In an effort to discredit Democrats, conservatives and Republican Jewish leaders jumped on reports — later denied — that the nation’s most prominent anti-war activist had blamed Israel for America’s war in Iraq.
The controversy surrounded remarks allegedly made by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of fallen Army Specialist Casey Sheehan, who was killed last year in Iraq. Sheehan is camping out near President Bush’s Texas ranch and demanding to meet with him.
According to several media reports, at an August 6 conference organized by Veterans for Peace, Sheehan called on Bush to “get America out of Iraq and Israel out of Palestine and you’ll stop the terrorism.”
In recent days, conservative bloggers also have been circulating an e-mail that Sheehan allegedly sent in March to the ABC News program “Nightline,” accusing America of going to war to advance a “neocon” agenda and to “benefit Israel.” The e-mail, sent from Sheehan’s account, also stated: “My son joined the Army to protect America, not Israel.”
Speaking to the Forward through a spokesman Tuesday, Sheehan denied writing the letter and said that someone who hacked into her e-mail account sent it.
In an interview Monday night with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Sheehan denied making the statements. “I didn’t — I didn’t say — I didn’t say that my son died for Israel. I’ve never said that,” Sheehan said.
Later, during the CNN interview, she said, “Talking about other things has distracted us from our original mission.” She added that she needed to “refocus” on her main objective: bringing home the troops.
On Monday, the Republican Jewish Coalition issued a statement criticizing Democrats for “making Cindy Sheehan their spokesman and avatar of their views.” The coalition also stated: “We see her as yet another example of how critics of Israel within the Democratic Party have taken control of the party’s agenda.”
Democrats rejected such efforts to tar them, with some turning the tables on their Republican critics.
In an interview with the Forward, Democratic media strategist Joe Trippi, who has worked with Sheehan, criticized the Republican Jewish Coalition’s statement. He rejected it as “another Republican weird attack to drive a wedge between the Jewish community and the Democratic Party.”
Trippi said he supports Sheehan as a mother who lost her son and who wants to hear the truth about why her son was killed. “I don’t agree with her statements on Israel,” he said, “but that has nothing to do with her wanting to speak with the president. I would be supporting a mother who voted for Richard Nixon.”
Trippi said he has received a slew of hate e-mail accusing him of antisemitism because of his support for Sheehan. Citing the e-mails, Trippi called the whole affair “the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen.”
Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council said that Sheehan’s quote, if verifiable, is “pretty wrongheaded,” but that “it’s laughable to tie this to the Democratic Party.”
“Yesterday it was Democrats and ‘godless secularism,’ today it’s Democrats and Sheehan, and tomorrow it could be Democrats and space aliens. I feel sorry for Republican operatives who are trying to make this link,” Forman said. “This woman has caused them anguish, and they do the only thing they know how. They strike back, and it’s ludicrous.”
In response to the RJC’s release, Forman pointed to former Republican candidate and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who has praised Sheehan’s “courage to state the obvious, that her son signed up in the military to protect America not to die for Israel.”
Forman said it would be “equally plausible or more plausible for me to say that because David Duke endorsed it, that that represents the Republican Party.”
The RJC release, signed by the organization’s executive director, Matt Brooks, described Sheehan as “the voice of Democrat opposition to war” and said that “if Cindy Sheehan’s ideas are what the Democrats have to offer, then more and more American Jews will continue to see that there is no place for them in the Democratic Party.”
According to Sheehan, the ultimate objective of her campaign is to commemorate the fallen and call for an end to the war, to bring the troops home. Her efforts have generated a national effort in which more than 1,000 candlelight vigils were scheduled to be held in communities across the United States this week.
During a telephone press conference Tuesday, Sheehan called right-wing attacks against her “despicable” and said she finds it “ironic that they scrutinize everything I’ve ever said.”
Reporters questioned Sheehan about some of her more controversial statements, such as her assertion that she will not pay taxes “to fund a country that spends most of their money on making war and making things to kill people.” Sheehan’s alleged statements regarding Israel were not raised.