- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2000

Supporters from the Anti-Defamation League to the White House defended first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday, dismissing a report that she used an anti-Semitic slur 26 years ago.

But conservative Jewish leaders in New York lent credence to the report, knocking the first lady's Senate campaign off stride.

Jerry Oppenheimer, a former reporter for the National Enquirer, accused Mrs. Clinton of calling campaign manager Paul Fray a "Jew bastard" the night Mr. Clinton lost his race for Congress in 1974. The author says Mrs. Clinton made the comment during a heated argument at campaign headquarters in Fayetteville, Ark. Mr. Fray is a Baptist. His father was a Jew.

Mr. Oppenheimer makes the charge in "State of a Union: Inside the Complex Marriage of Bill and Hillary Clinton" a book out this week.

The report further complicates Mrs. Clinton's Senate campaign. The first lady is drawing the support of barely half of Jewish New Yorkers in recent polls, a weak showing for a Democratic candidate.

Mrs. Clinton's Republican opponent, Rick Lazio, said yesterday "it's up to the voters to decide" whether to hold Mrs. Clinton accountable for the reported remark.

"This is sort of a 'she said, they said' situation," Mr. Lazio said. "I don't know who to believe. New Yorkers don't know who to believe."

Mrs. Clinton and the president denied the charge Sunday. White House spokesman Joe Lockhart criticized the book yesterday at Camp David.

"We live in a world where the National Enquirer mentality has hijacked journalism, and that has become an issue in New York," Mr. Lockhart said as Mr. Clinton held peace talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

"And these are scurrilous and untrue charges, and the president wanted to set that straight," Mr. Lockhart said.

"It's garbage," said former New York Mayor Ed Koch, a supporter of Mrs. Clinton.

"The fact is I don't have to believe she said it. Even if she did say it, it was 26 years ago. Ever hear of the statute of limitations?

"There's no pattern here. They said nothing about this incident until now it's a smear. It will have no impact."

The Anti-Defamation League said in a statement that Mrs. Clinton's "public record shows no evidence of anti-Semitism, and we do not believe her to hold negative views about Jews."

But Dov Hikind, an Orthodox Jew and a Democratic assemblyman from Brooklyn, believes Mrs. Clinton did make the statement. He stopped short of calling Mrs. Clinton anti-Semitic.

"The issue really is not just this incident the problem is credibility," Mr. Hikind said. He noted that during a trip to the West Bank last year Mrs. Clinton remained silent as Suha Arafat, wife of the PLO leader, accused Israel of poisoning Palestinian women and children.

"Based on what I have read from eyewitnesses who were there," in 1974, "I believe she made that remark, but I resent anyone who calls Hillary [an] anti-Semite based on this," Mr. Hikind said. "She's not an anti-Semite."

Mr. Hikind and representatives of conservative Jewish groups held a news conference yesterday outside Mrs. Clinton's midtown campaign office to criticize the first lady.

"These remarks made 26 years ago are the tip of the iceberg," said Joseph Frager, president of the Jerusalem Reclamation Project. "We have seen over the past 10 years a bias against the state of Israel that is unparalleled in America."

Raoul Felder, a prominent lawyer active in Jewish causes, said in an interview: "This is a story documented by three witnesses. I think Jews have to really have some kind of self-loathing to not be able to diagnose an anti-Semite when they see one."

The book charges that Mrs. Clinton made the slur during "a heated finger-pointing session" after Mr. Clinton lost the 3rd District seat by 6,000 votes.

Mr. Fray's wife, Mary Lee, and campaign worker Neil McDonald confirmed the account.

"I promise you it happened. It created a chasm I never overcame," Mr. Fray says in the book.

The first lady called a news conference at her home in Chappaqua, N.Y., Sunday to deny the allegations.

"I wanted to unequivocally state it never happened," Mrs. Clinton said.

The president defended his wife Sunday in a telephone interview with the New York Daily News.

"I was there and [Mrs. Clinton] never said it," Mr. Clinton said, according to the newspaper.

"In 29 years, my wife has never, ever uttered an ethnic or racial slur against anybody, ever. She's so straight on this, she squeaks.

"She might have called him a bastard. I wouldn't rule that out," Mr. Clinton said. "She's never claimed that she was pure on profanity. But I've never heard her tell a joke with an ethnic connotation."

Mrs. Clinton's campaign released copies of a handwritten letter, dated July 1, 1997, in which Mr. Fray asks Mrs. Clinton for forgiveness.

"At one time in my life, I would say things without thinking, without factual foundation," Mr. Fray wrote. "I beg your forgiveness."

But Mr. Fray told CNN that Mrs. Clinton did make the slur.

The comment "was made to me. My wife heard it," Mr. Fray said.

Mrs. Clinton angered potential Jewish voters last year by voicing support for a Palestinian state. Mrs. Clinton recently told Jewish leaders she considers Jerusalem "the eternal and indivisible capital" of Israel.

In 1933, Mrs. Clinton's maternal grandmother, Della, married Max Rosenberg, a Russian-born Jew, seven years after she and Mrs. Clinton's grandfather, Edwin Howell, divorced.

• This story is based, in part, on wire service reports. Liz Trotta contributed from New York.

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