WASHINGTON – Members of Northern Virginia's Jewish community are calling for Rep. Jim Moran's resignation because they believe he made anti-Semitic comments at a public meeting last week.
While discussing a possible Iraq war on March 3, Moran, D-Va., explained why he thought anti-war sentiment was not more effective in the United States. He was asked the question from a woman who identified herself as Jewish.
Moran told the 120 people at a Reston, Va., church: "If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we would not be doing this.
"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," Moran said.
The remarks sent a group of rabbis and other Jewish leaders up in arms.
"A world-class congressional district calls for a world-class congressman. When we have to be constantly embarrassed in the way we are ... it's time to think about a change," said Rabbi Jack Moline, head of the conservative Agudas Achim Congregation of Alexandria, and one of six area rabbis urging Moran to quit.
Moline, one of Moran's earliest and staunchest defenders in the local Jewish community, called the congressman "sorely misinformed" and "terribly insensitive."
Moline said the remarks echoed "the most scandalous rhetoric of the last century" singling out Jewish influence and blaming it for foreign policy.
"We believe that 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," Moline wrote with the rabbis of five other congregations.
Moran, a seven-term incumbent representing Alexandria, Arlington County and Fairfax County, issued a statement Monday apologizing and insisting he never meant to imply the Jewish community is responsible for, or should be blamed for, a war. He says he supports Israel's right to exist and security and denied being anti-Semitic.
"I apologize for any pain these remarks have caused to members of the Jewish faith and any other individuals. 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.
"What I was trying to say is that if more organizations in this country, including religious groups, were more outspoken against a war, then I do not think we would be pursuing war as an option."
In an interview, Moran gave two reasons why he regretted singling out American Jewish leaders over Christians or Muslims.
"One is that some of the most compelling spokesmen against the war happen to be Jewish, and number two, it clearly is the smallest of the three major communities of faith in America," Moran said.
"If among any one of the major communities of faith in this country there was an organized consensus against the war, I don't think we would be going to war," added Moran, who is Catholic.
Sophie Hoffman, president of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, noted that some of the stronger anti-war voices have been Jewish.
"The idea that American Jewish and Israeli interests are driving American foreign policy is at best insensitive and ignorant and at worst slanderous and ignominious," she said. "Mr. Moran is perpetuating the outrageous canard of Jewish control."
Ronald Halber, executive director of the Council, which represents 210 organizations, added that Moran's statements were "reprehensible and anti-Semitic," while David Bernstein, spokesman for the American Jewish Committee, said his statements were "anti-Semitic in effect if not in intent."
Moline said Moran has since asked to meet this week with Northern Virginia rabbis.
But Jewish activists have warned that the episode threatens to make Moran the Democratic Party's Trent Lott, referring to the former Senate majority leader from Mississippi who was pressured to step down from that position this winter for saying that the country would have been better off electing retired Sen. Strom Thurmond -- a former segregationist -- for president in 1948.
The Washington Post reports that Moran's relationship with pro-Israel organizations and American Jewish leaders has worsened in the past few years over his pro-Palestinian stands in the Middle East conflict, interpretation of Israeli history and acceptance of campaign donations from people sympathetic to the terrorist organization Hamas or under investigation for terrorist ties.
Democratic state Sen. Janet D. Howell of Fairfax, told the Post that Moran's remarks were "inexcusable and intolerable."
"Whether we support or oppose the war, we must respect all religious communities," Howell said. "There is no question that responsible Democratic leaders should distance themselves from him."
House lawmakers also took issue with the comments. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland calls Moran's comments "stupid," though he stopped short of calling on Moran to resign. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said the Democratic leadership needs to voice its objection to the remarks.
But at least one retired senior foreign service officer defended Moran for speaking out against the war while other Democrats have been silent.
"I think it is most unfortunate that [members of the Jewish community] were not present and did not hear the rest of what Congressman Moran had to say," said John Lovaas, who strongly opposes war. "Jim Moran has apologized. I hope now that other Democrats, elected leaders in particular, will apologize for their unforgivable silence on the matter of life and death which confronts us all."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.