ASKIAM, Senior Correspondent
Originally Posted 10-10-2000
WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – Those political nay-sayers who predicted that this year’s presidential campaign would produce a public put-down of the Honorable Louis Farrakhan, similar to the rebuke of singer Sister Souljah in 1992, got a rude awakening when Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Ct.) called once again for a face-to-face meeting with the leader of the Nation of Islam.
“I am very open to that,” the Connecticut senator said in an interview with April Ryan of American Urban Radio Network (AURN) Sept. 27 concerning the proposed meeting. “Min. Farrakhan said a few things earlier in the campaign that were just not informed. But I have respect for him and I have respect for the Muslim community generally, very profound respect.
“I’d be open to sitting and talking to Min. Farrakhan. It hasn’t sort of come together yet but I look forward to it,” said Mr. Lieberman who is the first Jewish politician to run on a United States Presidential ticket. “This is a time to try to knit the country together more and to make us, as (Vice President) Al Gore always says, ‘the more perfect union’ that our founders dreamed of.”
In a separate AURN interview, Min. Farrakhan also extended his hand to the vice-presidential nominee, who “being an Orthodox Jew and a man of faith, could be a bridge that would build good relations between not only Blacks and the Jewish community, but the Arabs, Muslims and the Jewish community.”
Both leaders insisted that it was time to heal the wounds between the Jewish communities and others, while both acknowledged the likely resistance to the meeting. “I respect the fact that Mr. Lieberman would be willing to face the flak that he might face from members of the Jewish community,” Min. Farrakhan said.
That flak was not long in coming. Major Jewish organizations condemned the idea. “By virtue of his statements and his extremist positions, we believe that (Min. Farrakhan) has not earned a place at the table in terms of discussions of race relations or public policy,” Richard Foltin, legislative director of the American Jewish Congress said in a published report.
The Anti-Defamation League, which earlier in the campaign chided Mr. Lieberman for injecting too much of his religion into the political campaign, this time urged Mr. Lieberman to cancel any plans to meet with the Muslim leader.
If Mr. Lieberman “were to meet Louis Farrakhan, he would be legitimizing a bigot, an anti-Semite and a racist who continues to spout his message of hate,” ADL Director Abraham Foxman and Chairman Howard P. Berkowitz wrote to the nominee in a letter.
Despite the pressure, many feel Sen. Lieberman is likely to stick to his guns and not heed the calls to denounce Min. Farrakhan in the same way President Clinton publicly criticized Sister Souljah during the 1992 campaign. That public rebuke, at the Rainbow/PUSH convention, was seen at the time as a ploy to score points with white voters at the expense of a prominent Black celebrity.
“Joe Lieberman said in his conversation with me, he said he’s ‘hardheaded,’ ” Ms. Ryan who covers the White House for AURN told The Final Call. “He said: ‘If my wife Hadassah was on this phone, she would tell you that Joe does what he wants to do.’ That is what he told me point blank. That he’s a man of his own mind, that he doesn’t walk to the beat of anybody else’s drum. He walks to his own beat.
“He said he’s a bridge-maker. He considers himself a healer, a racial healer,” said Ms. Ryan who traveled with both President Clinton and Vice President Gore on their historic trips to Africa. She has conducted several exclusive interviews with the president, the vice president and with Mrs. Clinton.
Officials in the Gore campaign agree. “It’s nothing that Sen. Lieberman hasn’t said before about bridging the gap between the two communities. He has extended the offer before to meet with Min. Farrakhan,” Gore-Lieberman campaign spokesperson Devona Dolliole told The Final Call. Early in September campaign officials facilitated a face-to-face meeting between Sen. Lieberman and Leonard Farrakhan Muhammad, the Nation of Islam chief of staff during a Chicago campaign appearance.
“I hope that Mr. Lieberman continues to be interested and determined to meet with Min. Farrakhan and ignores the ADL,” said Mr. Muhammad. “Most Americans would support Sen. Lieberman’s efforts.”
That is similar to an assessment by President Clinton. “Well if anybody has got the standing to do it, he certainly does,” Mr. Clinton told reporters Sept. 28, in response to a question from Ms. Ryan.
Once before Sen. Lieberman bridged a widening fissure between Blacks and the Gore campaign. At the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, shortly after he was named as the vice-presidential running mate, Black lawmakers—most notably Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.)—threatened to not support the ticket because of his past opposition to affirmative action, and his support for school vouchers.
Sen. Lieberman met privately for two hours with members of the DNC Black Caucus, and then made his first public appearance at the convention before the group in order to solidify his credentials as a longtime supporter of issues important to Blacks. He spoke of his personal credentials as a civil rights activist who went to Mississippi to participate in the dangerous 1964 “Freedom Summer” voter registration campaign.
So it is again, predicted Ms. Ryan. When “everything came out about how he was a freedom fighter,” she said of the DNC reception to his exploits in Mississippi, “then maybe this Jewish freedom fighter could be the one to heal the Jewish-Nation of Islam divide.”
“Only through dialogue can we resolve the differences” between Blacks and Muslims “and the Jewish leadership” and “the whites of this nation,” Min. Farrakhan insisted in his AURN interview. “At some point in time we’re going to have to sit down to talk about the resolution to the problems between us.”