Ousted House historian seeking chance to clear name

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Fired 10 months ago as the historian of the House of Representatives for her controversial review of a Holocaust education program, Christina Jeffrey is now seeking financial restitution and a chance to set the Congressional Record straight.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) had handpicked Jeffrey for the post in January but quickly dismissed her after learning that, as a consultant for the Education Department in 1986, she had criticized a junior high school Holocaust course for not presenting "the Nazi point of view."

An associate professor at Kennesaw State College in Marietta, Ga., Jeffrey has spent 10 months trying to clear her name, saying that she was falsely characterized as racist and anti-Semitic.

The Anti-Defamation League, which initially praised Gingrich for firing Jeffrey, came to her defense last August.

The "ADL is satisfied that any characterization of you as anti-Semitic or sympathetic to Nazism is entirely unfounded and unfair," Abraham Foxman, ADL national director, wrote in a letter to Jeffrey.

The 47-year-old is waiting for a response from Gingrich's office about her request for $32,000 in restitution to cover lost salary and the cost of relocating her family twice — from Georgia to Washington, D.C., and back — within one month.

In a telephone interview this week, Jeffrey said Gingrich's staff would only tell her that Gingrich is considering "a list of options."

A Gingrich spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

"We don't like the idea of the taxpayers being told to foot the bill for this," Jeffrey said, but added that Congress should take responsibility for the way it handled her situation.

"It's a matter of simple justice," she said, "and if the Congress can't deal with one citizen in a just manner, how can it deal with the country in a just manner?"

Although Jeffrey said "perfect justice" would involve reinstatement as House historian with back pay, at the very least, she said, she wants the Congressional Record set straight about the facts surrounding her dismissal.

Several House floor speeches in the Congressional Record, a transcript of the daily proceedings of Congress, characterize Jeffrey as sympathetic to Nazism and the Ku Klux Klan.

"Racism and anti-Semitism are heinous offenses," Jeffrey said. "And it is not fair to allow the record to indicate that I am a person who holds those despicable views, because I am the polar opposite. If I were not, certainly the Anti-Defamation League would not have come to my defense."

Responding to the latest development in her effort to clear her name, Foxman said, "I understand where she's coming from."

He said he thought that it would be "appropriate" for members of Congress who characterized her as racist and anti-Semitic to "find an opportunity to set the record straight."

In her 1986 evaluation of the Holocaust course, Jeffrey wrote, "The program gives no evidence of balance or objectivity. The Nazi point of view, however unpopular, is still a point of view and is not presented, nor is that of the Ku Klux Klan."

Last August, Jeffrey wrote in a letter to Foxman: "These remarks have given rise to great misunderstanding, and I deeply regret this. I would not for the world add to the pain of those who have suffered so much at the hands of 20th century butchers and bigots."

Foxman, in return, presented Jeffrey with a letter to help her shake what he termed the "albatross" of being mislabeled anti-Semitic.

"I reviewed [the case] and reached out to her because those of us who are in the business of fighting racism and bigotry have as great a responsibility to correct it when it's inaccurate as to expose it when it's there; otherwise we don't have credibility," Foxman said.

In addition to the ADL, Jeffrey has enlisted support from a number of Jewish colleagues and friends.

"The whole thing is a fraud," said Barry Friedman, an associate professor of political science at North Georgia College, whose mother survived the Holocaust.

"It's a disgrace that leaders of our government have knowingly perpetuated the myth" that she is sympathetic to Nazism "because it's convenient for them to do it," he said in an interview.

"Somehow they are getting some sort of satisfaction by using her as a scapegoat and pretending to be champions of Jewish interests by slandering her and libeling her," he said.

Jeffrey said she regrets the review of the Holocaust curriculum, but maintains that the controversy could have been defused had she been asked at the time to clarify her views.

"Someone doesn't have to talk to me very long to know that I am not a racist or an anti-Semite," she said. "For Newt Gingrich to fire me without even talking to me was just devastating. It wasn't the action I expected of a colleague and of a smart man. He should have cared about what the truth was."

Jeffrey said she is working on a book recounting her experiences in Washington.