CHICAGO – Nation of Islam officials on Tuesday said Jewish leaders who resigned from a state hate crimes commission rather than serve with one of their members should rejoin the panel or quit criticizing it.
Two former commission members said they had no intention of returning to the Governor's Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crimes because Sister Claudette Marie Muhammad refused to repudiate the religious movement's leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan.
In her first comments since four commissioners resigned last week, Muhammad said it was ridiculous that she has been condemned for Farrakhan's remarks.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich's appointment of Muhammad to the commission in August drew no public attention until she invited commissioners to attend a speech given by Farrakhan, who is known for his disparaging remarks about Jews, whites and gays.
Some commissioners began criticizing her presence on the panel after Farrakhan's speech Feb. 26 in Chicago that included references to "Hollywood Jews" promoting homosexuality and "other filth."
On Tuesday, Farrakhan's chief of staff, Brother Leonard Muhammad, said the Nation of Islam forgave the former commissioners because they "left out of confusion."
"You misunderstand what the commission is all about," Leonard Muhammad said on WVON-AM. "Come back to the commission and debate your point."
He later issued a stronger challenge for them to return.
"They need to come back or shut up," Leonard Muhammad said.
Claudette Muhammad urged her critics to leave her alone.
"For those who try to condemn me because of the honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan's remarks," she said, "it's ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous."
Claudette Muhammad said she and her family have been victims of hate crimes and discrimination, and that she has Jewish family members, has traveled to Israel and has worshipped in synagogues.
"Please know I am not the victimizer here, OK, but instead I am the victim," she said. She refused to repudiate Farrakhan and recommended that people who disagree with him, speak with him.
Three Jewish commission members resigned, saying her support for Farrakhan contradicts the panel's goals. They called on her to repudiate Farrakhan's remarks. A state lawmaker whom Blagojevich appointed to fill one of the vacancies also resigned.
Former member Richard Hirschhaut said the commission is compromised and likely will need a complete overhaul to re-establish its credibility.
"I have no intention of returning to the commission until it is cleansed of the stain and stench of bigotry caused by Sister Claudette's continued presence," said Hirschhaut, executive director of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.
The Democratic governor said Monday that Claudette Muhammad is not responsible for any racist remarks Farrakhan has made. He has said he didn't realize he had appointed a Nation of Islam official until learning about it from news reports.