LOS ANGELES, Nov. 8 (JTA) — In a visit to the Jewish community center where five people were shot earlier this year, Hillary Rodham Clinton has praised survivors of a shooting spree and their families for refusing “to allow the forces of hatred to win.”
During a two-hour visit to the North Valley Jewish Community Center last Friday, the first lady also said she supports tougher federal gun-control and hate crimes laws.
White supremacist Buford O’Neal Furrow Jr., has been charged in connection with the August incident in which three children, a teen-ager and an adult receptionist were wounded.
Clinton made her remarks just days before she was expected to fly to Israel, where she is scheduled to be the guest of honor at a dinner at Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s residence and attend a coffee house, sponsored by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, that is a forum for Israeli teen-agers to discuss their concerns.
Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, will fly to Israel on Wednesday and participate in a Tel Aviv University conference on preventing violence. After two days in Israel, the Clintons are scheduled to meet with Queen Noor in Jordan.
Speaking against a backdrop of American and Israeli flags, and a large sign, “Welcome First Lady,” Clinton said that “In the face of unspeakable tragedy, you have shown the importance of going on, not giving in to bitterness or hopelessness.
“Our best weapon” is “gathering and speaking out and making clear that we will never give in to violence.”
She also urged voters to pressure Congress to pass a tough Hate Crimes Prevention Act. “We need to make it easier to prosecute these people,” she said. “We can’t permit the virus of hate crimes to infect our society.”
President Clinton recently vetoed the bill after congressional Republicans stripped the bill of its toughest provisions.
Lionell Bell, chairman of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation, applauded the first lady’s stand.
“We all know what can happen to our children now,” he said. “I don’t see how anybody can be against tougher laws that fight hate.”
Earlier in her visit, Clinton read the children’s story “The Rainbow Fish” to a classroom. She also met privately with the shooting victims and their families, including 6-year-old Benjamin Kadish, who was the most gravely wounded and is still confined to a wheelchair.
Clinton did not discuss her political plans, but got a warm round of applause from an audience of 75 when Ismael Ileto, brother of the mail carrier allegedly slain by Furrow after the community center shootings, jokingly introduced her as the next senator from New York.