HILLARY CLINTON'S campaign to be accepted as a New Yorker and senatorial candidate by her party's core constituencies took her on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to the Harlem headquarters of the Rev. Al Sharpton. Mr. Sharpton had been complaining about the first lady's seeming reluctance to meet him on his turf, and her appearance at a jam-packed meeting of his National Action Network may have done him some good. Whether Mrs. Clinton did herself any good is another question, however, the more so because of her tepid response to remarks with antisemitic overtones made before she took the stage by a longtime Sharpton ally and National Action Network board member.

The Rev. Charles Norris, a Baptist minister, told a story about being fired from two jobs as a young man, reports staff writer Lynne Duke, and in each case mentioned disparagingly that the employer was "a Jew." Mrs. Clinton wasn't in the auditorium when he made the remarks, but was alerted by supporters when she entered the room. Her response was about as roundabout as she could make it. In the midst of a prepared King Day speech on social evils, which she had delivered at two earlier events, she inserted the sentence, "We know that antisemitism still stalks our land as well." Not exactly a bold repudiation, would you say?

Mrs. Clinton took heat last year when she couldn't find her voice in the West Bank after Suha Arafat, Yasser Arafat's wife, accused Israel of poisoning Palestinian women and children. It didn't help, either, when Mrs. Clinton, after sitting in silence, rewarded Mrs. Arafat with a kiss. Speaking at the time in her own defense, Mrs. Clinton said she didn't want to interrupt the delicate peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians or create an "international incident when I was abroad."

On Monday Hillary Clinton was home in America, where she is free to denounce bigotry without upsetting any peace talks or negotiations. The only people likely to have been disturbed had she responded directly and with indignation to the Rev. Norris's remarks might have been the reverend and those who support him. Monday of all days, when reconciliation and justice were the twin themes, was not the time to trim and bob and weave about bigotry. If candidate Clinton cares what antisemites think, what should the rest of New York think of her?