- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2002

The defeat last month of Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney has further widened the split between blacks and Jews, despite Democratic efforts to heal the rift dividing two key parts of an important coalition.

Mrs. McKinney's loss in the Georgia primary was the second primary loss suffered by an incumbent black Democrat. Rep. Earl F. Hilliard of neighboring Alabama lost in June. In both elections, the incumbents blamed Jewish money flowing to their opponents.

Several black Democratic lawmakers are meeting with their Jewish peers in an effort to improve relations.

"There are, right now, a series of meetings going on between some members of the [Congressional Black Caucus] and some of their colleagues on Capitol Hill, sponsored by the Democratic Party and organized labor," says Ron Walters, director of the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland.

Both Mrs. McKinney and Mr. Hilliard are fervent supporters of the Palestinians, and both solicited and received money from Arab-Americans and Muslims. The attacks on Israeli civilians by Palestinian suicide bombers have led many American Jews to embrace President Bush's tough line on terrorism.

"Jews have been consistently liberal, as have blacks for some time," says Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine and a supporter of Mrs. McKinney. "But now, conservative support of Israel is pushing more Jews into the hands of Republicans. The Jewish voters are willing to look at the world solely through the frame of Israel."

Some black lawmakers, on the other hand, have taken the McKinney and Hilliard losses as occasions of outrage and are reconsidering their allegiance and enthusiasm heading into the midterm congressional elections.

"Many black voters may decide to just stay home and not vote," says Mr. Walters, who served as Jesse Jackson's deputy campaign manager for issues during Mr. Jackson's 1984 presidential bid.

"They need blacks to win some of these elections," Mr. Walters says. "The Jewish vote will continue to come out. And the Jewish vote is now trending to George Bush's policies, which makes the black vote even more precious."

After the Aug. 20 defeat of Mrs. McKinney, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Texas Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said "I definitely have some feelings about any outside group exerting this kind of influence in a race, and I've been receiving angry calls from black voters all day saying they should rally against Jewish candidates."

"To have non-African-Americans from around the country putting millions into a race to unseat one of our leaders for expressing her right of free speech is definitely a problem," she said.

Mr. Walters doubts the Capitol Hill meetings will achieve much.

"There is a lot of hand-wringing. They are trying to bring these sides back together, but it is too little, too late," he says.

Mrs. Johnson promised a fallout from the elections and threatened what was once a solid liberal alliance dating from the end of World War II.

"There were [strains] in this relationship even before the McKinney election," says Murray Friedman, director of the Myer and Rosaline Feinstein Center for American Jewish History at Temple University.

He notes that a resolution of support for Israel during a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings was not backed by several members of the all-Democratic Congressional Black Caucus, including Mrs. McKinney and Mr. Hilliard.

"These rifts wax and wane, and right now they are waxing," says Mr. Friedman, author of the 1995 book "What Went Wrong? The Creation and Collapse of the Black-Jewish Alliance."

He notes that Jewish political allegiances have been swayed by the Middle East violence and the willingness of Republicans to support Israel, and by anti-Semitic outbursts from prominent blacks ranging from Mr. Jackson to Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. Mrs. McKinney's father, state Rep. Billy McKinney, said before the Georgia primary that the effort against his daughter was a Jewish plot. "Jews bought everybody. That's J-E-W-S," he said.

The alliance between blacks and Jews has been strained from time to time before the bloodiest such occasion being the Crown Heights riots in 1991, in which black rioters ran rampage through a predominantly Jewish section of Brooklyn.

Other prominent Jews say that for blacks to disparage Jews for voting their interests is "hypocrisy."

"It is not a crisis when Jews act in the American tradition of supporting or being opposed to candidates who act for or against their interests," says Abe Foxman, president of the Anti-Defamation League. "McKinney defeated McKinney," he says.


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