By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) has again come under fire from local Jewish organizations for remarking in a magazine interview that the "extraordinarily powerful" pro-Israel lobby played a strong role promoting the war in Iraq.
In an interview with Tikkun, a California-based Jewish magazine, Moran said the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is "the most powerful lobby and has pushed this war from the beginning. I don't think they represent the mainstream of American Jewish thinking at all, but because they are so well organized, and their members are extraordinarily powerful -- most of them are quite wealthy -- they have been able to exert power."
Moran's remarks were criticized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and the National Jewish Democratic Council. Ronald Halber, executive director of the first group, said Moran's remarks are anti-Semitic and draw on ugly stereotypes about Jewish wealth, power and influence.
"He uses several age-old canards that have been used throughout history that have brought violence upon Jews," Halber said this week. "He uses clearly anti-Semitic images such as Jewish control of the media and wealthy Jews using their wealth to control policy."
Ira N. Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, said in a published statement that there is nothing wrong with criticizing the pro-Israel lobby but that Moran's statements go beyond that to defamation by making a "phony" connection between AIPAC and the Iraq war.
"Rep. Moran's comments are not only incorrect and irresponsible," Forman said. "They are downright dangerous."
In an interview last night, Moran said he was dismayed at the reaction to his remarks, which he stands by. The pro-Israel lobby has not represented mainstream U.S. Jewish opinion in recent years, he said -- most notably with its Middle East policies, which he characterized as directly aligned with those of the Bush administration.
"The problem with addressing the groups who have argued strongly in favor of a long-term American military presence in the Middle East is that they raise arguments that are not related to the point," Moran said. "I would like to have a reasonable, objective discussion about AIPAC's foreign policy agenda. But it's difficult to do that because any time you question their motives, you are accused of being anti-Semitic."
Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun also defended Moran's position in the article, which appear in the magazine's September-October issue http://www.tikkun.org/magazine/tik0709/frontpage/israellobby.
"It's the kind of statement I would have made to any religious community, or to any labor movement audience, citing their own failures to act as a critical factor in why we had gotten involved," Lerner wrote in the article.
Halber said he welcomes criticism of AIPAC's policies, but he said Moran is wrong that the advocacy group supports the war in Iraq. Most American Jews oppose U.S. involvement in Iraq, he said, and AIPAC has remained neutral.
According to the organization's Web site, AIPEC supports U.S. military aid to Israel but does not openly support U.S. intervention in the Middle East.
"I think Mr. Halber's being disingenuous in suggesting that the AIPAC board has not been strongly supportive of military involvement in Iraq and now in Iran," Moran said yesterday.
Although hailed for forging ties with the region's Muslim community, Moran has gotten into trouble with the local Jewish community before. In 2001, he angered groups by saying in an appearance before the American Muslim Council that then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was coming to Washington "probably seeking a warrant from President Bush to kill at will with weapons we have paid for."
The next year, Moran returned $2,000 in political contributions from a Muslim activist with ties to the anti-Israeli groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
And in 2003, at an antiwar forum in Reston, Moran said: "If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this. The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going, and I think they should."
Said Halber this week: "There are only so many mistakes he can make before it's fair to call him an anti-Semite."