New Jersey town bows to pressure against Farrakhan

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The central New Jersey city of Plainfield has canceled plans to honor Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan amid protests by Jewish and other religious leaders.

The Plainfield City Council decided against honoring Farrakhan August 11, a day before he visited the city. The resolution was killed after Jewish community members as well as non-Jewish Plainfield residents complained.

"There doesn't seem to be enough support for this item, so I ask this item be removed," Councilman Joseph Scott Sr. said.

Rabbis and pastors joined forces to protest the move to city officials, said Rabbi Gerald A. Goldman of Temple Sholom, a Reform congregation in Plainfield.

Six of the seven council members who originally supported the honor "did not realize the insult to the Jewish community this would represent," Goldman said.

"The synagogues and Jewish community are part of Plainfield. We are homeowners and pay taxes."

Goldman estimated that about 1,000 Jews live in Plainfield.

Goldman, along with Rabbi Moshe Samber, a retired rabbi who lives in Plainfield, and Shai Goldstein, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League for the State of New Jersey, attended the meeting to show their opposition to the plan.

"I think the council independently recognized it would be inappropriate and cause great offense," the ADL's Goldstein said.

A local minister and members of the Nation of Islam Mosque 80 in Plainfield first proposed the honor, said Councilman Albert T. McWilliams.

But Mayor Mark A. Fury immediately criticized the plan and another move to offer Farrakhan a ceremonial key to the city. Councilman Robert Ferraro also rejected the moves.

"It should have never have been brought forth," Ferraro said. "In the Muslim community, they preach love, family and togetherness. Minister Farrakhan preaches hate, the hate of Jews and white people." Ferraro said he received several telephone calls from community members supporting his opposition to the proposal.

The incident is likely to erupt into a campaign issue when Ferraro and McWilliams face each other in an upcoming mayoral election. Ferraro called for a roll-call vote on the issue, but Council President Malcolm R. Dunn killed that idea.

"They don't want to expose themselves," Ferraro said of council members who still might support the resolution.

McWilliams was one of several council members who originally supported commending Farrakhan. He later changed his mind.

"The thing I was thinking about was the one side of it," McWilliams said of the neighborhood mosque's efforts. "Then I heard people saying it would cause pain to people in our community."

"I'm aware of the statements that have been made [by Farrakhan]," McWilliams said. "But I wasn't aware of the pain it would cause."

Farrakhan is on a 90-city tour to promote the second anniversary of the Million Man March in Washington and call for a World Day of Atonement on Oct. 16. He appeared in Newark Aug. 11.

Ironically, and perhaps not accidentally, Farrakhan's day of atonement falls on Sukkot and shortly after Yom Kippur.

"Farrakhan's struggle to gain legitimacy in the broader community as well as within the African-American community must be rejected by people of goodwill," the ADL's Goldstein said.

Farrakhan "has not stopped his campaign of hatred."