By Barbara Ferguson, Arab News Correspondent
Published — Thursday 27 June 2002
Last Update 27 June 2002 3:00 am
WASHINGTON, 27 June — Democratic congressional runoff in Alabama yesterday made national news. It was viewed as a power struggle between black leaders and Jewish politicians - and their differences on the war in the Middle East.
“This election is being watched all over the world,” said the Rev. Walter Fauntroy, a longtime civil rights leader.
Rev. Fauntroy and other black leaders organized a last-minute defense for five-term incumbent Rep. Earl F. Hilliard, a black politician who infuriated Jewish lobbies by voting against pro-Israel resolutions.
But Hilliard lost to his opponent, Artur Davis, who was heavily backed by out-of-state supporters of Israel. They vehemently opposed his criticism of American policies in the Middle East and his support for Palestinian rights.
According to a recent analysis by the Council of American-Islamic Relations, CAIR, a recent Davis donor list revealed that 81 percent of his campaign contributions came from outside Alabama, mostly from New York. The donations from the pro-Israel lobby began to flow after Davis traveled to Washington, DC, to meet with representatives of AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. Rev. Al Sharpton was among those who campaigned for Hilliard in the final days. He told an audience that the challenger, black lawyer Artur Davis, is a “Yankee-financed outsider.”
“Everyone who is our color is not our kind,” said Rev. Sharpton, himself a New Yorker.
Davis received more than $300,000 from pro-Israel lobbies in his effort to defeat Rep. Hilliard, who had voted against a House resolution condemning Palestinian suicide bombers and visited Libya in 1997 despite its designation as a terrorist state.
Rev. Fauntroy told journalists blacks “feel betrayed by people who have been our allies. They are turning the clock back to a time when people outside of the African-American community chose our leaders.”
In an attempt to smooth out misunderstandings, black and Jewish politicians met last week during a three-hour closed meeting, called by black caucus chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas. The meeting was reportedly rancorous.
Among the participants were two of the most powerful House Democrats: Reps. Henry A. Waxman of California, who is Jewish, and black caucus member Charles B. Rangel of New York, ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee.
“The black caucus members are very sensitive to outsiders’ attempting to influence election of its members, and Jews were sensitive to the fact that they wanted to make certain that the (black) caucus members were sensitive to the survival of Israel,” Rangel said. “Sometimes we don’t take the time to find out how sensitive issues are to each other.”
The Middle East has also become a key issue in the re-election of another black lawmaker, Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney, Georgia Democrat.
McKinney suggested earlier this year that President Bush knew in advance about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and did not stop them in order to profit monetarily. She also criticized then-Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York for rejecting $10 million from Saudi Prince Al-Waleed ibn Talal, after he suggested the US needed a more even-handed policy in the Middle East.
McKinney also voted against a pro-Israel resolution, but sensibly describes herself as a supporter of Israel.
Nonetheless, her opponent in the Democratic primary, Denise Majette, has received contributions from Jewish Democrats.
Rep. Rangel said of his black caucus colleagues, “Certainly nobody expected that the Jewish members could do anything to stop people from making contributions.”
James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute in Washington, said he donated $1,000 to incumbent Hilliard and that Arab-Americans volunteered to work on his campaign.
“We don’t pick fights,” Zogby said, but added this is a race in which “Arab-Americans feel strongly about the fact that somebody shouldn’t be targeted this way.”
“Rep. Hilliard’s loss shows that the domestic lobby for a foreign government is willing to use its considerable financial resources to force hand-picked ‘leaders’ on the African-American community. This is a defeat for democracy and a victory for those who would institute a pro-Israel litmus test for American political candidates,” said CAIR Board Chairman Omar Ahmad.