WASHINGTON, March 13 (JTA) — Six Jewish Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives joined the chorus of criticism against U.S. Rep. James Moran (D-Va.) this week, saying they hoped this would be the controversial lawmaker’s last term in office. Nearly two weeks after Moran made comments blaming the American Jewish community for the impending war in Iraq, the lawmaker continues to be criticized from across the political spectrum. And party politics clearly played a role in how the Moran controversy was playing out here. Meanwhile, in the midst of apologizing for his remarks, Moran has gotten himself into trouble once again. The American Jewish Committee has condemned Moran’s comments to the Roll Call newspaper Thursday, in which he said, “It’s unhealthy for the American political process for any group within our society to be able to decide who should and who shouldn’t represent a constituency.” The comment came amid calls for his resignation by local Jewish leaders and amid his own prediction that Jews would mount a strong campaign to defeat him. “In suggesting that one group — the Jewish community — will decide who represents his district, he has repeated the allegation of undue Jewish influence,” said David Bernstein, Washington area director of the AJCommittee. 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 Connectionnewspapers. He has since apologized repeatedly, telling JTA, “I slipped up and I said something that has been properly taken as offensive.” On Wednesday, the six Democratic Jewish congressmen — several of whom had previously endorsed Moran and called him a friend of Israel — sent a letter to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), saying they hoped Moran would not run for re-election next year. “Should he seek re-election in 2004, however, we cannot and will not support his candidacy,” said the letter, which was signed by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) Martin Frost (D-Texas), Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), Sander Levin (D-Mich.), Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) and Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.). Signatories said Thursday that they tried to limit the number of people on the letter, and did not circulate it to the full Jewish caucus. Several other Jewish lawmakers said they were unaware of the letter, but would havesigned on to it had they been asked. Lantos, Frost, Cardin and Levin were four of 11 Jewish lawmakers who signed a letter to Moran’s constituents last October, characterizing Moran as a “strong supporter of Israel’s right to security and sovereignty.” The letter was perplexing to many at the time because of Moran’s negative record on Israel-related issues and his clashes with pro-Israel activists in the past. In addition, he was widely expected to win re-election and in fact did so by a substantialmargin. Now, Jewish lawmakers are saying the October letter was an attempt to help Moran gain favor in the Jewish community, and in turn to aid Democratic efforts to regain a majority in the House of Representatives. “I signed it because I think it’s very important that we have a Congress that’s Democratic,” Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “And based on his record at the time, I didn’t believe he was anti-Semitic,” said Barney, who said Moran no longer has his support. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) told JTA that Moran came to him in a Capitol elevator last fall and asked him to sign the letter. Berman did, but said he almost immediately regretted it. “I thought, within a very short time after I signed that letter, that I had done a very stupid thing,” Berman said. “I didn’t need the more recent comments to convince me I made a mistake.” Meanwhile, party politics were on full display surrounding the Moran controversy this week. Republican leaders — including the White House and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) — took their Democratic counterparts to task for not speaking out quickly against Moran, calling it a “double standard.” “It is important that the Democratic Party, both in Virginia and nationally, join and condemn Rep. Moran’s hurtful and fraudulent linkage of Jewish influence to the problems America faces as a nation,” said Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the only Republican Jew in the House of Representatives. With the Republican Party making constant inroads into the American Jewish community, Moran’s comments presented an opportunity for Republican leaders to show that they were supportive of the interests of Jews, and highlight a perceived contrast to their Democratic counterparts. But the Democrats took only hours to respond, with both Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) chastising Moran in strong terms. Democratic leaders say it is unfair to scold them for not being bolder in speaking out against Moran. They note that the National Jewish Democratic Council was one of the first organizations to criticize Moran’s comments. They also say Democrats spoke out against Moran much quicker than Republicans spoke out against Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who was accused last year of making racist comments and was forced to resign his leadershippost. Waxman said that the few days it took to get his letter out was due to logistics, including travel back to Washington and garnering co-signers. Party politics, he said, was not a factor. “As a Democrat, I would hate to see a seat go to the Republican side of the aisle,” he said. “But I don’t think Jim Moran ought to be a member of Congress.” Rabbi Jack Moline of Virginia, who initially led the call for Moran’s resignation, said he has been satisfied with the Democratic Party’s response to Moran’s comments. “You can’t expect people to rush to a decision like this when they have party loyalty,” Moline said. Moline and other Jewish leaders had been planning to meet with Moran on Thursday, but they canceled that meeting, based in part on comments Moran made that suggested he was expecting Jewish leaders to vent to him. “He still doesn’t get it,” Moline said. “It’s not time for a meeting yet.” Through a spokesman, Moran said he intends to seek re-election and is continuing to reach out to Jewish leaders and others he angered in his district.
Party politics at play over Moran