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Political partisanship thwarts congressional move on racism

WASHINGTON, March 25 (JTA) — The U.S. House of Representatives has failed to pass a measure condemning “all those who practice or promote racism, anti-Semitism, ethnic prejudice or religious intolerance.” A partisan political dispute derailed the resolution when House Democrats voted Tuesday against the bill after their Republican colleagues blocked a different measure that also condemned racism but singled out a racist political group that had hosted members of Congress. Republicans had argued that Democrats were trying to embarrass two of their members, including Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Bob Barr (R-Ga.), for appearing before the Council of Conservative Citizens. The vote disappointed many Jewish activists who had lobbied on behalf of the Democratic-sponsored measure that condemned the council. “This should not be made a political football,” said Michael Lieberman, associate director and counsel of the Anti-Defamation League’s Washington office. While his group supported the GOP’s bill because “it’s always good to have civic leaders standing up and speaking out against racism,” Lieberman said the ADL would continue to press for action on the resolution that specifically condemns the council. While a majority of members, 254, voted in favor of the GOP version of the resolution, House rules required a two-thirds vote. Many of the House Democrats arguing most strongly for the resolution condemning the council had opposed on free speech grounds a 1994 measure to condemn Nation of Islam leader Khalid Abdul Mohammad for making anti-Semitic and racist remarks at New Jersey’s Kean College. According to an ADL report, the Council of Conservative Citizens, which spun off from a group known as a white collar version of the Ku Klux Klan, “has cloaked itself in the mantle of mainstream conservatism to mask its underlying racist agenda.” Essays in the council’s newsletter “speak of the ‘victimization’ of whites who are at the mercy of minorities and the liberal ‘elite,’ ” which is often used as a code word for Jews, the ADL said. Council officials have denied that their group is racist or anti-Semitic and in a statement called the House resolution “the product of left-wing partisans who seek to silence all conservative expression.” Both Democratic and Republican leaders said they will try to resolve their differences and take up the issue at a later date.