- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2006

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Four Jewish members of the Governor’s Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crimes resigned this week rather than serve alongside an aide to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, known for his disparaging remarks about Jews, whites and homosexuals.

It started as a routine gubernatorial appointment to a feel-good commission — so routine that the governor says he didn’t even know the details.

But the naming of the Nation of Islam official to a commission that fights discrimination has exploded into an election-year furor for Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, putting him in the middle of a conflict among blacks, Jews and homosexuals.

“No matter what he does, he’s going to tick somebody off,” Rick Garcia, political director of the homosexual rights organization Equality Illinois, said yesterday. “It’s completely a no-win situation.”

Richard Hirschhaut, executive director of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, and Lonnie Nasatir, a regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, resigned Thursday.

The third and fourth resignations came yesterday, when Howard Kaplan of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago said he could not serve on a commission “that, by implication, accepts divisive and bigoted standards.”

Democratic state Rep. Lou Lang, who was appointed just a day earlier to fill one of the vacancies, also stepped down.

In dueling press conferences, Jewish and homosexual lawmakers called for Sister Claudette Marie Muhammad to disavow Mr. Farrakhan’s comments or step down from the commission, while black lawmakers defended her right to serve.

“I think she has the intellect and also the humanity to do what this commission was put together for,” said state Sen. Donne Trotter, a Chicago Democrat.

Mr. Blagojevich appointed Miss Muhammad to the commission in August, but she drew no public attention until she invited other commissioners to a Farrakhan speech last month. Some commissioners began complaining of her presence on the panel, and the criticism increased after Mr. Farrakhan’s speech Sunday included references to “Hollywood Jews” promoting homosexuality and “other filth.”

The Democratic governor, in a recent interview with the Associated Press, said he did not realize he had appointed a Nation of Islam official until learning about it from press reports.

He nodded vigorously when asked whether his staff should have discussed the appointment and its implications with him, but would say little else about the incident.

But he did say Miss Muhammad should stay on the commission as long as she supports its goals of fighting discrimination.

“I strongly disagree with the things Minister Farrakhan said. They’re wrong and hateful and they’re harmful,” Mr. Blagojevich said. “I also oppose guilt by association. Miss Muhammad didn’t say those things.”

Miss Muhammad did not return messages left for her at the Nation of Islam, where she is Mr. Farrakhan’s chief of protocol and director of community outreach, but she issued a statement promising to support the commission’s work “to eradicate hate and discrimination against any group or person.”

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