Bill Clinton yesterday stunned Jesse L. Jackson and members of the Rainbow Coalition by criticizing the organization for giving a public forum to rap singer Sister Souljah, whose words in the aftermath of the Los Angeles rioting Clinton said were "filled with hatred."

At the end of a relatively routine speech to the Rainbow Coalition, and with Jackson seated to his left, Clinton -- who has clinched the Democratic presidential nomination -- said:

"You had a rap singer here last night {on a panel} named Sister Souljah. . . . Her comments before and after Los Angeles were filled with a kind of hatred that you do not honor today and tonight. Just listen to this, what she said: She told The Washington Post about a month ago, and I quote, 'If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people? . . . So if you're a gang member and you would normally be killing somebody, why not kill a white person?' "

As Jackson -- who just minutes before mentioned specifically and with obvious pride that Souljah had been on the previous night's program -- stared straight ahead, Clinton said: "If you took the words 'white' and 'black' and reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech."

Clinton's frank remarks seemed designed to demonstrate his willingness to challenge core Democratic constituent groups and to begin to break his image in the public as a "political" person who would bend to pressure from major forces within his party.

The challenge to Jackson was deliberate. The Souljah comments were preceded by statements pleasing to the liberal audience.

The speech included repeated attacks on the Bush administration, with a well received line about Vice President Quayle -- "I'm tired of people on trust funds telling people on food stamps how to live" -- and praise for "the real story of Los Angeles -- {that} most people who live in that city did not burn, loot or riot."

In taking the gamble by raising the issue of Souljah, Clinton challenged the nation's most prominent leader of the Democratic left. Jackson appeared utterly taken aback.

"I don't know what his intention was," Jackson said immediately after Clinton's speech. "I was totally surprised."

At a hastily called news conference two hours later, Jackson said Clinton's denunciation of Souljah could backfire. "It was very bad judgment," he said.

Jackson defended Souljah, first saying she told him that her comments had been "misunderstood" and then more directly saying that she claimed to have been misquoted. Post staff writer David Mills's interview with Souljah was tape recorded.

"She represents the feelings and hopes of a whole generation of people," Jackson said. "She should receive an apology."

Jackson said Souljah said that her point in the interview was that Americans get more upset when whites are killed than when blacks are killed.

Souljah, a political rapper who has said the Los Angeles riots were "revenge" against a system of white oppression, is a popular entertainer and speaker who declared on one recording: "America is always trying to strangle and silence black people."

Clinton, noting that the Rainbow Coalition is honoring the four blacks who rescued white truck driver Reginald Denny, who was pulled from his truck and beaten during the Los Angeles riots, and the white man who videotaped the police beating of black motorist Rodney G. King, described what prompted him in an interview after the speech:

Souljah was "invited to speak here, and what she said was so inconsistent with what the folks are all about. . . . What she said really bothered me, not only because she said it but because she is somebody who is obviously bright and has a lot of influence over young people. And I think we've got to take issue with it."

In his speech, Clinton said: "We have an obligation, all of us, to call attention to prejudice wherever we see it." He apologized for having played golf at a club that had no African-American members. "I made a mistake."

Clinton campaign officials had been looking for a way to break the candidate's image among voters as a loyal supporter of Democratic orthodoxy, and a number of his key strategists argued that a confrontation with Jackson was the best mechanism to achieve that goal.

Jackson, in introductory remarks and at a later news conference, said he believes Clinton should seek out and mobilize core Democratic constituencies -- a strategy that Clinton, by his action yesterday, explicitly rejected.

Citing the presence of independent Ross Perot in the race, Jackson pointed out that to win, all the Democratic nominee may have to get is 34 to 40 percent of the vote. "It makes more valuable those who have been taken for granted or locked out -- workers, women, urban America, youth. If they register and vote . . . they will not be the margin of victory in this campaign, they will be the victor of this campaign," Jackson said. "In the arithmetic of politics, there is now new math."

Clinton said in his speech that Souljah's remarks contributed to a political environment of "pointing the finger at one another across racial lines. If we do that, we {Democrats} are dead, and they {Republicans} will beat us, even in Reverend Jackson's new math of this election. It's hard to get a 34 percent solution or a 40 percent solution if the American people can be divided by race."

The power of the Perot campaign, and growing public animosity to both the Republican and the Democratic parties, has been interpreted in the Clinton campaign as a powerful message requiring the Arkansas governor to attempt to regain the status of an 'outsider' candidacy -- a status first lost to former Massachusetts senator Paul E. Tsongas, then to former California governor Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. and most recently to Perot.

What remains unknown, however, is how damaging a confrontation with Jackson could be in terms of black support for a white Democratic nominee and how much support Clinton may pick up among working- and middle-class whites who in recent elections have abandoned the Democratic Party because they think it has become too liberal on social and racial issues.

Jackson has claimed credit for mobilizing and registering so many black voters during his 1984 presidential campaign that the Democratic Party was able to win back control of the Senate largely in a series of very close southern elections in which the black vote was crucial.

Clinton aides acknowledge that they do not know how much a fight with Jackson could depress black turnout. In 1988, low black turnout was a major factor in the failure of Michael S. Dukakis to carry Illinois. At the same time, however, Dukakis also lost in some white working-class neighborhoods that he had been banking on early in the general election.