First ladys MLK Day appearance giving new fodder to her critics

Shortly before Clinton entered the room, Norris, a minister from Queens and a board member of Sharpton's National Action Network, reportedly told a story about how he was fired from a company owned by Jews.

"Miller No. 1 was a Jew," Norris was reported as saying. "Miller No. 2 was a Jew. I was then employed by yet another Jew by the name of Jesus," he said, adding that this time he won't "be fired until" Jesus "thinks it's necessary."

Clinton's aides, who were quickly told of Norris' comments by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), then passed a note to Clinton, who then criticized anti-Semitism in her speech, the New York Times reported.

"We know that anti-Semitism still stalks our land as well," she said.

Clinton later told reporters that before she arrived, "I heard that one of the speakers made some divisive comments, which I soundly reject."

The quick condemnation of the remarks stood in contrast to what happened in Ramallah in November when Suha Arafat, the wife of the Palestinian Authority leader, accused Israel of poisoning Palestinians. Clinton came under intense criticism for waiting a day to condemn the remarks.

Despite the immediate condemnation this time, Clinton was criticized for meeting with Sharpton's group.

Dr. Mandell Ganchrow, president of the Orthodox Union, which met with Clinton in December on a wide range of topics, questioned why Clinton would celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day by meeting with Sharpton, whom he described as "divisive."

"It sends a wrong message," said Ganchrow, who suggested that there are many other African-American leaders in New York who Clinton could have met with.

Jewish Republicans were quick to react.

Despite Sharpton's effort in recent years to become more of a mainstream player within the Democratic Party, Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said Sharpton has not backed away from his previous anti-Semitic remarks and "continues to surround himself" with people who hold such views.