Allen Says He Embraces His Jewish Ancestry
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Virginia Sen. George Allen (R) said for the first time publicly yesterday that he has Jewish ancestry, a day after responding angrily to an exchange that included questions about his mother's racial sensitivity and whether his family has Jewish roots.
At a campaign debate with Democratic challenger James Webb on Monday, a reporter asked Allen whether his mother's father, Felix Lumbroso, was Jewish. He became visibly upset, saying his mother's religion was not relevant to the campaign and chiding the reporter for "making aspersions about people because of their religious beliefs."
Allen's campaign manager said the senator believed the question was hostile because it followed another one about whether Allen had learned the word "macaca" from his mother. The word, which Allen used last month to describe a Webb volunteer, is a French slur for a dark-skinned person. Allen's mother, Henrietta "Etty" Allen, is a native of Tunisia and speaks French.
In a statement released by his campaign yesterday, Allen said he was proud to have recently discovered that his grandfather, an anti-Nazi resistance fighter in North Africa, was part of a well-known Jewish family.
"I was raised as a Christian and my mother was raised as a Christian," Allen, 54, said. "And I embrace and take great pride in every aspect of my diverse heritage, including my Lumbroso family line's Jewish heritage, which I learned about from a recent magazine article and my mother confirmed."
Allen's religious background has not been a campaign issue. But when the reporter asked Allen about it Monday, the exchange triggered a flood of critical commentary on Internet blogs yesterday, demanding that Allen clarify his ancestry.
The Jewish weekly newspaper the Forward recently explored Allen's possible Jewish roots and his connection to the Lumbrosos, a prominent Jewish family that settled in Italy in the 15th century. Allen's campaign spokesman did not return calls seeking confirmation, according to that article.
Peggy Fox, the WUSA (Channel 9) reporter who asked the question at the debate, said she read the article in the Forward. "I had heard from other reporters that his staff had been asked the question before. I thought it was fair game," she said yesterday.
Allen campaign manager Dick Wadhams said, "Saying your mother was a racist. That was exactly the intent and the thrust of the question. Then she [Fox] went on to introduce religion. Introducing religion at all into the debate was inappropriate."
The question about Allen's religion and his delayed response to it are the latest twists in a bizarre Senate campaign that has been dominated for five weeks by Allen's "macaca" comment and more recently by allegations that Webb demeaned military women in an article written 27 years ago.
Polls have indicated that Webb is closing the double-digit lead Allen held earlier this summer. But in addition to a debate over the Iraq war with Webb, a decorated Marine and former Navy secretary, Allen has repeatedly been distracted by other issues.
Allen is not the first public official to discover Jewish roots late in life, including former presidential candidates Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Gen. Wesley K. Clark. In 1997, Secretary of State Madeline Albright revealed that her family history includes three Jewish grandparents who were killed in the Holocaust.