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Archive for Sunday, October 20, 2002

New Jersey poet laureate strikes back at critics

October 20, 2002

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— New Jersey poet laureate Amiri Baraka criticized Israeli and Jewish groups' involvement in U.S. politics and reiterated that he would not give up his post as official state poet amid accusations of anti-Semitism.

In a nearly hour-long monologue and question-and-answer session Thursday at the Bowery Poetry Club, Baraka struck back at critics, saying he wanted to know "why the Anti-Defamation League is not registered as an agent of a foreign power."

The Jewish civil rights organization and New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey have called for Baraka's resignation over his poem, "Somebody Blew Up America," which implies that Israel had prior knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks.

His controversial work reads, in part: "Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed. Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers to stay home that day. Why did Sharon stay away?"

Seven Israelis were killed in the trade center attack, according to the Israeli Consulate in New York.

He also said President Bush had advance knowledge of the attack. "If you don't think President Bush knew, man, you are back in the cartoon days."

Baraka, 68, an award-winning playwright who has taught at Columbia and Yale universities, has said that the poem's selected passage was intended to criticize Israel's policy toward Palestinians, and he did not mean to imply that Israel was responsible for the attack.

"I think Baraka's off the mark in lots of respects, including this," Rosina Abramson, civil rights director for the Anti-Defamation League, said of the poet's Thursday statement about the group.

Cafe employees handed out free, steaming coffee and written statements from Baraka touching on Jewish groups' work to defeat Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney of Georgia and Alabama Rep. Earl Hilliard, both black Democrats seen as unfriendly to Israel.

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