WASHINGTON (Apr. 22)
David Duke’s decision to drop out of the race for the presidency has been welcomed in the Jewish community as a sign that the American people have rejected his message of anti-Semitism and bigotry.
But Jewish leaders cautioned that although Duke failed to win many votes in the Republican primaries in which he ran, the community must remain vigilant against others carrying the same message of bigotry.
Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader and neo-Nazi from Louisiana, announced Wednesday at the National Press Club here that his “quest is over” for the Republican nomination. He also ruled out running as an independent or third party candidate.
“Basically we’re pleased that Duke is withdrawing,” said Jess Hordes, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Washington office. “It reflects the lack of support he has received from the American people, who have rejected his message of hate.”
Matthew Brooks, executive director of the National Jewish Coalition, a Republican organization, concurred.
The low vote for Duke was a “total refutation of David Duke’s message of anti-Semitism, hatred, racism and bigotry,” he said. “People voted against David Duke, the message, and David Duke, the messenger.”
‘A SYMBOL OF WHAT IS WRONG’
But Brooks warned that this does not mean that the threat of Duke’s message to the Jewish community “is going to go away.”
Brooks’ opposite number, Steve Gutow, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, agreed.
“David Duke is a symbol of what is wrong in this country, a symbol of the divisions in this country,” Gutow said. “His exit from the presidential race has to be a good sign.”
But Gutow stressed there is a continuous undercurrent of anti-Semitism and other forces of racism in the United States, “and we have to be vigilant and fight against it all the time.”
While Duke did not have the money and presence to convert his message of hatred into a national movement, there will always be others who will try, Gutow said.
“I don’t think we can ever allow the David Dukes of this world to go unanswered,” he said.
Many, in fact, attribute Duke’s poor showing to the candidacy of the more popular conservative columnist Patrick Buchanan, whose “America First” rhetoric appeals to the same constituency of disaffected voters that Duke has drawn on in the past.
Buchanan, who has made disparaging remarks about Jews and come to the defense of accused Nazi war criminals, remains in the race as a Republican candidate, though few give him a chance of beating President Bush for the nomination.
Duke, 41, has been repudiated by the Republican National Committee ever since he won a seat in the Louisiana state legislature as a Republican after losing a bid for the U.S. Senate.
Last year, he made an unsuccessful run for the Louisiana governorship, in which he received a majority of white and Republican votes, but lost because of the large black turnout.