- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 2, 2002

The defeat of a black House Democrat who opposed pro-Israel resolutions has sent shock waves through the party and raised concerns about a widening rift between blacks and Jews.
"It's going to have other implications in other races," says Rep. Earl F. Hilliard, Alabama Democrat, whose opponent raised more than $300,000 from Jewish donors outside the state. "I just don't think that the black community is going to sit still and let it happen."
Mr. Hilliard, a five-term incumbent who is regarded as sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, lost to Artur Davis by 12 percentage points in a Democratic runoff last week. Mr. Davis, a lawyer who also is black, is regarded as all but certain to win the seat in November in the safely Democratic district.
Although Democrats will retain the seat in Congress, Mr. Hilliard's loss was troublesome for party leaders, who donated nearly $50,000 to the incumbent in the waning days of the campaign. His defeat did little to smooth over complaints within the party that supporters of Israel are interfering in black politics and that some black politicians do not support Israel, as the great majority of white Democrats in Congress do.
Mr. Hilliard says at least three other black House Democrats will be "targeted" for defeat this year by Jewish campaign contributors who rank support for Israel as a top priority.
"They have targeted Cynthia McKinney in Georgia; they have targeted Jesse Jackson Jr. of Chicago and Donald Payne of Newark [N.J.]," Mr. Hilliard says. "Many African-Americans were not pleased with the manner of Jewish influence in the African-American district. I don't think that they're going to be pleased with that influence in Cynthia McKinney's district, or Jesse Jackson, or Don Payne or anybody else that represents a predominantly African-American district."
All three Democrats, like Mr. Hilliard, have voted against resolutions that express solidarity with Israel and condemn Palestinian suicide bombers.
Miss McKinney, who faces a challenge from state court Judge Denise Majette in the Aug. 20 primary, has been criticized for accusing President Bush of deliberately failing to prevent the September 11 terrorist attacks so that he could profit from them.
"I think she's concerned," Mr. Hilliard says of Miss McKinney, who refused to be interviewed for this article.
Republicans are watching the situation with interest but are not counting on picking up any of the seats in question.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, says a defeat of Miss McKinney by another Democrat would not benefit Republicans.
"Frankly, having [Miss] McKinney here [in Congress] helps us, you know what I'm saying?" Mr. Davis says.
A spokesman for a major Jewish organization in Washington won't discuss the rift with blacks, saying it is too volatile politically. "Clearly, people who support the policies important to Israel can expect support from Jewish donors," he says.
A leading Jewish Democrat, Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, dismisses the argument that "Jewish influence" was inappropriate in the Hilliard race.
"Any group that cares intensely about an issue has the right to get involved in a race anywhere in the country."
Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat, who is Jewish, says individual politicians are responsible for their own fate. "We sink or swim on our own."
Jewish members of Congress cannot control how Jewish contributors decide to spend their money in elections.
"People who feel that way [about supporting Israel] have a right to contribute any way they want," Mr. Engel says. "I wish every member of Congress would support that relationship" between the United States and Israel.
Several of Mr. Hilliard's black colleagues say his defeat had less to do with Jewish opposition than with his performance in his majority-black district.
Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat and a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, says Hilliard supporters erred by bringing in the polarizing Rev. Al Sharpton from New York to campaign for the incumbent.
"I, for one, would have never had the likes of Al Sharpton in Alabama," Mr. Lewis says. "Why would you have Al Sharpton coming from New York? In the final analysis, it's going to be the people there on the ground [who decide the election], not somebody from New York or from Detroit or from Atlanta. Sometimes when you do this, it draws more attention to the race and you turn out the wrong people."
Mr. Lewis says it's possible that Mr. Hilliard took his district for granted.
"I think that could have been one of the factors," he says. "African-American members, like all members, must take care of their districts. They've got to be visible."
Mr. Hilliard, who is considering running for mayor of Birmingham, blames the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for not contributing more money to his race.
"I didn't get enough help from the DCCC," Mr. Hilliard says. "The special interest groups, basically Jews, sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to my opponent."


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide