Hillary 'Banned' In Crown Heights

The First Lady's embrace of Former Mayor David Dinkins ignites an orthodox Jewish backlash

In the latest political storm swirling about Hillary Rodham Clinton's likely senate candidacy, the crown heights Jewish community council has branded the first lady an "anti-semite" and "banned" her from visiting the hasidic stronghold because of her rapprochement with former mayor David Dinkins, the Voice has learned.

The powerful ultra-orthodox group, which shapes the political opinions of some 18,000 members of the Lubavitcher Hasidic sect, advises Mrs. Clinton not even to attempt to seek its endorsement. The Council's anti-Hillary sentiment is reminiscent of Ed Koch's statement during the 1988 New York presidential primary that "Jews and supporters of Israel would be crazy to vote for Jesse Jackson." In the last general election, Jews overall accounted for one of eight votes cast in New York. Although Lubavitchers are a tiny minority of Jews in the city, they influence a larger Jewish constituency.

The ban and the advisory— more symbolic than enforceable— are not the only extremist responses fueling Lubavitcher backlash politics in Crown Heights, which is also home to an estimated 150,000 African Americans.

In an early test of wills, the Council says it will caution its black political allies, such as Assemblyman Clarence Norman, the Brooklyn Democratic boss— who is expected to campaign in the racial hotbed for Mrs. Clinton— that it will not entertain any entreaties from them on her behalf. "There are a lot of nice black politicians who support Hillary Clinton, but they come to me when they want to meet," claims Chanina Sperlin, the blunt-talking point man for the Council. "If they try to seek a meeting with me about her, I won't accept it."

Mired in the fallout, too, are the election chances of some black candidates who have been aggressively courting "the Jewish vote." Hasidic support appears to be in jeopardy with Council leaders declaring they will require political hopefuls and incumbents to make plain their positions on the allegation that Dinkins did not do enough to protect Jews during deadly race riots in Crown Heights eight years ago.

Council leaders say Crown Heights Jews felt "100 percent" insulted upon learning last week, in a story first reported by the Voice, that Mrs. Clinton had assured Dinkins he will play a prominent role in her campaign.

"She will never get a meeting here in Crown Heights!" vows Sperlin. "She is not welcome! I will give you a million dollars if she gets a meeting with the Jewish community. She is an anti-Semite. She doesn't have the tact to be a senator. Let her go back to Arkansas. She doesn't know the first thing about New York."

What would happen if Mrs. Clinton bypasses the Council and reaches out to less confrontational Jewish leaders in Crown Heights? "My community is solid," Sperlin boasts. "Anybody who wants a meeting comes through me. If it's another Jewish activist, he comes to me."

It seems that every time the First Lady flies into New York, she is engulfed in the turbulence of a crosswind landing. Every special-interest group demands that she touch down in its backyard— or else. Charges of preferential treatment began to dog Mrs. Clinton in Crown Heights two weeks ago after she appeared at the Concord Baptist Church in mostly black Bedford-Stuyvesant, the first New York City stop on her so-called listening tour. "Hillary Clinton was about 15 minutes away from Crown Heights," declares the combative Sperlin, contending that a meeting with Hasidic Jews apparently was not a top priority for Clinton organizers.

"She showed her true colors, not that she had to show it," he asserts. "We all knew what her color was before she did."

Before Mrs. Clinton announced that she might run for the Senate in New York, many Orthodox Jews had been suspicious of her. But like any Senate candidate from New York, she is courting the state's influential Jewish vote.

Recently, the Methodist Mrs. Clinton revealed through Howard Wolfson, a spokesman for her exploratory committee, that members of her family were Jewish. When Wolfson told The Forward, a Jewish weekly, that Mrs. Clinton "has very fond memories" of her step-grandfather, Max Rosenberg— a Russian-born Jew— Jews like Sperlin reacted in disgust.

"How many years has she been in the White House?" the activist asks. "Did we ever hear about those Jewish roots before? Why not? It's because she wants something from the Jewish community at large. This is plain bullshit!"

Mrs. Clinton angered potential Jewish voters last year by voicing support for a Palestinian state. The Palestinians intend to establish a state on the West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in Jerusalem. In an about-face, Mrs. Clinton recently told Jewish leaders she considers Jerusalem "the eternal and indivisible capital" of Israel. She has also said she favors moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Sperlin describes Mrs. Clinton as a "two-faced" politician who, in effect, flip-flopped on the question of Jerusalem. "The place where my forefathers are buried? I should give this away? I mean, is she nuts? When you lie once you can't be trusted . . . ," he says, referring to her statements on Palestinian statehood and Jerusalem. "She went against the Israeli government."

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