WASHINGTON (Jul. 25)
As a long-serving congressman leaves Capitol Hill, few in the Jewish community will shed any tears.
Rep. James Traficant Jr. (D-Ohio) was expelled from the House of Representatives on Wednesday night after a colorful, 18-year tenure that included a less than amicable relationship with Jewish constituents and organizations.
Traficant was convicted of federal corruption charges in April. A House committee recommended last week that he be kicked out of Congress.
Traficant, who for years voted against aid to Israel — because of his opposition to foreign aid in general — and supported accused Nazi war criminals, was hardly a favorite of the Jewish community.
While in recent years his voting record on Israel became somewhat more supportive, Traficant still managed to get himself in trouble with the Jewish community.
Just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he suggested that U.S. support for Israel had provoked the attacks. Jewish groups were outraged, and said Traficant was an embarrassment to Congress.
A long-standing controversy involved Traficant’s support for John Demjanjuk.
Demjanjuk lost his U.S. citizenship in 1981 on evidence that he was the sadistic guard “Ivan the Terrible” at Treblinka from 1942-43.
Demjanjuk was extradited to Israel in 1986 to stand trial for crimes against humanity. An Israeli court convicted Demjanjuk of being Ivan the Terrible and sentenced him to death in 1988.
He spent five years on death row during which time Traficant called for the Justice Department to reopen the case and asked Congress to probe the way the department’s Office of Special Investigations handled the case.
Traficant criticized the dearth of non-Jewish witnesses in Demjanjuk’s investigation and said OSI concealed evidence that would have cleared Demjanjuk.
In 1993, the Israeli Supreme Court determined that there was reasonable doubt that Demjanjuk was the Treblinka guard and Demjanjuk subsequently returned to the United States.
In 1998, the U.S. District Court in Cleveland threw out the original denaturalization order and reinstated Demjanjuk’s citizenship. Demjanjuk maintains that he did not serve as a guard at any concentration or death camp.
Even though Demjanjuk was not found to be the notorious prison guard, he was charged with aiding the Nazis.
Earlier this year, a U.S. judge ruled that Demjanjuk should be deported because he lied about his wartime activities when entered the United States. Demjanjuk is currently appealing the ruling.
As he was being investigated in January, Traficant sought to keep Jews off his jury because of the assistance he had given to Demjanjuk, fearing Jewish jurors would hold the issue against him.
His views on the Demjanjuk issue, and his other maverick stances, alienated Ohio Jewish voters, according to Bonnie Deutsch Burdman, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation.
“These things have sat with the Jewish community for a long time,” she said. “He never really garnered the support of the community.”
Traficant also ruffled feathers in the Jewish community for his criticism of Israeli actions toward the Palestinians, and his attendance and support at neo- Nazi sponsored events over the years.
In 1990, during a nationally televised talk show, Traficant identified a man in the audience as a “member of Jewish descent.”
The Youngstown Jewish community demanded an apology. Traficant, however, denied that he was an opponent of Israel or an anti-Semite, and said he would “not let certain Jewish factions make me one.”
Traficant defended his positions on the House floor that year.
“If one is to be branded an anti-Semite for standing up for the constitutional rights, Palestinian dignity, and demanding that American tax dollars be spent on America, so be it,” he said.
In his last appearance on the House floor, just before he was expelled, Traficant seemed as combative as ever.
“I’ll go to jail before I admit to a crime I didn’t commit,” said Traficant, a former sheriff.
Traficant has complained of being the target of a government conspiracy, and at times has also complained of being railroaded by a “powerful Jewish lobby.”
Traficant will be sentenced next week for his conviction for 10 counts of bribery, racketeering and tax evasion.
Federal prosecutors have recommended that he serve at least seven years in prison.
A subcommittee of the House Standards of Official Conduct Committee found Traficant guilty on nine of 10 House rules violations.
Traficant became only the second congressman to be expelled from the House since the Civil War. Nevertheless, he is vowing to run for office again.