Lieberman urged to skip meeting with Farrakhan

LOS ANGELES — As Senator Joseph Lieberman was readying to accept the Democratic vice presidential nomination, Jewish leaders were urging him to reconsider a plan to meet with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who last week questioned Lieberman's loyalty to the United States.

Farrakhan has been shunned by the Jewish community because of past anti-Semitic statements, such as referring to Jews publicly as "wicked deceivers of the American people."

Lieberman said he would like to meet with Farrakhan after the African-American Muslim leader last week suggested that Lieberman's Judaism would make him more committed to Israel's interests than to America's.

"Mrs. Lieberman, as an Orthodox Jew, is also a dual citizen of Israel," Farrakhan asserted at a news conference in Los Angeles.

"The state of Israel is not synonymous with the United States, and the test he would probably have to pass is: Would he be more faithful to the Constitution of the United States than to the ties that any Jewish person would have to the State of Israel?"

Lieberman has said repeatedly in interviews since his selection as Gore's running mate that his first loyalty is to America. No formal invitation for a meeting has yet been extended to Farrakhan.

"To meet with him would give him legitimacy that shouldn't be given to him," said the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman.

"Farrakhan has always wanted to have meetings with Jews and Jewish leadership and when you ask him why, he says he wants to discuss the truth of his charges. That's the absurdity. How are you going to discuss the truths that Jews control the media, that Jews control America? In the past some of our lay leaders met with him, and we're sorry," Foxman said.

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, acknowledged that Lieberman's new post as a vice presidential candidate affords him "different responsibilities and a different role than he had before," however, that does not "warrant a meeting with Farrakhan…given the history of his relationship with the Jewish community."

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who is also Jewish, gave cautious support for the idea of a Lieberman-Farrakhan meeting, but said that such a meeting should be considered carefully.

"I think it's all right to talk, but preconditions have to be laid down very carefully. We don't have to listen to a hateful diatribe because of a particular vote group," Lautenberg said.

Farrakhan's Nation of Islam group claims a membership of roughly 200,000 black Americans, and blacks have in recent decades been a key Democratic constituency.

Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush's spokesman Ari Fleischer, another Jew, called a possible meeting between Lieberman and Farrakhan "inappropriate."

Earlier this year, Democrats criticized Bush for suggesting he would favor giving government funds to the Nation of Islam; the Bush camp subsequently clarified the remarks by saying that the candidate thought he was answering a question about mainstream Muslims.

In addition to his remarks about Jews, Farrakhan has been criticized for traveling to countries such as Iran and Libya.