Clinton Aide Likens Gramm, David Duke
by Douglas Feiden The Forward Mar 24, 1995 pg. 1
NEW YORK --
One of President Clinton's most powerful political lieutenants is comparing Senator Gramm of Texas, a Republican presidential hopeful, with David Duke of Louisiana, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, according to accounts of at least six Jewish leaders who have heard the aide's remarks.Rahm Emanuel, White House director of special projects and a Democratic Party fund-raiser, equated a campaign slogan that had been used by Mr. Duke -- "Equal opportunity for all, special preferences for none" -- with the campaign theme that Mr. Gramm has been adopting for his 1996 presidential bid, the leaders told the Forward.
Mr. Emanuel compared the Texas conservative with the avowed racist as he discussed the GOP's strategy on affirmative action and its putative origins with Mr. Duke during a closed-door briefing for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Washington last week, according to members of the delegation.
The remarks of Mr. Emanuel, a protege of the Daleys of Chicago who reports to Leon Panetta, the White House chief of staff, were the subject of a dispute -- and a damage-control campaign -- that spotlights how explosive affirmative action in America has become both to the Jewish community and as an issue in next year's national elections. Mr. Emanuel wouldn't discuss his remarks when contacted by the Forward, saying they were made on an off-the-record basis to the leaders.
He suggested contacting the executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference, Malcolm Hoenlein, and its outgoing chairman, Lester Pollack, both of whom disputed that Mr. Emanuel had compared Messrs. Duke and Gramm, with Mr. Hoenlein insisting that was a "misunderstanding of what he said."
Within 90 minutes of Forward calls to Messrs. Emanuel, Hoenlein and Pollack, the Presidents Conference sent a fax to its 50 member organizations, saying, "PLEASE NOTE: The meetings on Tuesday in Washington were off the record." Within minutes, several Jewish leaders who had been irked by Mr. Emanuel's remarks -- branding them "inappropriate," "off key" or "harmful" in on-the-record conversations with the Forward -- were responding to Conference discipline and calling back the newspaper to ask that their names be removed from the article.
The urgency to the Conference in keeping Mr. Emanuel's utterances "off the record" was underscored by the fax it sent to member groups, which mentioned silence on the Washington trip as a first priority, before listing upcoming events with Secretary of State Christopher, Ambassador Indyk, Ambassador Rabinovich and King Hassan II of Morocco. The Conference says the fax was drafted before the Forward's calls.
"There are very legitimate arguments on both sides of the affirmative-action debate, but it is appalling that Rahm Emanuel would compare the pro-Israel Republican Senator Phil Gramm to the Jew-hating racist David Duke simply because they are both opposed to affirmative action," said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, who attended the Washington briefing. "Would Mr. Emanuel also have compared Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut to David Duke, since Mr. Lieberman has also criticized affirmative action as patently unfair?"
The scene was the Indian Treaty Room in Washington's Old Executive Office Building on March 14, where Mr. Emanuel, in a largely political speech, asked an audience of Jewish leaders if they remembered what Mr. Duke's campaign slogan had been. When no one answered, he replied it was "Equal opportunity for all, special preferences for none."
Moments later, noting that Mr. Gramm, if elected, has promised to sign an executive order eliminating affirmative action on the day he becomes president, Mr. Emanuel said that Mr. Gramm's campaign theme "was also equal opportunity for all, special preferences for none." He said it was important to remember who first brought the issue up -- Mr. Duke -- and how those who are running on the issue today are using "the same language" as those who have run on the issue in the past.
"In the Washington context, the way things are played here, I supposed he was probably justified in saying it," says Morris Amitay, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who heard the Duke-Gramm comparison. "I guess all's fair in politics and war."
Other Jewish leaders disagreed. "The whole comparison was inappropriate," said one executive who asked not to be named. "Some of us who were in attendance also believe in equal opportunity for all and special preferences for none, with a few acute exceptions, but that doesn't mean we keep company with David Duke."
The leader added, "Meir Kahane gave vibrancy to the phrase, `Never Again,' but just because Kahane was odious and reprehensible to many Jews doesn't mean the phrase itself is wrong or fouled or ugly."
Mr. Hoenlein said Mr. Emanuel "did not attempt to draw a comparison." That interpretation was "a misunderstanding," he said, after having checked his extensive notes; he declined to make those notes public.
Mr. Pollack, who said he was troubled that an off-the-record briefing was shared with a reporter, said Mr. Emanuel had discussed how the president's program was "counterpoint to the Republican agenda....I don't think he was making a political statement, and I don't think he was comparing Gramm to Duke." Mr. Pollack acknowledged Mr. Emanuel had mentioned Mr. Duke, but wouldn't describe the exact context.
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