Allen describes post-‘macaca’ search for Jewish roots


RESTON, Va. (JTA) — Former U.S. senator George Allen said he believed denying his Jewish past helped cost him re-election in 2006.

Allen, who lost the Virginia seat in a razor-close election to James Webb, spoke Thursday for the first time of the fallout from the controversy of his denying his Jewish past. He also spoke of his Jewish roots. At the time of the election, Allen heatedly denied any Jewish heritage, although research by the Forward and other Jewish media outlets made it clear he had Jewish ancestors.

The journalistic digging into Allen’s past was prompted by his use at a rally of the word "macaca," a slur against people of color that is commonplace in North Africa. Allen subsequently revealed that his Tunisian-born mother, traumatized by the Nazi occupation of her native land, had sworn him to secrecy about his Jewish roots.

He made clear that the controversy contributed to his loss. "All sorts of things happened in that 2006 campaign, which we lost by 4/10ths of 1 percent," he said.

Speaking in Reston, Va. to the annual Jewish Learning Retreat of Chabad-Lubavitch’s Jewish Learning Institute, Allen, a Republican, described the joy of researching the roots of his mother’s heritage as a Lumbroso, a venerated Italian-Jewish line.

His biggest takeaway, he said, was greater sensitivity to minority rights — he said using the word "macaca" to needle a Webb campaign volunteer of Indian descent was a mistake, but he denied knowing that the term was a slur.

From the moment his mother revealed her Jewish past to him in the summer of 2006, Allen said, "The core principle of freedom of conscience, beliefs and religion was no longer just a matter of enlightened philosophy to me — it became deeply personal in my heartwrenching realization of how fear and persecution so tormented my loving, loyal mother."

Recommended from JTA