Memo To: Samuel G. Freedman, NYTimes
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: “A Proprietary Holocaust”
Your excellent report in last Saturday’s NYTimes on the increasing use of the term “holocaust” to describe human suffering on a massive scale prompts me to write. More than a year ago, in late November ’96, I arranged a meeting in Philadelphia of a prominent member of the national Jewish political community and Leonard Muhammad, who is Louis Farrakhan’s son-in-law and chief of staff. The meeting took place a few weeks after Edgar Bronfman, head of the World Jewish Congress, had denounced Min. Farrakhan as being “inherently evil.” The reason Bronfman did this was related to Farrakhan’s use of the term “holocaust.” Here is what happened:
Mike Wallace of CBS, whose parents were Russian Jews, had for decades been interested in the Nation of Islam, having gotten to know Malcolm X in the 1950s. In 1995, Wallace’s many attempts to persuade Farrakhan to be interviewed on 60 Minutes bore fruit. The interview aired in April 1996. During the course of the taping, Wallace and Farrakhan had lunch, at which Wallace asked if Farrakhan was serious about reconciliation with the Jewish community. Wallace told me he believed Farrakhan was serious, and as a result he arranged a dinner meeting in New York City some weeks later at the home of Edgar Bronfman. Min. and Mrs. Farrakhan attended, as did Mr. and Mrs. Bronfman, Mr.& Mrs. Wallace, Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Muhammad, and Rock Newman, the fight manager of Riddick Bowe, who had been the intermediary between CBS and the Nation of Islam.
The meeting went well, with Min. Farrakhan persuading Bronfman that he was serious about a meeting with the leaders of the Jewish establishment, which Bronfman said he would attempt to bring about. At the same time, Rock Newman urged a business partnership between Bronfman and the NOI, which he hoped might result in the construction of a “black” hotel in Washington, D.C. financed by Jews.
Two days after the dinner, Farrakhan read a story in the NYTimes prior to a speech he made in Brooklyn. The newspaper said the United Nations estimated 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of the U.N. embargo. Farrakhan compared this to the “holocaust” in Nazi Germany and his Brooklyn speech, reported in the NYTimes, was read by Mrs. Bronfman, who took offense and complained to her husband about his use of the term holocaust.
The contact between Bronfman’s staff and the NOI continued through the summer nevertheless. Meanwhile, Wallace had been the subject of a Playboy interview, during which he talked about his dinner initiative with Farrakhan and Bronfman. As Wallace explained to me subsequently, the Playboy editors called Bronfman to give him a heads-up, which Wallace believes happened because Bronfman’s family business bought so many whisky advertisements in the magazine.
I got involved because Jack Kemp, the GOP vice-presidential nominee, on the Labor Day weekend had given an interview to the Boston Globe in which he praised the self-help message of the Million Man March. Kemp and I have been close political friends since early 1976. Although I am not Jewish, like Mike Wallace I had independently come to the conclusion that Farrakhan has been unfairly characterized as being bigoted and anti-Semitic.
All this came together the day prior to the November 6 elections, when Playboy hit the newsstand with the Wallace interview, and Bronfman simultaneously issued a statement to the Jewish press denouncing Farrakhan as being “inherently evil.” He of course could not deny having had dinner with Farrakhan, but cited the “holocaust” remark as evidence that Farrakhan had betrayed him. He also told the Jewish press that at the Wallace dinner, the Farrakhan people seemed interested in making money with a hotel project.
At the dinner meeting I arranged with Leonard Muhammad and my political friend in the national Jewish establishment, the term “holocaust” came up in connection with the Bronfman controversy. My Jewish friend told Leonard Muhammad that Min. Farrakhan had unwittingly expropriated the term “holocaust” -- which now has been patented by the Jewish community. When I discussed this with Min. Farrakhan at a Chicago dinner in December 1996, he said he would not use the term “holocaust” again. He also told me roughly the following: “I have been speaking only to black audiences for the last 44 years. There have been only three white audiences I addressed in those years. I think maybe you are an angel, sent to me by God, to teach me how to speak to white people.”
Let me quote a page 14 item in the Dec. 12 issue of the Forward, the English-language Jewish weekly, under the headline: “Farrakhan Heading for Israel.” The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported:
WASHINGTON -- When Louis Farrakhan asked Israel to receive him on an official visit, Israeli officials turned to American Jewish groups -- hoping that they would spearhead opposition to any visit by the Nation of Islam leader. But after no group offered to support a total travel ban, Israel agreed to allow Farrakhan to make a private visit. And with that, Farrakhan opened a new front in his quest for Jewish acceptance. Now attention is focused on preventing the black Muslim leader from obtaining long-sought Jewish recognition if he follows through with his plans to visit Israel and Palestinian-controlled territories for three days beginning Jan 7.
Timesman Sam Freedman, can you tell me what is going on here? Is there any sense to a story that reports Louis Farrakhan has “opened a new front in his quest for Jewish acceptance”? Why should a bigoted anti-Semite be “opening a new front” to win Jewish acceptance, and be denounced for doing so in the nation’s primary Jewish newspaper? Can you imagine reports in the 1930s of Adolf Hitler making yet another attempt to meet with Jewish leaders, but having the door slammed in his face? And then, a report that “Hitler opened a new front in his quest for Jewish acceptance.”
Now I am just a simple-minded Roman Catholic, so I acknowledge there are things that go on in the wider world I will never understand. But I have to tell you, this does not add up, Sam. It does not add up. You have done such a good job explaining “Holocaust” for the Times, maybe you can add the rest of it up for us.