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U.S. Lawmaker, Under Fire, Predicts Jewish Opposition to His Re-election

Rep. James Moran (D-Va.) says he understands why Jewish leaders are furious with him over a history of comments against Israel and the Jewish community, and predicts the Jewish community will mount a fierce opposition to replace him in the next congressional primary.

Moran, 57, told JTA on Monday that he felt “hurt” and would not heed the call for his resignation by six local rabbis. They made the call after the congressman told constituents last week that the Jewish community is behind the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq.

“If I were a rabbi and seeing those remarks, I would have reacted the same way, maybe worse, given my emotional makeup,” the seven-term lawmaker said in a candid telephone interview.

Moran, whose daughter is in the process of converting to Judaism, has been at odds with the local Jewish community for years.

He has often tried to climb out of holes, which he admits he has mostly dug for himself by speaking ill of Israel and its supporters.

“I’m insufficiently cautious in the way I express myself,” said Moran, the former mayor of Alexandria, Va. “I tend to be too blunt and too graceless.”

Morris Amitay, treasurer of the pro-Israel Washington PAC, indicated that Moran’s prediction about his future is correct.

Amitay said he already has someone in mind to challenge Moran in the Democratic primary, and expects that person to receive strong support from the Jewish community.

“We now have a vulnerable incumbent,” said Amitay, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Rabbi Jack Moline, the spiritual leader at the Conservative Agudas Achim Congregation of Northern Virginia, says the Jewish community’s long-standing tiff with Moran stems from his support for Palestinians.

“Moran’s empathy for people who are suffering has expressed itself as antagonism for the state of Israel and the people of Israel,” said Moline, who led the call for Moran’s resignation this week.

Among the lawmaker’s actions in recent years that have prompted Jewish fury:

On the eve of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to Washington in June 2001, Moran told a national convention of the American Muslim Council that the Israeli leader was “probably seeking a warrant from President Bush to kill at will with weapons we have paid for”;

In 2001, the lawmaker was also forced to return $2,000 in political campaign contributions from Abdulrahman Alamoudi, the former executive director of the American Muslim Council, because of remarks Alamoudi made in support of Palestinian terrorist groups;

In 1994, Moran told the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee that the killing of 29 Muslims by an Israeli doctor, Baruch Goldstein, was “not committed by a lone individual but collective acts of complicity in a pervasive injustice.”

In the latest controversy, Moran told a town hall meeting with constituents March 3, “If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this,” according to the Virginia-area Connection newspapers.

His latest comments were rebuked by Jewish leaders, local officials and his peers in Congress. Even the White House called the remarks “shocking.”

“Congressman Moran suggested that the reason that the president is thinking about using force in Iraq is because of the influence of the Jewish community,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday.

“Those remarks are shocking. They are wrong, and they should not have been said.”

Moran has spent this week apologizing, and was scheduled to meet with local Jewish leaders Thursday.

“I slipped up and I said something that has been properly taken as offensive,” Moran said in his interview with JTA. “I wish I had caught myself and reflected on it before I said it.”

Moran says the comments were not taken out of context, but he is trying to make clear that his response came from a questioner who identified herself as Jewish and asked why more Jews were not expressing their concerns about the impending war with Iraq.

“I was trying to explain my sense that mainstream elements of society and communities of faith were in support of war and if they weren’t, we wouldn’t be going to war,” Moran said. “If she had identified herself as a Catholic, I would have said the same thing.”

Moran paused, sighed, and said, “I wish she would have identified herself as a Catholic.”

Moran has consistently told Jewish audiences that his support for Muslim and Arab groups was “pandering” and that he has at times lacked knowledge on Middle East issues.

Moran, whose northern Virginia congressional district includes roughly the same number of Jews and Arab Americans, has supported pro-Israel resolutions in Congress in the past — which his adversaries say was an attempt at pandering to them.

But Moran’s long-term voting record on Israel has been of concern to the Jewish community.

He was one of 17 lawmakers who voted against a congressional resolution commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem in 1997 and one of 37 who opposed legislation in 1995 that required moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

Moran says he is a strong supporter of the Labor Party in Israel and has forged good relations with Yossi Beilin, the dovish former justice minister and one of the architects of the Oslo peace process.

“I feel quite strongly that the Likud Party approach to the Palestinians is relatively self-destructive,” Moran said. “If you expand the settlements, the laws of demographics will end Israel.”

Despite his controversial oratory and actions, Moran has until now been able to maintain the support of a number of Jewish lawmakers.

Last October, in a pre-election letter to Moran’s constituents, 11 Jewish senators and U.S. representatives called Moran a friend of Israel.

Some of the signatories of that letter said this week that they viewed Moran’s recent comments as anti-Semitic, but that it was too early to say whether they would support his re-election.

But at least two of those signatories, New York Democrats Jerrold Nadler and Gary Ackerman, both strong Israel supporters, indicated they would stick by their colleague.

Saying that “people with hateful beliefs do not apologize,” Ackerman said, “As a friend, I will counsel him to think his words through carefully as these issues are very heavily nuanced.”

For his part, Moran says he believes his re-election battle will get tougher next year because of his comments.

“I would have a safe district if it were not for my Herculean efforts against it,” he said, anticipating that Jewish constituents would put up, and “fund heavily” a primary opponent against him.

But Moran says he will not resign and will face re-election next year.

“I think I have to take it on,” he said. “I owe it to my kids not to back down.”

That includes his daughter who is converting to Judaism before an August wedding.

“This puts a damper on what should be a wholly positive experience for her,” he said.

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