WASHINGTON (JTA) – The United Jewish Communities condemned a speaker who told a Florida Jewish federation that U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is an anti-Semite.
Brigitte Gabriel, a Lebanese-born Christian who heads an organization dedicated to fighting radical Islam, made the comments Monday night to the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County’s Lion of Judah, the women’s arm of the Jewish federation system.
“Barack Obama is an anti-Semite,” said Gabriel, who founded the nonprofit organization American Congress for Truth following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. “No Jews should support him. Jews should vote for Hillary Clinton.”
The local federation disassociated itself from Gabriel’s comments. The UJC, the national arm of the federations, went further.
UJC President Howard Rieger told JTA that his organization “condemned such expressions in the strongest possible manner.”
“Barack Obama as a member of the U.S. Senate is a friend of the Jewish community in his home state of Illinois and in no way has done anything to deserve such an outrageous accusation,” Rieger said.
“Senator Obama is not an anti-Semite,” Rieger continued. “Coming at any time such a statement would be unacceptable. Coming as it does in this primary season it can only have one objective – to polarize the electorate.”
Obama, who is locked in a tight race with U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) for the Democratic presidential nomination, has been fending off smears falsely depicting him as a secret Muslim who refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance and efforts to raise questions about his commitment to Israel.
The UJC was among several Jewish organizations to sign on to a public letter condemning the e-mails about his religious background. Obama, whose father and stepfather were Muslims, identifies as a Christian and has been an active member of a church in Chicago for many years.
Rieger’s comments went further than a statement issued Tuesday by the Palm Beach County federation’s CEO, Jeffrey Klein.
“In an otherwise interesting presentation, guest speaker Brigitte Gabriel was asked her opinion of Sen. Barack Obama,” Klein’s statement said. “She proceeded to label Sen. Obama as an ‘anti-Semite.’ Ms. Gabriel’s opinions are hers alone and do not in any way represent the views of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County, which apologizes for any offense taken by those who heard her comments. The speaker’s statement was not made on behalf of the Federation. The Federation does not take positions supporting or opposing candidates for public office.”
In a phone interview, Klein told JTA that Gabriel’s comments were “deplorable” and “we made it clear we do not accept her views.”
However, he said, the federation’s statement would stand. A stronger statement was unlikely, he added, noting that “we have people with strong political views.”
Klein said Gabriel frequently speaks to Jewish groups and came with many references. One of the speaker topics listed on her Web site is “the threat of Islam to world peace and national security.”
Rieger said this was the first he had heard of Gabriel. Referring to her comments on Obama, he added, “I wish that people that express those views would simply go away.”