," Halpern said. "It's probably true. I'm sorry he said it. I wish he hadn't pointed it out."
Therein might lie the common ground for dialogue. Say nothing more about this matter, Jewish leaders can say to Farrakhan, and we'll say nothing of Elijah Muhammad's World War II support of the Japanese, who were every bit as brutal, racist and genocidal as the Nazis.
Pub Date: 8/02/97