Jewish political activists scored impressive victories in two recent Congressional primaries. On June 25, relative political newcomer Artur Davis defeated five-term Alabama congressman Earl Hilliard in the Democratic primary by a whopping 56% to 44%. The 34-year-old thereby handed Hilliard the first defeat of his 28-year political career. Two months later, political newcomer Denise Majette upset five-term Georgia congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.
McKinney and Hilliard are considered two of the most anti-Israel members of the House of Representatives. They were among the 21 representatives who voted against a May congressional resolution endorsing Israel’s right to defend itself against terror. Last year, McKinney blasted then New York City mayor Rudy Guiliani for turning down a $10 million gift for the city from a Saudi prince, after the latter had implied that America’s support for Israel had led to the September 11 attacks.
Even as her re-election race tightened, McKinney refused to heed a call from her premier Jewish supporter, erstwhile Clinton spiritual guru Michael Lerner, that she issue an unequivocal condemnation of the Hebrew University bombing in which five American citizens were killed. After that refusal, efforts fizzled to raise money for an ad in the Atlanta Journal Constitution signed by left-wing Jewish supporters of McKinney.
Both races attracted national attention because of the heavy influx of out-of-state money, and because they pitted an outspoken black critic of Israel against the organized Jewish community. In the Alabama race, Davis raised $900,000 -- $300,000 more than Hilliard – most of it from out-of-state Jewish contributors. The victorious Majette raised only slightly more money that McKinney, but again much of it was from out-of-state Jewish contributors. Both Hilliard and McKinney received large contributions from Arab groups and individuals.
Anti-Semitism was an issue in both campaigns. One of Hilliard’s campaign ads showed the face of a white, cigar-smoking New Yorker transforming into that of Davis. An anti-Davis leaflet characterized him as a "very, very, very dangerous" for telling black people that "Jews are our best friends." Among those campaigning for McKinney were Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton Jr., the one-time organizer of boycotts of Jewish-owned businesses in Harlem. McKinney’s father and former campaign manager Billy McKinney as far back as 1994 described her Republican opponent as a "racist Jew." Billy McKinney had this explanation for his daughter’s defeat: "Jews have bought everybody. Jews, J-e-w-s." (Remarkably, the commentators on ABC’s This Week, which aired the quote from the interview with Billy McKinney, barely raised an eyebrow over the blatant anti-Semitism.)
The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members rallied to the side of fellow incumbents, and condemned the influx of "special interests" – read Jews – in the efforts to unseat their colleagues. After McKinney’s defeat, chairwoman of the Black Caucus, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D.-Tex.) complained to the New York Times about "non-African Americans from around the country putting millions into a race to unseat one of our leaders for expressing her right to free speech." She did allow that Majette would be accepted by the CBC provided that she is "not skewed by the agenda of her supporters [i.e., the Jews]."
The complaints of CBC members reflect the continuing hold of identity politics, positing a single authentic black position on any issue, on the Caucus. CBC members who expressed their "concern" with Jewish involvement in the races conveniently ignored that neither Davis nor Majette, both of whom are black themselves, could have won if black voters had not preferred them. Davis won handily in an overwhelmingly black district; Majette ran even with McKinney in black precincts of her more racially mixed district.
True, Jewish money made it possible for two highly qualified and attractive black candidates to get out their message and defeat entrenched incumbents. (Because of their greater name recognition long-time incumbents are considered virtually invulnerable.) Yet Davis and Majette could not have won had their fellow blacks not preferred their message.
Nothing could be more patronizing to black voters than to suggest that Jewish money bought the elections. Both Hilliard and McKinney had provided their constituents with good cause of embarrassment. Hilliard was reprimanded by the notoriously lax House Ethics committee for improprieties in his handling of campaign contributions, and McKinney publicly charged President Bush with having known in advance of the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers and Pentagon and of having profited financially from the attacks. By contrast, Davis and Majette both carry impressive resumes. Davis is a graduate of Harvard Law School and former U.S. Attorney. Majette graduated Yale College and Duke Law School, and served two terms as a state court judge.
NO MATTER how qualified Davis and Majette are, however, the fact remains that Jewish contributors flocked to them primarily to defeat their opponents. That kind of negative involvement invariably exacts a price from the Jewish community by playing into widespread black stereotypes of rich Jews controlling the lives of poor black folks.
There is, however, another form of Jewish political involvement on behalf of black candidates that entails no such cost. That is support for black candidates with a long record of friendship and support for Jews and Israel. New York State Comptroller Carl McCall, who is running in next week’s Democratic primary for governor, is a perfect example of such a politician.
McCall grew up in the then heavily Jewish Roxbury section of Boston, and was elected president of his high school student government at Roxbury High, where 90% of the student body was Jewish. Any New York politician with statewide ambitions can be expected to adopt a vociferously pro-Israel position. Just consider the transformation of former First Lady Hilary Clinton, who once kissed Suha Arafat immediately after the latter accused Israel of poisoning Palestinian wells, into Senator Clinton, an ardent supporter of Israel.
But McCall’s support for Israel and attachment to the Jewish people precedes any such ambitions. In 1972, as a 26-year-old columnist on the black-owned Amsterdam News, he called for the immediate cancellation of the 1972 Summer Olympics after the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at Munich. Three years later, his was one of the most forceful voices in the black community against the 1975 U.N. Zionism-is-racism resolution. He joined together with Bayard Rustin, a member of the preceding generation of civil rights leaders for whom the Jewish-black alliance was a given, in condemning the "jackals at the U.N." (Daniel Patrick Moynihan was the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. at the time. When Moynihan retired from the U.S. Senate, McCall was his personal choice to succeed him in the Senate and as Honorary Chairman of the Aish HaTorah Fellowships program. At least the latter came to pass.)
As Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. in 1977, McCall defended Israel against the Third World and the Soviet blocs on the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Last year, when the President’s Conference of Major Jewish Organizations condemned the hijacking of the U.N. Conference on racism in Durban by sworn enemies of Israel, McCall was the only non-Jewish politician to join in the Conference’s statement.
McCall’s actions on behalf of Israel have gone far beyond lip service support and mouthing the pro-Israel pieties expected of all New York state politicians. He was the first New York State Comptroller to invest state funds in Israel Bonds. His threat to withdraw millions of dollars of state pension fund monies from any Swiss bank not cooperating with Holocaust restitution efforts proved a powerful incentive for Swiss compliance.
Most important, Mc Call has been no less pro-Israel when appearing before black audiences than when courting Jewish votes. A few years ago, he defended the creation of a separate public school district for Kiryas Joel on a black radio station.
Never did he go further in his forthright defense of Israel than on a March visit to the country. Despite personal State Department warnings that he should under no circumstances cross the Green Line, he did. In Beitar Ilit, he explained his decision: "In the United States we have a line too. It’s called the Mason-Dixon Line. And on one side of the Mason-Dixon Line, black people were considered legally inferior. When Dr. Martin Luther King called on the country to cross the Mason-Dixon Line to bring down segregation, the first whites who did so were Jewish. Now it’s pay back time."
It would be the height of presumption for someone living in Jerusalem to tell a Jew in New York how he should vote in a New York election, especially a gubernatorial election, in which local issues necessarily dominate. But one thing is clear: Carl McCall represents the type of black politician whom Jewish voters should eagerly support.
Related Topics: American Jewry & Continuity
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free jewish media resources mailing list