Dornan Comments in House Deplored by Jewish Leaders
Orange County Jewish leaders deplored as anti-Semitic comments by Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) in the House of Representatives on Thursday in which he described a Soviet commentator as a “disloyal, betraying little Jew.”
‘We find that name-calling like this serves no useful purposes other than to inflame or incite,” said Steve Edelman, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League of Orange County.
“ ‘Disloyal . . . little Jew’ is the kind of statement that has been used by anti-Semites for years,” said Rabbi Bernard King, community relations chairman for the Jewish Federation Council of Orange County. “I certainly don’t know the context in which he spoke, but I would like to see Dornan clarify why he would even refer to Jews.”
‘Shoot From the Hip’
Like several other Jewish leaders, King said he did not believe Dornan intended to say something anti-Semitic. Still, King said, “he does shoot from the hip and he should certainly be more cautious as a representative of all the people of his constituency.”
King and other Jewish leaders called for Dornan to explain his remarks and apologize.
Dornan, in a telephone interview from Washington late Thursday, said the reaction to his remarks was overblown.
The congressman said he had made the comments about a “little Jew” only because he had had to rush through his prepared speech. Forced by the speaker’s gavel into “collapsing my words,” his comments had come out differently than planned, Dornan said.
Still, an apology was “not necessary,” the congressman said. “Anyone who knows my record on Soviet Jewry, anti-Semitism, human rights, knows where I’m coming from.”
Dornan’s remarks came during a speech on the House floor in which he complained that the ABC television network had given air time Wednesday to Soviet commentator Vladimir Posner. ABC had interviewed the American-born Posner, now a Soviet citizen, immediately following President Reagan’s nationally televised address Wednesday on the U.S. defense budget.
President Reagan and several top aides also objected Thursday to Posner’s appearance on ABC, but White House officials reportedly were quick to distance themselves from Dornan’s remarks.
In his brief speech Thursday, Dornan berated “this little flunky, ‘Vlady’ (who) sits there and calls our President a liar. I’m tired of having my government insulted by paid communist toadies. Let’s put a stop to it,” Dornan said. “Vladimar Posner was born a Jew. And he covers anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.”
Dornan then called Posner, “this disloyal, betraying little Jew who sits there on television claiming that he is somehow or other a newsman. It’s an affront to decency and to Jewish people all around the world.”
Dornan said Thursday that a complete version of his speech will appear in the Congressional Record and will clarify his intent. Had his floor time not run out, Dornan said his speech would have read: “Here is a betrayer, a disloyal Jew, a turncoat, a Jew who oppresses fellow Jews.” But as the speaker’s gavel sounded, Dornan said he condensed his remarks. “I didn’t even know I’d said . . . this sentence with the ‘little Jew,’ ” Dornan said, until after he had left the floor and Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.) asked him about it.
‘That’s Not Good Enough’
But Dornan’s explanation did not satisfy some Orange County Jewish leaders. “I would say that’s not good enough, Mr. Dornan,” said Rabbi George Schlessinger, president of the Orange County Board of Rabbis. “You should know that turn of phrase (little Jew) is one anti-Semites have used for centuries.”
Added Hinda Beral, Newport Beach area director for the American Jewish Committee: “I don’t think that’s a good explanation. It’s not an apology. And whatever his explanation is, it was an anti-Semitic statement.”
Before Dornan offered an explanation, Beral issued a written statement, saying that “If Mr. Dornan did make these remarks, we in the Jewish community are deeply offended.”
“Bigotry has no place in the American political process. These comments are clearly anti-Semitic,” Beral’s statement continued. “We hope Mr. Dornan will reconsider his ill-advised comments and publicly express an apology to Jews and other Americans who are outraged by all forms of prejudice.”
Times staff writer Eleanor Clift contributed to this story from Washington.