Lieberman Backs Out of Meeting With Farrakhan

By Jason Pierce | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - A proposed meeting between Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan will not take place in the near future, Lieberman's staff says. Farrakhan had invited Lieberman to meet with him sometime before Farrakhan's Million Family March, scheduled for Monday.

Dan Gerstein, national spokesman for Gore-Lieberman 2000, said the reason for the cancellation was due to the atmosphere that surrounds a political race.

"A meeting between Senator Lieberman and Minister Farrakhan would not be productive at this time, during a political campaign," he said. "It is not the appropriate atmosphere to have this meeting."

The possibility of a meeting between the two leaders attracted a lot of attention because of Farrakhan's controversial comments in the past about Jews and the comments he made earlier this year about Lieberman's loyalties after Lieberman, who is an orthodox Jew, was chosen to be Al Gore's running mate.

Among Farrakhan's comments that created a furor was the one in which he reportedly referred to Jews as "blood-suckers" because of the presence of Jewish businesses in poor black neighborhoods during the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Farrakhan has also been quoted as calling Judaism "a gutter religion."

When Al Gore chose Lieberman as his running mate, Farrakhan also questioned whether Lieberman would be more loyal to Israel or to the United States.

Minister Rodney Muhammad, Philadelphia Minister of the Nation of Islam, said Farrakhan's comments about Judaism have often been misconstrued, and his question about Lieberman's loyalties was meant to ask whether his ties to Israel, like a Roman Catholic's ties to the Vatican, would influence him in leading the U.S.

"Given America's unwavering support for Israel, despite what administration is in, Minister Farrakhan questioned if Lieberman would have more loyalty to Israel than to the Constitution of the United States," Muhammad said. "It is the same way when an Irish Catholic John Kennedy would have more loyalty to the Vatican than to the Constitution."

Muhammad added that Farrakhan's questions were not only his own, but shared by many others not brave enough to ask them.

"The comments Minister Farrakhan has made, many have felt the same way but feared that cry of anti-Semitism would come out," he said. "Mr. Farrakhan has withstood the torpedoes of this anti-Semitic cry and has thrived and continued to make progress."

"Minister Farrakhan has said, 'If I have spoken an untruth, if I have erred somewhere, it needs to be pointed out to me'," Muhammad continued. "This has not been done. [Farrakhan's critics] claim wrong has been done, but they are unable to say what that wrong is."

Gerstein said even though Lieberman considered meeting with Farrakhan, he does not condone Farrakhan's comments that have been considered anti-Semitic.

"Comments Minister Farrakhan has said about Senator Lieberman has raised concerns and he would like to discuss them with Minister Farrakhan. Senator Lieberman has condemned Minister Farrakhan's anti-Semitic comments, but he does believe people can change," Gerstein said. "If Minister Farrakhan is interested in reconciliation and pursues this meeting further, then Senator Lieberman will meet, but not right now because it would not be productive."

Muhammad said Lieberman recognized how fostering a relationship with Farrakhan might help the Democratic ticket solidify its black voter base.

"He being a politician and running for office, we can't close the door on that type of thinking," Muhammad said. "I think that Senator Lieberman feels that the voice of the Honorable Louis Farrakhan has great reach, certainly into the black community, but we find that voice even reaching deeper into the communities of Latin Americans and Native Americans, Arab and Asian-Americans and those who have grown tired of the present form of government."

Matthew Brooks, spokesman for the Republican Jewish Coalition, had a similar view.

"I think Senator Lieberman is trying to shore up support from the African American community," he said. "Minister Farrakhan does have a substantial constituency."

Brooks went on to say that the Republican Jewish Coalition was dead-set against the meeting because of Farrakhan's past statements. RJC went so far as to purchase a full-page ad in the New York Times, pointing out comments Al Gore made in 1994, publicly criticizing Farrakhan. The ad asked Gore to intervene and not allow the meeting between Lieberman and Farrakhan to take place.

"Our point is that Senator Lieberman and Vice President Gore should put principle over politics," Brooks said. "In the Senate, Senator Lieberman has always been someone who stood for principle, not overly ideological and always did the moral thing. It is a shame to see him turn away from that to become a politician who will say anything to get elected."

Brooks said Lieberman's eventual rejection of Farrakhan's offer is a result of pressure put on by groups like RJC, who found it inappropriate for Lieberman to meet with Farrakhan.

"Once they realized it was broad-based bipartisan concern, not just in the Jewish community, but across racial lines and when they saw the depth to which the hatred and anti-Semitism of Mr. Farrakhan has touched so many people, the appropriateness of someone in the position of Senator Lieberman is a main concern," Brooks said.