A Jewish civil rights organization and some Alexandria Democrats have criticized Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) for suggesting at a recent party meeting that a major American pro-Israel lobbying group will raise $2 million and "take over" efforts to unseat him next year.
In comments likely to prolong controversy over Moran's views toward Israel and U.S. Jewish groups and constituents, the seven-term incumbent said the American Israel Public Action Committee (AIPAC) has begun organizing against him and will "direct a campaign against me and take over the campaign of a Democratic opponent," according to notes taken by a person in attendance and corroborated by three others.
AIPAC spokeswoman Rebecca Dinar called Moran's comments "ridiculous" and said the organization "had no idea" what the congressman was talking about. AIPAC, an influential and prominent Washington-based lobby, is not a political action committee, by law cannot raise money for candidates and by policy does not endorse candidates, Dinar said.
David Friedman, D.C. regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, said Moran's remarks were divisive and intended to isolate and exaggerate the role of his Jewish critics: "This only confirms what we already knew: that Jim Moran is a bigoted man who perpetuates age-old canards and stereotypes about Jews."
Moran appeared before the Alexandria Democratic Committee on Monday night to disavow and apologize again for remarks he made last month at a Reston peace vigil. At the vigil, Moran said that American Jews were pushing the country toward war with Iraq and that Jewish leaders could prevent the war if they chose to do so.
In the ensuing controversy, six Jewish Democratic members of Congress who had supported Moran repudiated him for appealing to anti-Semitic stereotypes, and Moran resigned a junior House leadership position.
In an interview yesterday, Moran defended his latest statement, saying he was speaking hypothetically about what AIPAC and its supporters "could do" in a nomination fight. Anything could happen, Moran added. For instance, he said, his would-be challengers -- Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Katherine K. Hanley, state Sen. Leslie L. Byrne (Fairfax) and former Gore campaign aide Jeremy B. Bash are publicly considering bids -- could refuse to accept money from members of AIPAC.
Moran said he was simply "relaying what I had heard" from a fellow House member about fundraising activity against him by AIPAC members in Florida. "I don't know that's the case," Moran said. "I can't verify it, but it is some cause for concern. It's conceivable."
He added: "You'd have to be naive not to recognize that AIPAC is a very important network of people organized around a cause. . . . It's going to take time, a lot of effort on my part and sincere communication with the Jewish community to heal this rift. But if I have to run against a national network that I don't have the ability to communicate with, it's going to be very difficult."
In fact, the latest dispute seems likely to widen that divide and further split local Democrats.
Bash, a Washington lawyer who worked in AIPAC's public relations office from 1993 to 1995 and is Jewish, said Moran "continues to disappoint, divide and insult many of his own constituents with remarks like these."
The Alexandria committee condemned Moran's Reston remarks, but reaction to his new comments was mixed. Committee Chairwoman Susan B. Kellom declined to comment on the dispute, while expressing pleasure that Moran entered a dialogue.
But member Jerome Chapman, a lawyer and Moran critic who took notes of his comments, said the congressman used AIPAC as a code word for Jewish influence. "He regrets and repudiates his words, but he hasn't altered his mode of discourse," Chapman said.
Alexandria rabbi Jack Moline, who attended the meeting, said Moran spoke in disregard of the truth about AIPAC and was playing with fire.
"If it's fair game to run against the National Rifle Association, it's fair to run against AIPAC. That's politics," he said. "But there's no doubt that if he chooses to make AIPAC his opponent, he's going to cause a whole segment of the population to line up against him . . . whatever differences people have with AIPAC."