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Rev. Al Sharpton Declines Invitation To Speak At Panel On Black-Jewish Relations Following Controversy

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- After initially accepting a controversial offer by Rabbi Marc Schneier to speak at a panel on the state of black-Jewish relations in America, Rev. Al Sharpton has decided that he will not appear at the event, which was to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Crown Heights riots.

"Over the last twenty-hours I have been made aware of local detractors of yours and mine that want to engage in the business of division and distortion," Sharpton said in a letter to Schneier.

Sharpton had been invited by Schneier to speak at the Hamptons Synagogue in West Hampton this Sunday. However, late Thursday, Schneier told CBS 2's Lou Young that the forum will be postponed.

The decision by Sharpton comes following strong and vocal criticism from the family of one of the Crown Heights riots' victims.

Sharpton was in the streets in 1991, leading protest rallies in the unrest that followed the accidental death of a young black boy, Gavin Cato, under the wheels of a Hasidic motorcade and the subsequent murder of Australian rabbinical student Yankel Rosenbaum at the hands of a black teen.

The family of Rosenbaum, however, was incensed that Sharpton was invited to the forum because they believe he helped escalate the violence with some of his comments during the unrest.

"Rabbi Marc Schneier should take a damn-good, hard look at the videos of the riots over the three-day period. Look at the media reports and he'll see there clearly the role Al Sharpton played," Norman Rosenbaum, the victim's brother, said Wednesday.

"I have made mistakes in my career, but the allegations around Crown Heights, which is proven to be patently untrue, was not one of them and I seek to continue to grow," Sharpton's statement read.

Sharpton said that it was out of "respect" to Norman Rosenbaum and the "pain he must feel" that he decided to not appear at the forum, adding "even though in my opinion he has been exploited and mislead about me."

"Since the event has now been distorted and would cause pain to him, I, out of respect to his request, have decided to decline to participate," the letter said.

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