A Democratic congressman is under fire for remarks in which he suggested American Jews were behind the push to war with Iraq and Jewish leaders could prevent war if they wanted to.

Jewish organizations condemned as “reprehensible” and “anti-Semitic” the comments of Rep. James P. Moran Jr., D-Va., delivered to 120 people attending a forum at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church on March 3.

Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va.

“If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this,” Moran was quoted by the Reston Connection as saying. “The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going, and I think they should,” he added.

The comments were made in the context of a discussion over why anti-war sentiment was not more effective in the United States.

Amid backlash, Moran apologized in a statement released yesterday.

“I made some insensitive remarks that I deeply regret. I apologize for any pain these remarks have caused to members of the Jewish faith and any other individuals,” Moran said.

“I should not have singled out the Jewish community and regret giving any impression that its members are somehow responsible for the course of action being pursued by the administration, or are somehow behind an impending war,” he continued.

He said his point was that if U.S. organizations – including religious groups – would be more vocal about their opposition to war it could change the course of events.

The apology didn’t assuage six rabbis who issued their own statement yesterday calling for Moran’s resignation.

“Such remarks about any minority group in America, whether African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims or others, are beyond inappropriate in the rhetoric of a member of Congress,” Rabbi Jack Moline of Alexandria, Va., wrote.

“When Moran realized just how outrageous his remarks were, he attempted to backpedal, saying he didn’t mean what he clearly said. This time it just won’t work,” Sophie R. Hoffman, president of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, told the Washington Post.

The Anti-Defamation League and the National Jewish Democratic Council also criticized the remarks, according to the paper.

Jewish leaders view the incident as a last straw of sorts for the seven-term congressman who voted in 1991 against foreign aid to Israel, offered “rhetorical support” for the Palestinian cause and accepted campaign contributions from sympathizers of the Hamas terror organization. Moran subsequently returned the donations.

“I know in my heart that I am anything but anti-Semitic,” Moran told the Post and added his daughter is marrying a Jewish man and converting to Judaism, along with her 9-year-old son.

“Nobody could berate me more than I do when I see my words in print compared to what I intended to say,” he said.

Criticism from the White House and members of Moran’s own party added to the outcry today.

“These remarks are shocking. They are wrong and they should not have been said,” said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

“It’s a sad day when comments like that are made. They debase the debate and they have no purpose,” WUSA-TV quotes Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle as saying.

“Congressman Moran’s comments were not only inappropriate they were offensive,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said.

“That kind of rhetoric is unacceptable and goes against the value and beliefs of the Democratic Party,” echoed Guillermo Meneses, Democratic National Committee spokesman.

The Ha’aretz reports an undercurrent of suspicion over Jewish and Israeli influence on American foreign policy accompanies the growing anti-war movement and sparks debate over the line between free expression and classic anti-Semitism.

The so-called “conspiracy theory” has roots in the Clinton administration but has taken flight during the Bush administration, reports Ha’aretz.

The appointments of “hawkish” Paul Wolfowitz as deputy defense secretary and of Elliot Abrams as director of Mideast affairs for the National Security Council are cited as evidence of the theory.

“The Likudniks are really in charge now,” an unnamed senior administration official told the Post last month in reaction to the Abrams appointment.

Rabbi and peace activist Michael Lerner described speeches at anti-war rallies last month as containing “a barrage of Israel bashing and anti-Semitic garbage.”

WorldNetDaily reported last week an anti-war protest on the campus of York University in Toronto reportedly turned violent when students with an American flag were attacked and Jewish students were harassed by anti-war demonstrators.

Protesters stormed a booth set up by the Young Zionist Partnership and the Canadian Alliance, shouting insults at them.

“Hundreds of people basically swarmed three people,” said Paul Cooper, president of the Zionist group. He said only a few people were confrontational, but everyone else “watched and did nothing to stop it.”

“They chose to attack me, and I’m identifiably Jewish, but they didn’t attack Paul [Cooper], who’s not, and that’s scary,” said Yaakou Rath, campus president of the Canadian Alliance.

“The emotional climate at these demonstrations has been one that most Jews I have encountered find somewhere between uncomfortable and overtly anti-Semitic,” he told LA Weekly.

“It is an old canard that Jews control America and American foreign policy,” Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman told U.S. Jewish Forward last month. “During both world wars, anti-Semites said that Jews manipulated America into war. So when you begin to hear it again, there is good reason for us to be aware of it and sensitive to it,” he said.

As for Moran, he predicts the Jewish community will mount a fierce opposition to block his re-election.

Morris Amitay, treasurer of the pro-Israel Washington PAC, confirmed Moran’s predictions. He told the JTA he has a candidate in mind to challenge Moran in the Democratic primary.

“We now have a vulnerable incumbent,” JTA quotes Amitay as saying.

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