WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com)–Reports are true that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is making special overtures toward influential Black leaders, including the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). The meetings are no cause for alarm, participants insist.

As part of its annual Washington convention activities, AIPAC “honored” CBC chair Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and the rest of the Caucus at a special dinner March 30, attended by roughly 1,000 AIPAC donors from around the country,” JTA Global News Service of the Jewish People reported May 13.

Then, on April 24 in New York, hip hop music producer Russell Simmons attended a luncheon with AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr and other Jewish leaders.


The various meetings grew out of Black concerns about the Jewish community’s roles in the 2002 primary election defeats of Reps. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) and Earl Hilliard (D-Ala.), both of whom were vocal critics of U.S. policies favoring Israel before they were defeated by candidates who received strong financial backing from AIPAC members living outside of the contested districts.

“They invited me to come speak. I spoke,” Mr. Cummings told The Final Call at the Capitol. “I don’t think we got an award … we didn’t get an award. Some (CBC) members appeared at their dinner.

“First of all, this actually started way back. We were concerned about the Jewish community’s roles in the McKinney race and in the Hilliard race,” Mr. Cummings said. “Back then, we wanted to make sure that we at least began a dialogue to explain–at least to our Jewish members of Congress–what our concerns were all about.

“As a result of that, many of them said, ‘Well, you all ought to really start talking to AIPAC.’ We then engaged in a dialogue with AIPAC. There’s been quite a few dialogues with AIPAC and Jewish members of the Congress.

“To be frank with you, it’s more of a preemptive sort of situation. We tried to make sure that we don’t have that happening again. Dialogue is helping that,” he said.

Mr. Simmons also, in fact, attended a New York meeting where there were discussions with leaders of AIPAC and other major Jewish organizations about how to improve Black-Jewish relations, according to Minister Benjamin Muhammad, spokesman for the Hip Hop Summit Action Network.

“I think that Russell’s meetings are part of his overall outreach to all ethnic groups to promote better ethnic understanding, ethnic tolerance. The issue is tolerance,” Mr. Muhammad said.

“We’re very concerned that after 9/11, it appeared the American society was moving in the direction of intolerance–racial profiling of various groups based on race, based on religion, based on ethnicity.

“Our position is, that’s wrong. And so, as part of Russell’s campaign to promote ethnic and racial tolerance, he’s meeting with Jewish leaders, he’s meeting with Muslim leaders, he’s meeting with Christian leaders, he’s meeting with persons of all walks and persuasions to raise the question that there should be more tolerance in America, and not intolerance.

“Let me put it this way–from my view of what Russell Simmons is doing, he’s being very principled in his dialogue and discussions. And I don’t think he will be, at the end of the day, persuaded to favor one group over another group.”

AIPAC officials organized the events in order to “strengthen relations between our community and members of the Congressional Black Caucus,” according to the JTA report. In addition, they wanted to honor Mr. Cummings “and the members of the CBC for their long-standing support of Israel and to reaffirm to our own community that most members of the Caucus support a strong and secure Israel.”

CBC members are decidedly not pro-AIPAC, however, not in comparison with the rest of the House. An April letter backed by AIPAC to Pres. George W. Bush about the U.S. Middle East “Road Map” was signed by 313 House members, but by fewer than half–18 of 39–CBC members.

Still, since the last election cycle, Jewish community leaders have held numerous meetings with their Black counterparts and AIPAC has held meetings with 29 members of the CBC, according to JTA.