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Appeals to Anti-Semitism, Racism, Mar Democratic Congressional Race

A Tennessee congressional candidate is being criticized for not disavowing a flier that says the incumbent and Jews hate Jesus.

“Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen and the Jews HATE Jesus,” says the flier, reportedly distributed by a “Rev. George Brooks” in Murfreesboro, Tenn., which is 210 miles from Memphis and outside Cohen’s district.

A Feb. 13 Memphis Commercial-Appeal editorial criticized Nikki Tinker, an African-American labor lawyer challenging Cohen in an Aug. 5 Democratic primary, for failing to denounce appeals to race and anti-Semitism that could benefit her politically.

Cohen told the Commerical-Appeal the flier “obviously needs to be condemned and people need to be vigilant against all forms of racism.”

Cohen, a freshman congressman, was elected two years ago to a seat left vacant when its incumbent, Rep. Harold Ford, ran for the U.S. Senate. The 2006 Senate race was marked by accusations of race baiting by the campaign of Ford’s opponent and eventual winner, Sen. Bob Corker, who is white. According to her Web site, Tinker served four years as Ford’s campaign manager.

“Race has no place in politics,” said Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics. “Republican race baiting in Tennessee two years ago against Harold Ford was wrong. And regrettably, Tennessee’s white clergy remained shamefully silent.”

“I hope African-American clergy will condemn expressions of anti-Semitism and racism directed at Steve Cohen in this year’s Democratic primary,” Parham said. “Hate speech is morally wrong. It does nothing but degrade the advancement of the common good.”

The Anti-Defamation League called the flier “contemptible for a number of reasons.”

“It makes an outrageously false claim about Jews’ attitudes toward Jesus, and it attempts to drive a potentially dangerous wedge and incite tensions between African-Americans and Jews in Memphis,” said ADL Southeast Regional Director Bill Nigut.

Elected in a district that is 60 percent black, Cohen, who is white, is used to tension from constituents who preferred his seat to remain in the hands of an African-American. Several members of the Black Baptist Ministerial Association took him to task last summer for his support of federal hate-crimes legislation. “He’s not black, and he can’t represent me,” complained Rev. Robert Poindexter of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church. “That’s just the bottom line.”

Not much has been reported about George Brooks, the self-identified minister who is listed as contact person on the flier. The Associated Press talked to a woman at the phone number listed on the flier, but she said he was out of town and subsequent calls and messages were unanswered.

Google searches showed a Rev. George Brooks’ name on a 2007 letter to the editor of the Middle Tennessee State University student newspaper announcing he was about to start a new publication after complaining to Murfreesboro’s Daily News Journal about using a student columnist with no experience and one-sided views that Brooks said many viewed as “too conservative” and “somewhat racist.”

Brooks also weighed in on a campus controversy over debate about whether to rename a building named after Civil War general Nathan Bedford Forrest.

“Nathan Bedford Forrest was a racist coward, who had a huge number of black Union soldiers killed while in captivity by the racist white trash rascals serving under him,” Brooks wrote. “And you and others in defense of this racist thing are attempting to avoid the Fort Pillow issue, or twist it around as not being that important with lies. A trait that white folks are famous for, while falsely pretending to be followers of Christ.”

A Web site attributes comments to Brooks including criticism of “black men who are leaving black women and ‘lusting’ after any and everything that’s white and female” and arguments that Jesus, Adam and Eve were all black.

The Commercial-Appeal reported Feb. 12 that Tinker did not respond to a reporter’s call but her spokesman said Tinker’s campaign was not involved in the flier.

“Oh, my God; are you kidding me? Are you even calling me asking that?” asked Washington-based spokesman Cornell Belcher. “This is an absurd question. Of course we wouldn’t have anything to do with that. I don’t even know what you’re talking about but, no, we would have nothing to do with that.”

But nearly a week later, the candidate still hadn’t spoken publicly about the flier. The Feb. 13 Commercial-Appeal editorial accused Tinker of dodging the question of what she thought about “anti-Semitic literature being circulated that might help her unseat 9th District Congressman Steve Cohen in the Democratic primary next August?”

“The question goes to the character of the woman who wants to represent the 9th District, and 9th District voters deserve an answer,” the editorial said, adding that Tinker declined to return a phone call about the flier and quoting her spokesman as saying her campaign would denounce it but hadn’t seen it.

Running for office, Cohen pledged to become the first white member of the Congressional Black Caucus but after assuming office dropped his bid, saying several current and former members made it clear he wasn’t welcome because he is white.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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