Dems blast GOP on Buchanan; Republicans call Democrats too close to Sharpton

Machlokes / Controversy

Jewish World Review / Sept. 23, 1999 /13 Tishrei, 5760

Dems blast GOP on Buchanan; Republicans call Democrats too close to Sharpton

By Eric Fingerhut
Washington Jewish Week -- WHILE DEMOCRATS are criticizing the Republican Party for trying to keep Pat Buchanan in its fold, the GOP has charged Democrats with being too close to a New York activist who himself has a contentious history with Jews.


Republican presidential candidate Buchanan’s recent signals that he may switch to the Reform Party has brought renewed attention to the commentator/politician’s long record of troubling comments about Jews and Israel and whether he should be considered a valued member of the Republican Party.

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) blasted Republican National Committee (RNC) chair Jim Nicholson for “aggressively trying to keep” Buchanan in the Republican Party, instead of letting him seek the Reform presidential nomination.

But Cliff May, RNC director of communications, denied that Nicholson has made any kind of special effort to keep Buchanan in the fold. He said Nicholson has simply made the argument that “the causes Buchanan champions could possibly be put at risk” if the social conservative vote is split and “Al Gore and the liberals” win the presidential election.

May also pointed to New York activist Rev. Al Sharpton as an example of “elements of anti-Semitism” within the Democratic Party. “I would hope NJDC would be energetic in criticizing those Democrats, like Bill Bradley, who cater to them,” May said.

Leiters Sukkah

In August, Bradley spoke about “racial unity” at a forum hosted by Sharpton’s National Action Network in New York City’s Harlem.

Many Jews in New York believe Sharpton played a key role in inciting the 1991 Crown Heights riots in Brooklyn, as well as the 1995 deadly fire at Freddy’s Fashion Mart, when a Jewish-owned clothing store in Harlem was set on fire, killing eight people. Sharpton has refused to apologize for his role in either incident.

David Harris, NJDC deputy executive director, said there is “absolutely no comparison” between Al Sharpton and Pat Buchanan, and that such an analogy “shows a complete lack of understanding of the Jewish community in America.”

Harris noted Sharpton has forged ties with the left-wing, New York-based Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, and that he had recently tried to reach out to the Jewish community in Brooklyn’s Borough Park after the police shooting of an unarmed, mentally disturbed man. (Sharpton was greeted with shouts of “anti-Semite, go home” and did not leave his mini-van.)

Harris also questioned whether May’s reference to the causes Buchanan champions includes Holocaust revisionism and a fixation on Jewish influence. Ira N. Forman, NJDC executive director, echoed those comments.

In his original statement to Nicholson, Forman rhetorically said: “Why would you want your ‘big tent’ to be big enough to accommodate a Jew-obsessed xenophobe like Pat Buchanan?”

Buchanan, who has a long history of statements that many consider anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, has come under renewed fire because of statements in his new book, A Republic, Not An Empire. Buchanan writes that “after World War II, Jewish influence became almost an obsession with American leaders” and “I know the power of the Israeli lobby and the other lobbies, but we need a foreign policy that puts our own country first.”

“Instead of begging Pat Buchanan to stay,” said Forman, “close your tent flaps to extremists like him. Say ‘good riddance’ and encourage Pat Buchanan to leave the Republican Party as soon as possible.”

Despite his criticism of the party, Forman praised the Republican Jewish Coalition for past statements opposing Buchanan. Matt Brooks, the group’s executive director, said Buchanan’s views are “disturbing and antithetical to a lot of core values of the Republican Party.” Should Buchanan choose to leave the party, Brooks said his advice would be: “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

But Brooks also said that no one can question Nicholson’s commitment to fighting anti-Semitism, noting his harsh criticism of Louisiana congressional candidate and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke earlier this year.

“The Republican Party is a big tent party,” said Brooks, “and one of the responsibilities of tolerating a big tent is including views you don’t particularly care for.”

Eric Fingerhut is a staff reporter for Washington Jewish Week. Let him know what you think by clicking here.


©1999, Washington Jewish Week