Web site launched to promote black-Jewish relations

NEW YORK — A New York-based foundation has launched a campaign to fight hate speech on the World Wide Web with an Internet message of interracial cooperation.

The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which advocates direct dialogue between African-Americans and Jews, launched the site — www.ffeu.com — on Monday to coincide with this year's commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"We hope to be the address on the Internet for black-Jewish relations," said the foundation's executive director, Tommy Loeb.

The site will provide Internet connections to organizations supportive of the foundation's mission, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Urban League and the Anti-Defamation League, he said.

But the foundation's site may also include Web links to sites sponsored by racist and extremist groups, Loeb said, "because a lot of people are not familiar with them and are really quite shocked once they get the opportunity to see them."

A search of the Internet for topics related to "blacks" or "Jews" turns up a variety of Web addresses that direct users to both civil rights organizations and groups with extremist agendas. The Simon Wiesenthal Center has identified more than 1,000 Web sites run by neo-Nazis, skinheads and militias and other such groups.

As the Internet gains popularity as a research tool and a source of entertainment, such sites have spurred civil rights groups to devise ways to combat the proliferation of hate speech while protecting freedom of speech.

Last month, the ADL released its "Hate Filter" software, which enables parents to block their children's ability to enter hate groups' Web sites.

The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding is determined to diffuse bigotry in cyberspace by providing accurate information about at least one aspect of race relations in America.

People scanning the Internet will have the opportunity to see "unsensationalized, but true, reporting on the state of black-Jewish relations," said Rabbi Marc Schneier of New York, who established the foundation with the late theater impresario Joseph Papp.

Bell Atlantic, the national communications company that is one of the foundation's corporate sponsors, awarded a $40,000 grant to launch the site.

Visitors will have access to the foundation's research and reports from the past three years on the status of black-Jewish relations, as well as an ongoing discussion group by experts in the field.

Its report for 1998 detailing incidents of "cooperation, conflict and human interest" builds on the findings of years past.

The 84-page document indicates "substantial cooperation" between African-Americans and Jews on local, national and grassroots levels. Most notably, the report finds an "increase in interchurch visitation, featuring rabbis and ministers exchanging pulpits" and members of both congregations mingling in the audiences.

"Each year we sort of get surprised by the amount of cooperation, which so far, far outweighs the conflict," Loeb said

The report's findings, he said, indicate that conflict increasingly centers around the Jewish community's clashes with spokesmen for the Nation of Islam.

"That issue gets the greatest media attention and sort of formulates people's idea about the relationship in general," Loeb said.

That report corresponds to findings of an ADL survey of anti-Semitic attitudes released last November, which found that the percentage of blacks holding anti-Semitic views had fallen slightly, but noted that anti-Semitism exists at a much higher rate among blacks than whites.

The foundation conducted its own poll of black-Jewish relations last April. Its findings differ, Schneier said, mainly in that they show improvement at "an accelerated pace."