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The CORE Issue

Put Hillary in a room with Suha Arafat or Al Sharpton and there's a festival of finger-wagging; so why the silence when Rudy dines with Roy Innis and Jörg Haider?

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So finally, fifteen days after the mayor shook the hand of Austrian nationalist Jörg Haider at a dinner -- fifteen days after the mayor was introduced to Haider as a man who'd been in the Olympics (the mayor's account, even though the Associated Press reported that the dinner's host had retailed Haider's notoriety from the podium) -- Rudy Giuliani has finally denounced the man's politics. Not unexpected. One can't truly imagine that the mayor who kicked Arafat out of a concert would carry much of a brief for a fellow who once said the Waffen SS were just loyal and honorable soldiers.

But fifteen days?

The episode is worth considering not because the mayor coddles anti-Semites but because it tells us a lot about how he manages to control the local press -- and about how we play along. Giuliani met Haider at the Congress of Racial Equality's annual Martin Luther King Day dinner, the same day Hillary Clinton attended an MLK event at Al Sharpton's National Action Network. Everybody in America who wants to know it knows that one of Sharpton's board members made a vulgar reference that day to having been fired by "two Jews." And though Clinton haters haven't quite been able to use the episode against Hillary as they'd wish, the conventional wisdom on that situation has become Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.

But somehow, Rudy doesn't get fleas, and certain questions never get asked (credit for keeping the Haider story alive goes to Bill Mazer of WEVD-AM, on whose morning show, I should note, I appear regularly). Because the mayor steers clear of Sharpton and his ilk, you say? Well, suppose Giuliani had attended a King dinner hosted by a man who'd done any of the following:

* Referred to the fight against apartheid as "the so-called anti-apartheid struggle," which has "no honest base" and is "a vicarious, romantic adventure."

* Testified in a federal court that he'd seen no evidence of anti-Semitism in the Lyndon LaRouche organization, well after LaRouche's Holocaust denial was a matter of public record.

* Invited to previous MLK dinners such widely known admirers of Dr. King as Georgia Republican Bob Barr and garbage-talk host Bob Grant.

* Said of Idi Amin's Uganda that "Ugandans are happy under General Amin's rule of Africa for black Africans," presumably meaning those who remained after the slaughter of some 300,000; hailed Amin's decision to expel 50,000 Asians from Uganda as "a bold step" because "a country's economy is too important to be left in the hands of foreigners"; honored Amin with a lifetime membership in his organization; and added, apropos Amin's hatred of Jews and praise of Hitler, that "we have no records to prove if Hitler was a friend or an enemy of black people."

Suppose Rudy had attended a dinner given by such a host? Well, he did. Roy Innis, the national director of core, has said all those things and more. (When I interviewed Innis last week, he "categorically" denied making any such remark about Hitler; I have here a book, The New Anti-Semitism, written in 1974 by Arnold Foster and Benjamin R. Epstein, in which the remark is quoted on page 186 from an interview Innis gave to Africa Report in 1973, and duly footnoted. You be the judge.) Now, what was that about dogs and fleas?

What do we suppose the press reaction would have been if Hillary had shaken the hand of Herr Haider and then spent fifteen long days ignoring the matter and blithely asserting she didn't know who he was?

Why Roy Innis even continues to exist as a public figure is a fascinating question -- core, whose glorious history includes organizing Freedom Rides, has in the Innis era been best known for speculation about what it actually accomplishes and what happens with the copious largesse showered upon it by various corporations. One suspects that if they put their minds to it, the people in the attorney general's charities bureau could shutter core in two years tops (Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office says the group hasn't filed the forms required annually of nonprofit organizations in two years). This column can't answer the Innis question, but it can raise a few others. To start with, what's the rationale for inviting a man such as Haider to a dinner honoring Dr. King?

"For the exact reason that Christ invited sinners," Innis says. Haider, Innis says, has expressed contrition. Innis adds that he "forced a confrontation," on December 4, between Haider and his detractors in the media and the Jewish community. He wouldn't name said members of the Jewish community, and the promised faxed list of attendees somehow never arrived. In any event, contrition has not been terribly evident in the case of Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker, whom Innis says he also invited to the event. And to go Rocker one (at least one) better -- hold on to your hat -- Innis says, "I'm going to invite David Duke to my next one, because I hope I can have an impact on his life."

Second question: Why does the mayor even attend the core dinner? It might just be that he needs someplace to go on King day -- he turned down an invitation to the Brooklyn Academy of Music fête, and he didn't attend a single event in an actual black neighborhood. An appearance with Innis makes a helpful photograph, at least to people who don't know anything about him. Those who do know understand that Innis has no black constituency at all. Twice, he's had a chance to prove the existence of a black base by running for office. In 1986, in a mostly black congressional district against incumbent Major Owens, he was clobbered by a three-to-one margin. In 1993, he challenged David Dinkins in the Democratic mayoral primary. He got a respectable 25 percent of the vote, but his highest totals came in white areas and his absolute lowest in black Assembly districts, where he did well to get more than a few hundred votes. (By the way, Democrats show up at the Innis dinner, too -- notably Peter Vallone and Chuck Schumer, although Schumer didn't go this year.

Finally, third question: What do we suppose the press reaction would have been like if Hillary Clinton's MLK Day hosts had a track record of statements similar to those made by Innis, particularly with regard to Hitler, or indeed if she'd shaken the hand of Herr Haider and then spent fifteen long days ignoring the matter and saying she didn't know who he was before finally denouncing him? That's one that answers itself.

Surely Mrs. Clinton ought to be asked lots of questions about lots of things. But that doesn't mean her opponent should be able to duck a question for two weeks about a man whose role in the government of a European ally will impinge rather more directly on the deliberations of the United States Senate than Al Sharpton ever will. There are dogs, and fleas, on both sides of this barn.

E-mail: tomasky@aol.com


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