By Nathan Guttman
Haaretz - July 6, 2004
Former Georgia congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who is pro-Palestinian, is trying to get re-elected, and once again there is debate over the power of the pro-Israeli lobby in Washington.
On July 29, voters in the Fourth Congressional District in the state of Georgia will decide who will represent the Democratic Party in the race for the district's seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
This race, in a congressional district where most of the inhabitants are African-American and where there is only a tiny Jewish minority, is stirring great interest in the American Jewish community and reigniting - as it did two years ago - debates and accusations about over-intervention by Jews in the political system of the United States.
There is one reason for all of this: Cynthia McKinney, who is contending for the position.
McKinney is a well-known figure on the American political scene. A member of the House of Representatives for the Fourth District for five consecutive terms, McKinney was considered one of the outstanding spokeswomen for the African-American caucus in Congress.
However, her sharp tongue, her acute criticism of the administration and her clear pro-Palestinian line led, ultimately, to her failure in the 2002 elections. For the Jewish community, it was her problematic voting record on Israel and the Middle East, and for the moderate voices in her party it was her claim in the year following 9/11 that senior people in the administration had known about Al Qaida's intention to carry out the attacks, and that there are many who have profited from the war on terror.
All of these elements came together in a coalition whose goal was getting McKinney out of Congress. This they achieved, getting Denise Majette nominated and elected thanks to broad public support and a massive flow of donations.
But after serving only one term in the House, Majette has decided to run for the Senate - a move considered a very long shot by all the political commentators monitoring the candidates in Georgia. With the House seat for the Fourth District in Georgia now wide open, Cynthia McKinney is back in the picture, promising to re-conquer her seat in Congress after two years in political exile. `Anyone but Cynthia' From the perspective of McKinney's opponents - a group headed by members of the Jewish community - nothing has changed since 2002, and a concerted effort will again be made to prevent her election to Congress, even while public opinion polls show her as the front-runner.
McKinney has hardly attacked Israel during the two years she has spent out of Congress, and is now trying to focus on internal issues, though her Internet site has a link to an article that tries to deal with charges that her opinions are anti-Semitic. Neither McKinney nor her spokesman agreed to be interviewed for this report.
Deborah Lauter, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League who has been active for a number of years in the environment of Georgia politics, says that with respect to McKinney, her organization "did not see problems of anti-Semitism. Did she cross the line between being anti-Israel and what can be considered anti-Semitism? Only she knows what is in her heart."
Jewish sources note, however, that McKinney has never retracted the things her father said in an interview after she lost the election, that she had lost because "the Jews bought everyone. The J-e-w-s," spelling it out in order to make his intention clear.
The Jewish community is in a quandary right now on how to deal with McKinney's race for Congress, but it is clear to everyone that this time the Jewish money, like the Jewish vote, will go to what is known as ABC - "Anyone But Cynthia."
Jewish donors who campaigned vigorously against McKinney in the last election are still trying to recover from the disappointment of Majette's decision to resign and run for the Senate. Some spoke about that disappointment and sense of abandonment, while others say they are considering demanding that money they contributed for Majette's election to Congress be given back.
The problem is that unlike the 2002 elections, it is unclear who will emerge as the candidate with a chance of winning the election. The prevailing assessment among Jewish and pro-Israel activists in Washington is that the Democratic primaries in the Fourth District will be determined only in the second round, and that it is clear that McKinney will make it to the second round. Only then will McKinney's opponents know who is running against her, and be able to give money and their public support to that candidate. Until then, Jewish activists are being cautious about giving too much support to one candidate over another, although one of the candidates is a Jewish woman known for her public activity in the community in Atlanta.
Nearly Everyone is Pro-Israel
Cynthia McKinney's race has reawakened the question of Jewish influence on American politics, amid charges that a politician who does not express a clearly pro-Israeli line gets put on a kind of "hit list" of the powerful pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) as well as other Jewish organizations, which do all they can to prevent that candidate's election.
In this argument, it is hard to pick out the facts from the hodgepodge of charges. It is true that Majette, who ran against McKinney in 2002, enjoyed many contributions from Jews in Georgia and from elsewhere, but a post-election examination of the list of donors indicates that it is doubtful these donations tipped the scales.
What led to McKinney's failure in the last election was mainly opposition by moderate Democrats, who were alarmed by her aggressive line against the administration when the memory of the 9/11 terror attacks was still fresh, as well as Republicans who took advantage of Georgia's primary rules - which allows participation by rival parties in primary elections - and acted to depose a candidate who had spoken out against their president.
As proof that local politicians are cognizant of the power of pro-Israeli activists even in districts not considered important Jewish centers, all the candidates now contending for the Fourth District seat showed up at AIPAC's annual Policy Conference in Washington in May.
Deborah Lauter of the ADL bristles upon hearing claims about the political clout of the Jewish community when it comes to dealing with a candidate who presents anti-Israeli positions.
"The American Jews have every right to participate in American politics, like any other special interest group," says Lauter, adding that she tells the heads of the African-American community in the region that they should follow the example of Jewish political power: "If the African-Americans were as involved in politics as we are, it would have given them a significant advantage," Lauter says.
But not everyone is convinced. McKinney's supporters mention former Democratic congressman Earl Hilliard of Alabama, who also lost his seat in the House of Representatives in 2002 after taking a clearly anti-Israeli line. And Democratic North Carolina Senator Fritz Hollings' has charged that the pro-Israel lobby is dictating the administration's agenda, and that members of Congress find themselves forced to sign letters and decisions that are dictated to them by AIPAC people.
Last week the claimants were joined by Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who said in Washington that the White House and the administration are "puppets of Israel."
Apart from McKinney's attempt to get elected again to the House of Representatives, there are no other contests focusing the attention of the Jewish community in the current election races. Both President George W. Bush and presumptive Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts are pursuing a pro-Israeli and pro-Jewish line, and in the races for the two houses of Congress, only northern Virginia Democratic Rep. Jim Moran is noteworthy for having aroused the ire of the Jewish community - one of his aides accused the Jews of having pushed the United States into the War in Iraq, a claim that Moran later tried to amend.
The only remaining question is whether the small number of candidates who are in conflict with Israel stems from the success of the Jewish and pro-Israel organizations in preventing the advancement of candidates who have anti-Israel positions, or whether this is a natural political process whereby candidates from both parties are adopting a pro-Israeli line, and is something that is to be taken for granted.
The answer, almost certainly, is a combination of the two - America has indeed become more pro-Israel in recent years, but in any case adopting such positions can also be considered politically astute.