As the firestorm over comments perceived to be anti-Semitic gathered strength, Rep. James Moran, D-Va., took steps today to douse the flames and stepped down from his House leadership role.

“I stepped down from my leadership position today as a way to demonstrate acceptance of my responsibility for insensitive remarks I recently made,” Moran said in a statement. “I will continue to reach out to the Jewish community and others who were offended by my remarks.”

Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va.

The announcement followed Moran’s meeting with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, during which Pelosi asked him to resign from his elected position as regional whip.

“I have taken this action because Congressman Moran’s irresponsible remarks were a serious mistake,” Pelosi said. “As I said earlier this week, his comments were not only inappropriate, they were offensive and have no place in the Democratic Party.”

As WorldNetDaily reported Tuesday, Jewish organizations, fellow Democrats and the White House condemned the remarks Moran made before 120 people attending a forum at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church on March 3.

“If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this,” Moran said. “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.

“It’s a sad day when comments like that are made. They debase the debate and they have no purpose,” Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle said earlier this week.

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

Amid the growing furor, Moran has repeatedly apologized.

“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 in a statement Tuesday.

“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 Beltway-area rabbis who issued their own statement Monday 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.

“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.”

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, has expressed support for the Palestinian cause and accepted campaign contributions from sympathizers of the Hamas terror organization. Moran subsequently returned the donations.

Today’s move may not be enough. A pro-Israel Washington PAC has announced it has a candidate in mind to challenge Moran’s re-election who would have strong backing by the Jewish community.

Moran, 57, continues to resist pressure to resign.

“I will strive to learn from my mistakes and listen to the concerns of my constituents,” he pledged in his statement.

Moran was elected as regional whip in the mid-Atlantic region by his colleagues three years ago.

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