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Rabbi Offers View of Farrakhan Legacy

TONY COX, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Tony Cox in for Farai Chideya.

Before we get to our regular Roundtable, we want to continue our discussion on the final speech of Minister Louis Farrakhan. In the past, the minister has verbally attacked the Jewish community, and many still regard him and the Nation of Islam as anti-Semitic. Now that his words will be history, we can't help but wonder how the past might affect the future. Joining me now to briefly talk about this is Rabbi Steven Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles. Rabbi, welcome.

Rabbi STEVEN LEDER (Pastor, Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Los Angeles): Thank you.

COX: His words - I'm speaking now, of course, about Minister Farrakhan - helped spark a divisiveness between the black community and the Jewish community. Have we overcome?

Rabbi LEDER: I would say yes and no. I didn't listen to the entire speech yesterday. I did listened to a fair portion of it. And I think it was notable for what was not there, as much as for what was there. What was not there was some of the virulent and poisonous anti-Semitism that we've heard in the past from Minister Farrakhan.

So I was pleased that at the end of his leadership of the Nation of Islam, he seems to be taking a more conciliatory tone, or certainly less inflammatory tone toward the Jewish people, and Judaism and Israel for that matter. So in that sense, it seems as if in a way he has moved on. So I would have to say that's extremely positive.

COX: What was your reaction to the news that he was retiring?

Rabbi LEDER: You know, I'm not surprised. He's at a point in his life, you know, it's interesting he and my father shared the exact same birthday. So I see sort of what's happening to my father, physically and psychologically at his age. And, I think, you know, that I wasn't all that surprised by it. And I think that it is time for new leadership.

Nation of Islam has been marginalized, I think in many ways, partially due to some of his inflammatory rhetoric. And as the previous guest pointed out, you know, there are some very important agenda items for the African-American community in this country that need to be attended to, and they certainly won't be accomplished through hate.

COX: Do you think, this is my final question - we have about 30 seconds - that the conditions that led to the kinds of remarks that Louis Farrakhan made. Do you think those conditions still exist?

Rabbi LEDER: I don't think the conditions were real. I think they were a part of Farrakhan's imagination. And, I think, he was certainly playing the role of victim when there was no victimizer, as he saw it, vis-a-vis the Jewish people in Israel. So I don't think the conditions were real in the first place. I think they were a part of his rather exuberant and extravagant imagination.

COX: That was Rabbi Steven Leder, senior pastor of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles, California. Rabbi, thank you so much for coming on.

Rabbi LEDER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.