WBAI's Problems

WBAI-FM, New York City's radical, listener-sponsored radio station, has 20,000 subscribers. In the last two months, however, it often seems as though the rest of New York's 18 million inhabitants would like to wipe it off the airwaves. Never too comfortable with the right wing, nobody was much surprised when several years ago WBAI was accused of "subversion" by the Senate equivalent of HUAC; those who knew were more likely to be flattered. But almost all of the station's latest attackers would be proud to call themselves "liberals," and would even more proudly defend freedom of speech.

They want WBAI off the air--or at the very least have asked the FCC to conduct an "investigation"--for having permitted an anti-Semitic poem to be read by a black schoolteacher. And when the same people who are supposed to be fighting suppression of various freedoms start trying to suppress yours. liberals suddenly become part of the whole bad joke.

Which is, of course, an incredible oversimplification; these people really do believe in freedom, but they're scared. "Free speech doesn't include the spewing out over the airwaves of unmitigated hate material," one spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League said Tuesday. The poem was read by a black man, and at a time when suppressed feelings of bitterness between blacks and Jews were suddenly becoming vividly expressed. The incident followed a period of eight months of almost constant conflict between the United Federation of Teachers and the Ocean Hill-Brownsville community. Soon afterwards the Metropolitan Museum's catalogue for its Harlem On My Mind exhibit was forced off the stands because of an allegedly anti-Semitic portion of its introduction written by a black high school student. "All this has left a very bad taste here in New York," City Council president Francis X. Smith said yesterday--"a substantial residue of ill will."

The offending poem, written by a 15-year-old black, girl, was read December 26 on the Julius Lester show, a two-hour, live program regularly scheduled on Thursday nights. On the controversial program, Leslie Campbell, a black school teacher from the Ocean Hill-Brownsville district, read several poems written by his students, including the one entitled "Anti-Semitism' and dedicated to Albert Shanker.

Hey Jew boy with that yamaka on your head


You pale faced Jew boy I wish you were dead . . .

Jew boy you took my religion and adopted it for you

But you know that black people were the original hebrews

When the UN made Israel a free, independent state

Little four and five-year-old boys threw had grenades

They hated the black Arabs with all their might

And you, Jew boy, said it was alright

And then you came to America the land of the free

Took over the school system to perpetuate white supremacy

Cause you know, Jew boy, there's only one reason you made it