New Jersey's poet laureate defended a poem he wrote implying that Israel knew of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in advance, and rebuffed the demand of Gov. James McGreevey that he resign and apologize.
Amiri Baraka asserted that the meaning of his poem, "Somebody Blew Up America," has been distorted.
"It is a poem that aims to probe and disturb, but there is not any evidence of anti-Semitism," Baraka told a supportive crowd of about 200 at the Newark Public Library on Wednesday.
Baraka used his keynote address at a ceremony naming the library a "literary landmark" for a nearly 40-minute rebuttal of his critics, including the governor and the Anti-Defamation League.
McGreevey appointed Baraka poet laureate in July, but demanded he resign Friday after Baraka read the poem last month at a poetry festival.
"Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed," the poem says. "Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers to stay home that day? Why did Sharon stay away?"
During his speech Wednesday, Baraka insisted that Israel, as well as President George W. Bush, the FBI and a host of U.S. allies knew of the impending terrorist attacks. He cited media reports.
Shai Goldstein, New Jersey regional director of the ADL, supported McGreevey's call for Baraka to resign.
"One of our big concerns is that the 'big lie' has now been repeated by a representative of the state of New Jersey," Goldstein said Wednesday.
The poet laureate position was created in 1999 and pays $10,000 per two-year term.
A recommendation to name Baraka poet laureate came from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities and the state Council on the Arts. The title and the grant money cannot be rescinded, and the decision to resign is entirely up to Baraka.
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