D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy Jr., who hugged Yasser Arafat during a much criticized meeting he held with the Palestine Liberation Organization leader in Lebanon three years ago, came under strong fire for his actions again last night during a candidates forum at the Washington Hebrew Congregation.
Marie Bembery, Fauntroy's opponent in the Democratic primary race for D.C. Delegate, opened the offensive by declaring: "I must say that I am shocked that Fauntroy would have the temerity, the gall to even show up at this forum, given his history of insensitivity to and blatant misrepresentation of the Jewish community."
Bembery later accused Fauntroy of offending the Washington Jewish community by not supporting a congressional resolution opposing efforts to expel Israel from the United Nations' General Assembly because of the Israelis' most recent military action against the PLO in Lebanon.
Fauntroy said he did not support the resolution because he considered the U.N. vote irrelevant to the challenge of bringing a solution to the problems in the Middle East. He said the U.N. debate on that question was a case of "the sideshow running away with the circus."
After Fauntroy finished speaking, there were scattered boos from the audience of about 250, and an elderly man leaped to his feet shouting that Fauntroy had failed to answer the question. The man then asked Fauntroy directly whether or not he supports expulsion of Israel from the U.N.
Replying in a low voice, Fauntroy said: "I oppose the expulsion of Israel from the United Nations."
In September 1979, Fauntroy and nine members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, including SCLC President Joseph Lowery, visited Arafat in Beirut. At one point during that meeting, Fauntroy hugged Arafat, then sang "We Shall Overcome" with the PLO leader and the other members of the SCLC delegation.
Bembery said last night that if a member of the Jewish community were the city's congressional delegate and hugged the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan there is "no way he could come back to D.C. and tell me he represents me as a black resident and voter of the District."
When asked from the audience if she supports Israel, Bembery said she supports the right to "self-determination for all people."
In a later question-and-answer period, Fauntroy said he met with Arafat because he believes "in resolution through nonviolence."
"Some people in the Jewish community think I've changed now," Fauntroy said, "that I've become a monster who is the enemy of the Jewish people and Israel.
"I want to assure you," he continued, "that I have not changed . . . my vist to the PLO in 1979 was a direct result of two deeply held views on my part: First my understanding of the longing and plight of people in diaspora . . . I am a supporter of Israel and Israel's right to exist, and I have the same sensitivity to the people in diaspora who are the people of Palestine. I continue to support the right of the Palestinian people to a homeland today."
Fauntroy added that he has condemned PLO violence to Arafat "face to face and faith to faith" and that Arafat had promised to bring up the "question of PLO violence" with his council.
"My appeal was to Mr. Arafat," Fauntroy said. "I make the same appeal to the Begin government and it is one on which I cannot equivocate."