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CAMPAIGN 2000

Nation of Islam Leader Raises the Loyalty Issue

Religion: Louis Farrakhan's comments about the vice presidential candidate's faith concern Jewish leaders. Some Muslims hail the question.

August 12, 2000|TERESA WATANABE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan on Friday questioned the national loyalty of Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph I. Lieberman, asking if his Jewish religion would make him more faithful to Israel or the United States.

"Mr. Lieberman, as an Orthodox Jew, is also a dual citizen of Israel," Farrakhan asserted incorrectly. "The state of Israel is not synonymous with the United States, and the test he would probably have to pass is: Would he be more faithful to the Constitution of the United States than to the ties that any Jewish person would have to the state of Israel?"

Farrakhan made his remarks at a news conference before an appearance in Los Angeles. The fiery Muslim leader, in town to promote his Million Family March, scheduled for October, insisted that allegations that he is anti-Semitic are "so mistaken." But the accusation of dual loyalty is one of the most long-standing of charges against American Jews and is certain to further inflame relations between him and the Jewish community.

"The canard of dual loyalty is nothing new from Farrakhan or anti-Semites," said David Lehrer, Los Angeles regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. "Bigotry and hatred has been his hallmark for the past 30 years."

Lieberman Has Said His Loyalty Is to U.S.

Lieberman himself, in a televised interview this week, addressed the issue.

"If I'm honored and fortunate enough to become the vice president of the United States, my first and primary loyalty is of course to the United States of America," he told CNN's Larry King. "Now, you know, generally speaking, American policy and Israeli policy has been in the same direction," he added.

He also cited his "close relationships" with such Arab leaders as Yasser Arafat and the late King Hussein of Jordan.

Farrakhan's remarks came just days after national black leaders repudiated a Dallas NAACP leader who attacked Lieberman. But Friday, the reaction to Farrakhan, who has a significant following within the black community, was more muted.

One activist with a national black organization, speaking only on condition that he not be named, said that applying the loyalty question to Lieberman was as legitimate as questioning the allegiance of black candidates to fellow blacks over whites or of President Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, to the Vatican.

Some Muslims hailed Farrakhan for openly voicing concerns they have been more quietly raising over what the choice of Lieberman will mean for U.S. policy on the Mideast.

"They're blowing this out of proportion," Muslim activist Najee Ali said of the Jewish reaction to Farrakhan's remarks. "Farrakhan is raising legitimate questions about the senator's maybe having favoritism toward Israel. The senator needs to meet with Muslims to arrest those fears."

Earlier this week, the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council issued an invitation to Lieberman and Vice President Al Gore to meet with the Muslim community during the Democratic National Convention next week. The letter praised the Clinton administration for offering Muslims an "unprecedented pattern of inclusion"--appointing several Muslims to key posts in government, including the first Muslim to be a U.S. ambassador, for instance, and celebrating Muslim religious holidays at the White House.

But the letter urged Lieberman to "clarify his views" regarding the issue of Jerusalem and statements he made in the Jerusalem Post this month critical of President Clinton's "policy of evenhandedness" in the Mideast.

Salam Al-Marayati of the Muslim council said his office has received several calls and e-mails registering "apprehension" over Lieberman's positions on the Mideast. "He takes a very staunch position on the Mideast that could result in the exclusion and discrimination of Muslim Americans in his administration," Al-Marayati said, summing up those fears.

Farrakhan, in his remarks Friday, urged the Democratic team to pursue a "just and fair policy . . . to Muslim states who may have some disagreements with Israel." He said such nations as Libya, Iran, Syria, Iraq and Sudan all want better relations with the United States.

He also repeatedly called for dialogue with Jews, saying, "I really want this."

Since he overcame a near-fatal bout with prostate cancer earlier this year, Farrakhan has declared himself transformed and moved to repair a host of troubled relationships: with everyone from W.D. Muhammad, leader of the nation's orthodox African American Muslim movement, and the family of Malcolm X, who blamed him for creating a climate of hatred that led to the nationalist leader's 1965 assassination.

But Jewish leaders remained suspicious in light of his remarks about Lieberman.

"This is Louis Farrakhan up to his same old tricks and old habits of spewing anti-Semitism," said Matt Dorf of the American Jewish Congress. "If anyone had any doubt that he had turned over a new leaf, as he claimed a few months ago, this should put that to rest."

Farrakhan's Focus Is on the Family

Farrakhan's remarks on Lieberman and the Mideast comprised just a minor portion of his morning appearances in Los Angeles. He spoke most broadly on the need for Americans to rebuild shattered families and create a grass-roots movement to "take back the country" from corporations and other special interests. He is planning to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the 1995 Million Man March with a family march Oct. 16 and has produced a booklet, "The National Agenda," outlining a range of reform proposals on subjects including education, health care and economic development.

A spellbinding speaker, Farrakhan received several standing ovations during a speech later in the day to a sold-out crowd at the Radisson Hotel near USC.

He urged reparations for descendents of slavery and more self-respect for black men and women.

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