Sharp­ton pulls out of panel

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News - BY AMANDA JULIUS

A PANEL dis­cus­sion mark­ing the 20th an­niver­sary of the 1991 Crown Heights ri­ots has been can­celled fol­low­ing the de­ci­sion of po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist Rev­erend Al Sharp­ton to pull out of the event.

Ten­sions, buried over the past 20 years, resur­faced as a re­sult of Rev Sharp­ton’s in­clu­sion in the com­mem­o­ra­tive event, due to take place at Long Is­land’s Hamp­ton Sy­n­a­gogue, with sev­eral mem­bers of the Jewish com­mu­nity pub­licly speak­ing out against his pres­ence.

The family of Yankel Rosen­baum, an Aus­tralian strictly Or­tho­dox man re­tri­bu­tion­ally mur­dered dur­ing the ri­ots, last week is­sued a state­ment con­demn­ing the ex­ten­sion of an in­vi­ta­tion to Rev Sharp­ton, who has been ac­cused of play­ing a key role in the es­ca­la­tion of the un­rest.

When a Jewish driver in the mo­tor­cade of the Lubav­itcher Rebbe, Me­nachem Men­del Sch­neer­son, ac­ci­den­tally struck and killed young Guyanese im­mi­grant Gavin Cato on Au­gust 19 1991, con­fronta­tion in the Brook­lyn neigh­bour­hood of Crown Heights be­gan im­me­di­ately.

Urged on by Rev Sharp­ton and fu­elled by ru­mours sur­round­ing Cato’s death, African-Amer­i­can pro­test­ers hit the streets. Their march quickly es­ca­lated into racially mo­ti­vated un­rest be­tween the black and J e wish c om­mu­ni­ties that lasted three days.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing the po­ten­tial dif­fi­cul­ties of his pres­ence at a com­mem­o­ra­tive event, Rev Sharp­ton said he was pulling out as a ges­ture of re­spect to the Rosen­baum family.

How­ever, in a let­ter to or­gan­iser Rabbi Marc Sch­neier, he stressed the need for both com­mu­ni­ties to come to­gether.

Ad­mit­ting: “My lan­guage and tone at times has been ques­tioned and at times has been over the line,” he later as­serted that “the Al Sharp­ton of 2011 is not the Al Sharp­ton of 1991.”

Rabbi Sch­neier said he ap­pre­ci­ated that Rev Sharp­ton’s pres­ence might have cre­ated a cli­mate of di­vi­sive­ness rather than heal­ing. He said: “This was a very sen­si­tive demon­stra­tion of good­will on his part. I re­gret that some in the Jewish com­mu­nity were too lim­ited in not see­ing the op­por­tu­nity but only fo­cus­ing on the ob­sta­cle.

“I’m very dis­ap­pointed that this im­por­tant di­a­logue will not be held on Sun­day. This was an op­por­tu­nity and gen­uine at­tempt to clear the air and ad­dress some of the mis­un­der­stand­ings sur­round­ing the ri­ots.” Ac­cord­ing to Rabbi Sch­neier, the Crown Heights ri­ots rep­re­sent a nadir in b l a c k and Jewish re­lat i o n s , which h a v e i mpro v e d s i g n i f i c a n t l y over the past 20 years.

PHOTO: AP

Rev Sharp­ton

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