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CAMPAIGN 2000

NAACP Official Resigns Over Remark on Jews

August 10, 2000|MELISSA HEALY and JEFF LEEDS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — One of the nation's most politically charged rifts surfaced Wednesday as African American leaders scrambled to distance themselves from anti-Semitic comments made earlier this week by a leading black figure in Dallas.

Commenting on Vice President Al Gore's choice of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman as a running mate, Lee Alcorn told a Dallas radio station Monday: "We need to be very suspicious of any kind of partnership between the Jews at that kind of level, because we know that their interest primarily has to do with, you know, with money and these kinds of things."

Alcorn, president of the Dallas chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, added he was "sick of the Democratic Party taking the African American vote for granted." He resigned his job as chapter president Wednesday.

Alcorn's comments were quickly repudiated by African American leaders, including NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, who called the Texan's remarks "repulsive, anti-Semitic, anti-NAACP and anti-American."

Alcorn's remarks come at a time of relative harmony between Jews and blacks even as hate groups have continued their drumbeat of anti-semitism.

Reflecting that harmony, NAACP Board Chairman Julian Bond on Wednesday hailed Lieberman as a champion of civil rights, adding that Alcorn's "hateful, repulsive and ignorant" remarks "have no place in American political life and no place in the NAACP."

Visiting the White House on Wednesday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson warned against being misled by a "misguided statement," telling reporters that Alcorn's views are "not a trend."

"Vice President Gore made the right decision. It was a decision with some political risk but a moral certainty to put Lieberman on the ticket," Jackson said.

And the Republican Party, which is actively courting black voters, also weighed in with denunciations of Alcorn.

"When it comes to fighting anti-Semitism, Gov. [George W.] Bush and Secretary [Dick] Cheney stand shoulder to shoulder with all Americans in condemning such foolish utterances," said campaign spokesman Ari Fleischer.

'Frustration With Politics' Cited

Apologizing Wednesday if he had offended "members of the Jewish faith or others," Alcorn, in resigning, said that his remarks had been "fueled by frustration with politics" as it relates to blacks.

Those who track the relations of American Jews and blacks said Wednesday that a strain of anti-Semitism remains alive among some African American nationalists and intellectuals who view Israel as an outpost of U.S. imperialism and American Jews as its agents.

"This is probably the one place in American life where anti-Semitism is still alive to a somewhat significant extent," said Murray Friedman, director of Temple University's Center for American Jewish History and a scholar of relations between American blacks and Jews.

Blacks have a long-standing partnership with American Jews. Jewish leaders helped to found the NAACP in 1909, and they played key roles in the civil rights movement.

As Bond observed Wednesday, Lieberman was among the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. As a student at Yale University in the early 1960s, Lieberman joined the Yale chapter of the NAACP. In the summer of 1964, the future Connecticut senator joined a small army of young whites who descended on Mississippi to fight racial segregation there during the period known as "Freedom Summer."

But since the late 1960s, some black intellectuals and activists have sought to nudge mainstream African American groups away from that alliance. And tensions have periodically flared.

In 1984, Jackson was forced to apologize for calling New York "Hymie-town." In 1991, a group of blacks in Crown Heights, N.Y., rampaged against the Hasidic Jewish community there after a traffic accident claimed the life of a local black child.

And in 1994, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan called Jews "the most organized, rich and powerful people . . . in the world" and accused them of "plotting against us even as we speak."

Even before Alcorn's remarks, watchdog groups were monitoring the airwaves and Internet for signs that Lieberman's selection would unleash a wave of anti-Semitism. By Wednesday, many of those monitors reported that hate speech has been present, but sporadic.

Since Monday morning, when America Online established a board so subscribers could discuss the Lieberman choice, 28,000 messages have been posted, and the "vast minority" were anti-Semitic, said spokesman Nicholas Graham. Monitors at the Internet service provider have removed hateful postings from the board.

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