WASHINGTON (Sep. 24)
Jewish Democrats are blasting the comments of House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), who said liberal Jews have a “shallow, superficial intellect.”
Speaking at a campaign forum on Middle East issues in Florida for congressional candidate Katherine Harris last Friday, Armey was asked why there was a division between liberal and conservative Jews.
“I always see two Jewish communities in America,” Armey replied, according to the Bradenton Herald. “One of deep intellect and one of shallow, superficial intellect.”
Armey continued, saying that conservative Jews have “occupations of the brain,” like economics and science, while liberals have “occupations of the heart,” including the arts.
“They’re going to be liberals . . . because they want to feel good,” he was quoted as saying.
Armey’s spokesman, Richard Diamond, told JTA his comments were about liberals and conservatives in general, not Jews in particular, and it mirrors comments he has made about other groups and the American public in general.
“He was making an anti-liberal comment,” Diamond said. “He is making no charge that he wouldn’t make of the country.”
He also said the comment is being used as a political attack against Armey, who is retiring from Congress at the end of this session.
But the comments have infuriated some of Armey’s colleagues on Capitol Hill, as well as Jewish officials.
“It’s very disappointing to us that a high-ranking leader of the Republican Party and the House of Representatives would make such divisive remarks.”
The lawmakers called on Republican leaders to disavow the comments or “we can only assume he was speaking for the Republican Party.”
Art Teitelbaum, southern area director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he believes that Armey’s comments are “simplistic, if not mindless,” but that they are not anti-Semitic.
“Congressman Armey demonstrated that there is a narrow line between off-the-cuff and off-the-wall comments,” he said.
Teitelbaum said he did not think Armey’s comments would raise red flags to Jewish leaders about their relationship with the Republican Party.
“The Jewish community is wise enough to realize that Mr. Armey is responsible for his comments, and no one else,” he said.
But while the support of the majority leadership in the House has been welcomed by Jewish leaders, many have been quietly skeptical of the bond.
Comments like Armey’s highlight those concerns.
“This guy should be an embarrassment to the Republican Jews and the Republican Party,” said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.
“To reduce liberalism or progressive thought to people who want to feel good is simple and silly,” Forman said.
Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, defended Armey, saying the House leader “has been a longtime friend and supporter of the Jewish community and his understanding and support of issues of concern to the Jewish community are beyond question.”
The campaign office of Harris, who is best known as the secretary of state in Florida during the 2000 presidential election voting drama, on Tuesday also touted the congressman’s achievement’s on Israel and the Middle East.
“What makes our country great is our diversity,” Harris’ spokeswoman, Rori Patrise Smith, said in a statement to JTA. “And with that diversity come different points of view with which we can agree or disagree.”
Smith would not say whether Harris agreed with Armey’s assessment of liberal Jews.