Rabbi Michael Lerner Urges
Jews To Support McKinney
By Eli Kintisch
Forward Staff

WASHINGTON - Left-wing magazine editor Rabbi Michael Lerner is urging Jewish support for Georgia Rep. Cynthia McKinney in her bid to retain her House seat, in a signal that some Jews on the left are preparing to take on Israel supporters who decry McKinney's sympathies for the Palestinian cause.
Perhaps the organized Jewish community's least favorite lawmaker during her 10 years on Capitol Hill, McKinney now faces a potentially tough fight in the August 20 Democratic primary. Challenging her in her DeKalb County district will be Denise Majette, a retired state judge with centrist domestic positions and pro-Israel views in line with the White House.
Federal election filings released this week showed that the fund raising outlook for this race is shaping up to resemble that of a June election in Alabama, where Jewish and Arab-American donors sparred over a Democratic primary. In that race between African-American candidates, Jews helped lawyer Artur Davis defeat five-term incumbent Earl Hilliard.
In the Georgia race, Arab Americans have stepped up their historically generous support of McKinney, while Majette is raising tens of thousands of dollars from Jews around the country, including a number of the same contributors who helped Davis.
Representing pockets of Jews who vocally defend Palestinian rights while supporting Israel, Lerner and other activists told the Forward that they were trying to counter Majette's support from the Jewish right.
Lerner, editor of the magazine Tikkun, said he backed McKinney's candidacy, calling McKinney's position on Israel a "reasonable critique." For lawmakers feeling pressured to bow to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, he said, the McKinney race would be a "bellwether for feeling safe to raise criticisms" of Israel.
AIPAC denies that it steers donors to candidates, although critics say the organization provides a valuable platform for those it supports.
Lerner discussed McKinney's race in an e-mail update sent this week to the roughly 20,000 affiliates of the newly formed Tikkun Community, a liberal group calling for increased support for the poor and a pro-Israel, anti-occupation Middle East policy.
"Pro-Sharon forces have targeted this African American Democrat for defeat for her strong stance in favor of both Israel and Palestine," Lerner wrote. The San Francisco rabbi, who stressed that his group did not endorse candidates, had recently returned from a trip to Washington. "I was told by almost every member of Congress to whom I spoke that people need to send money contributions to her re-election committee and to identify that they learned about this through the Tikkun community."
Similarly, "I don't think AIPAC singling out a candidate is good for the Jews," said Lois Swartz, the leader of Bubbes and Zaydes for Peace in the Middle East, a pro-Israel, anti-occupation group in Philadelphia. Swartz said her group intends to send individual donations to McKinney and also plans to urge like-minded members of Philadelphia's Muslim and black communities to do the same.
The Washington-based Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel recently gave McKinney a top rating for her "even-handedness" in voting on pro-Israel resolutions. Officials with major Jewish organizations scoffed at the rating, pointing to a number of instances in which McKinney voted against aid for Israel.
Beloved by many on the left as a firm defender of minority rights, aid for Africa and pro-labor views, McKinney came to Congress 1992 with the help of local Jewish supporters, including Atlanta consultant Jules Stine.
But the relationship gradually grew more and more strained. In 1994, the House considered a resolution condemning the incendiary speech of the late Nation of Islam representative Khalid Muhammad. McKinney, arguing that the move would impinge on the freedom of speech, refused to support the measure. Two years later her father and then-campaign manager, Billy McKinney, called the congresswoman's Republican challenger "a racist Jew." McKinney eventually criticized her father after an uproar in the community and he excused himself from the campaign, but the damage had been done, observers said.
Last October, after New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani returned a $10 million gift to the city from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal after the prince criticized Israel in published comments, McKinney issued a public letter supporting the prince, asking that he donate the money to black charities. In an April radio interview, McKinney called for an investigation into whether President Bush might have had prior knowledge of the September 11 attacks and looked to profit from them.
In May, along with Hilliard, McKinney was one of 5 members of the 36 voting members of the Congressional Black Caucus to vote against a pro-Israel resolution that put the bulk of the blame for the conflict on the Palestinians. McKinney said the measure would "undermine America's vital role as peacemaker.... While I support a safe and secure Israel, I also share the concerns of millions of Americans that Palestinians too deserve to live in freedom, dignity, and security."
"People ask me whether she's antisemitic ó it's more that she's pro-Palestinian," said Deborah Lauter, Southeast regional director at the Anti-Defamation League. "I don't think she's crossed the line."
Lauter pointed out that McKinney supported a July 9 House resolution condemning European antisemitism, a measure which passed in a unanimous vote.
"Most Jews would have a very difficult time supporting Cynthia McKinney," said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. "Jewish support for McKinney ó I bet they can hold their convention in a telephone booth."
Swartz will be there. "Cynthia McKinney supports Israel's right to exist ó as do I," Swartz said. "The ACLU gives her 100%, the women's groups give her 100%, she's with the unions, she's a good candidate."
Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, a group that looks to improve black-Jewish relations, said he would withhold judgment on the race until he met with McKinney face to face, a meeting he said she requested after attending the foundation's August 2 black-Jewish congressional breakfast. "I want to give her a fair hearing," he said.
Longtime Atlanta McKinney-backer Stine, however, would not comment to the Forward, but his wife said she would not support McKinney in the upcoming primary. She would not say what her husband planned to do, but election records showed he had yet to contribute to her campaign despite consistent support in previous elections.


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