Audience boos Lieberman
Arab-Americans disagree with comments on Israeli fenceBy DAVID S. BRODER
DEARBORN, Mich. -- Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., was booed and heckled Friday by an audience of Arab-Americans as a parade of presidential hopefuls made their appeals to a constituency that is gaining recognition as an increasingly important swing vote in the 2004 campaign.
Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, drew shouts of disagreement from many of the 300 or so people attending the Arab-American Institute leadership conference in this Detroit suburb when he attempted to defend the security fence under construction by the Israeli government in the West Bank as a temporary nuisance that would be removed once the Palestinian leadership makes "a 100 percent effort" to end terrorism.
His reception was in marked contrast to the applause given rivals Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio; Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina; and a spokesman for retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who canceled because of illness.
Marc Racicot, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and now chairman of President Bush's re-election campaign, was heard in silence and criticized afterward for his response to questions about administration policy in the Middle East and the anti-terrorism Patriot Act, both of which are highly unpopular with this audience.
The turnout of candidates and campaign officials -- with three other Democratic hopefuls still to come Friday night and today -- was hailed by meeting sponsors as a clear sign that the Arab-American community, which is believed to number close to 3 million, has overcome prejudice and is being recognized as a legitimate and even important voting bloc.
For Lieberman, who recently criticized former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean for suggesting a more "evenhanded" approach by the United States to the Israelis and Palestinians, the decision to come here was a calculated risk.
All the other Washington-based candidates chose to appear by satellite, citing the need to be at the Capitol to vote on the $87 billion administration request for financing military operations and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lieberman, who in 2000 became the first Jew nominated for the national ticket by either major party, was given a warm introduction by James Zogby, head of the Arab-American Institute and an active player in Democratic politics.
Zogby told the audience that when Arab-Americans were being excluded from the 1992 Clinton campaign, it was Lieberman who "was outraged" and called the Little Rock headquarters to have the policy changed.
Lieberman began his speech by calling himself, "Joseph, your brother ... children of the same father, Abraham." He was applauded when he criticized the Bush administration for mass arrests of Middle Eastern immigrants after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and said that holding illegal immigrants incommunicado for long periods of time "is an affront to basic American freedoms."
And there were murmurs of approval when he said that "the only acceptable solution" to the Middle East fighting was "two states living side by side in peace -- Israel and Palestine."
But the audience reaction became hostile when Lieberman recalled his criticism of Dean for suggesting "it's not our place to take sides" in the Middle East.
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