Robert Byrd, longest-serving senator, dies at 92

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Robert Byrd, the longest-serving U.S. senator who criticized Israel but refrained from using his considerable power to cut its funding, has died.

Obituaries for Byrd, 92, a West Virginia Democrat, focused on the bookends to his 51-year career: His membership for several years before his election in the racist Ku Klux Klan and his unsuccessful effort to filibuster the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and his opposition in the last decade to the Iraq war.

The trajectory was one of a conservative southern Democrat to a fiery liberal, and he embraced it, never denying his roots, but expressing his regrets over his adherence to the southern cultural mores of his youth.

One thing that was consistent, however, was his willingness to express skepticism of U.S. assistance to Israel, rooted in part in his traditions as a pork-barrel lawmaker who believed that U.S. money was best spent on constituents. He was a consistent, at times lonely, man out on pro-Israel letters and nonbinding resolutions.

Nonetheless, he never used his influential leadership positions — including a long stint as chairman of the Appropriations Committee — to block funds to Israel.

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