Menu JTA Search

Lawmaker backs Saudi whose donation was rejected

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16 (JTA) — U.S. Jewish leaders are incensed over comments from a congresswoman who sought to tie last month’s terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon to American support for Israel.

Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) wrote to Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, shortly after his $10 million donation to help New York City recover from the Sept. 11 terror attacks was returned last week by New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Giuliani objected to the prince’s comment that the terrorist attacks should cause America to “adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause.”

In a letter to the prince, McKinney said she agreed with other politicians that the U.S.-Israel relationship was one of the motives for the attack, and believes it should cause the U.S. to re-examine its support for Israel.

“Until we confront the realities of events in the Middle East our nation and the nations of the Middle East will be at risk,” she wrote.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the comments did not differ much from statements McKinney has made in the past.

“She could not contain herself,” Foxman said. “This is part and parcel of her irresponsible approach to her responsibilities.”

The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta sent a letter to McKinney on Tuesday, saying her letter to the Saudi prince “appears to endorse the contention that American policy is directly related” to the Sept. 11 attacks.

“We are profoundly disappointed that you condone linkage of any type between terrorist action and American policy,” the federation wrote. “In recent weeks, we have come to learn all too well of the hatred for which [sic] Islamic fundamentalist groups harbor toward the United States and Western culture.”

Rabbi Stanley Davids, rabbi at Reform Temple Emanu-El in Atlanta, said he was not surprised by McKinney’s letter because she frequently makes outspoken comments.

“The congresswoman has frequently taken positions that are more directed at being outrageous than being accurate,” Davids said.

McKinney’s district includes many of the 100,000 Jews in Atlanta, but her constituency is predominantly African American. In her comments to the prince, the lawmaker, who is black, suggests that his $10 million gift could be used to aid American blacks.

“It’s painful that she uses this moment to sell out American values, to attack America in order to bring tainted money into the African-American community,” Davids said.

Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, said McKinney’s comments were “wrongheaded” and that Guiliani was not acting against free speech, but rather to avoid “tainted” money.

In the letter, McKinney thanked the prince for his gift, and said she believes his comments had merit.

“I was disappointed that Mayor Giuliani chose to decline your generous offer and instead criticize you for your observations of events in the Middle East,” she wrote in the Oct. 12 letter. “Whether he agreed with you or not, I think he should have recognized your right to speak and make observations about a part of the world which you know so well.”

McKinney’s comments are not the first to draw a link between U.S.-Israeli relations and Osama bin Laden’s acts of terror.

McKinney cites comments from Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), chairman of the House International Relations Committee, who said U.S. support of Israel has caused animosity in the region. However, Hyde went on to say that the country’s “unwavering support for Israel” would remain in place.

Foxman said he doesn’t believe McKinney is anti-Semitic, but said anti-Israel comments carry more weight when they come from more objective sources.

A spokesman for McKinney was unavailable for comment.

NEXT STORY