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Allen's Mother Revealed Jewish Heritage to Him Last Month
Allen reacted angrily, in part, because Fox's question came on the heels of a previous one about the "macaca" controversy. Fox had asked Allen whether he learned the word macaca from his mother. Allen had used the word to describe an Indian American volunteer for the campaign of his Democratic opponent, James Webb. Macaca is a genus of monkey and is a French slur for a dark-skinned person. French and Arabic are spoken in Tunis.
Etty Allen said Wednesday that she had never used the word "macaca" before and had to go to a dictionary to look it up when she heard of the controversy. She said the word did not exist in her dictionary.
"I swear to you, I have never used that word," she said. "I must have used a lot of bad words, but not that word."
Allen's angry reaction at the Chamber of Commerce debate prompted criticism from Internet bloggers and some Jewish leaders, some of whom accused him of hiding his Jewish ancestry or viewing it as a political problem.
"It's strange that George Allen wasn't more curious about his own heritage and a lot of people are wondering why," said George Mason University politics professor Mark J. Rozell.
But Rozell said most Virginia voters are not likely to see the question of Allen's roots as an important one in determining how they will vote in November.
"I don't even think among some of the more hard-core religious conservatives in this state it will cause him any difficulty," Rozell said. "When it comes down to it in November, voters are going to look at George Allen's record, the war in Iraq, Jim Webb, a lot of policy issues."
Allen's mother said she first began concealing her Jewish roots after meeting her future husband, afraid that she would not be accepted by his parents and fearful that her religion could harm his budding coaching career, which started at Whittier College, a school in Southern California founded by Quakers.
"He didn't want me to tell his mother," she said of the elder George Allen. "At that time, that was a no-no, to marry outside the church." Allen died in 1990.
Leo Mugmon, 92, a longtime friend of Allen's mother who knew her as a Jew in Tunis, recalled her decision to hide her faith when she came to the United States.
"She did not say anything to her mother-in-law or her family," Mugmon said. He added that Etty Allen's father, Felix Lumbroso, traveled from Tunis for the Allen wedding. "Mr. Felix didn't say anything about it. In silence, he sort of condoned it."
Etty Allen said she is relieved to no longer have to keep a secret about her past. She said she hopes the revelation does not hurt her son's bid for reelection to the Senate.
"He's fine. He loves challenges," she said, then offered an unsolicited observation that suggests her son might be ready for a break from tough questions: "His favorite time of the week is when he comes home, sits on his riding mower, by himself and mows his lawn and no one is asking him questions."