Jesse Helms, the staunch Israel supporter in the U.S. Senate whose race-baiting nonetheless alienated many Jews, has died.
Helms, who died Friday at 86, represented North Carolina in the U.S. Senate from 1973 until 2003.
His first two terms were marked by his steadfast opposition to foreign aid in general, a position that put him at loggerheads with the pro-Israel community. After a close 1984 election, in which his opponent garnered significant pro-Israel support, he reached out to the pro-Israel community and subsequently became one of the Jewish state’s most fierce defenders.
He led resistance to U.S. pressure on Israel during the Oslo peace process in the 1990s, using his powerful post as chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee.
However, Jewish groups never comfortably embraced the senator that the Washington Post’s David Broder once described as “the last unabashed white racist” in the Senate.
Unlike other conservative white senators who courted black votes after the civil rights advances of the 1960s and 1970s, Helms used white resentment of black gains as a wedge, particularly in the 1984 and 1990 elections. He filibustered in 1983 against legislation that would create Martin Luther King Day, reviving spurious reports that the civil rights giant was a communist.