- The Washington Times - Friday, September 20, 2002

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman yesterday denied that his relations with the Congressional Black Caucus have gone sour because he is Jewish.

"Senator Lieberman attended the CBC dinner last week and received a very warm reception," said Dan Gerstein, spokesman for the Connecticut Democrat. "He has worked very closely with the CBC in the past and expects to continue to do so."

Mr. Lieberman, who was Al Gore's vice presidential running mate in 2000 and who is testing the waters for a presidential-nomination run in 2004, was singled out in a Fox News report Wednesday about anti-Jewish sentiment among participants at a CBC conference this week.

Participants at the CBC conference, according to that report, talked of getting even with Jewish Democrats in the wake of the primary-election defeats of Georgia Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney and Alabama Rep. Earl F. Hilliard, whose outspoken support for the Palestinian side in the Middle East conflict had angered Jewish interest groups.

The two Democratic House members were defeated by black challengers who received support from Jewish donors, Fox noted.

"Yes, people at the CBC conference were talking retaliation, saying Joe Lieberman is dead in the water," said conference participant Ron Walters, director of the African American Institute at the University of Maryland.

He said the hostility toward Jewish Democrats and also toward the party's national leadership was not uniform among conference participants, but most evident "from people in Cynthia's and Earl's districts, [which is] easy to understand, given what happened to these two" black incumbents.

The conference drew not only black House Democrats from the CBC, but about 30,000 blacks from around the country.

Most CBC members were reluctant to talk yesterday about what Fox called evidence of a "widening rift with Jewish Democrats" and "trouble within the Democratic Party itself." Some black Democrats blame the party's leaders for failing to intervene to stop primary challengers to Mrs. McKinney and Mr. Hilliard. They accuse the party of dictating which blacks are acceptable for office.

But Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat and a CBC member, told The Washington Times that he has not seen signs of growing tensions since Mrs. McKinney's Aug. 20 defeat.

"I haven't heard of any black-Jewish rift since the campaign has been over not by the members of the black caucus, or among members of the Congress or my constituents," Mr. Rangel said.

He suggested Mrs. McKinney and Mr. Hilliard lost their renomination campaigns not because of Jewish money or Arab money, but because the two incumbents failed to mobilize black voters in their districts.

"If you take look at the vote count in the black community, it downplays the outside intrusion of money," said Mr. Rangel. "Money may have highlighted the problem, but it didn't create the problem."

"A lot of Jewish people were upset and put the money where their mouths were," Mr. Rangel said. "But it was clear [Mrs. McKinney and Mr. Hilliard] had problems with their base. The Middle East problem was not big in their districts."

Black and Jewish voters are among the most loyal Democratic supporters. In the 2000 presidential election, exit polls showed 90 percent of blacks and 79 percent of Jews voted for the Gore-Lieberman ticket. Conflict between the two groups would be a major threat to the Democrats' traditional coalition.

All 38 members of the CBC are Democrats, and have a vested interest in protecting the party that has given them a national platform. Even a firebrand such as California Rep. Maxine Waters, according to some black Democrats, wants to put a lid on public discussion of black-Jewish conflict within the party.

Meanwhile, opinion polls indicate Republicans are attracting more Jewish voters since September 11. Many conservative Republicans have backed Israel and supported strong action against Islamic terrorists and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

While some Jewish voters have moved toward Republicans, the left-leaning Green Party has courted disaffected black Democrats, including Mrs. McKinney. Some Green activists have created "Draft McKinney for President" Web sites, and one party official said the Georgia congresswoman was "welcome with open arms" to join the Greens.

"If she should choose to join the Green Party," co-chairman Badili Jones told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "I'm certain that she would bring that ability to work in coalition and build alliances around issues that are key to grass-roots constituencies."

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