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Kucinich Withdraws as Palm Beach County Democratic Keynoter Amid Uproar over His Israel Stance

by George Bennett

U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich lasted less than 24 hours as headliner for the Palm Beach County Democratic Party's annual fundraising dinner after some of the party's elected officials blasted the Ohio Democrat's stance on Israel and threatened to skip the event.

Dennis Kucinich Kucinich, who has a history of criticizing the actions of the Israeli government and opposing congressional resolutions in support of Israel, withdrew Friday as the keynote speaker for next week's dinner after being announced Thursday.

The liberal former presidential candidate had been called in as a last-minute replacement for moderate Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu. Landrieu was dropped as keynoter this week because party activists were upset by her refusal to commit to blocking a Republican filibuster of health care overhaul legislation.

While Landrieu was the target of behind-the-scenes grumbling, Kucinich sparked public revolt.

State Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, said Friday he was withdrawing his pledge to buy a $1,500 table for the dinner and would encourage other Democrats to boycott the event because of Kucinich's record on Israel.

State Sen. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, who's running for the seat that U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler is vacating, called Kucinich "someone whose position on Israel stands in total opposition to the conscience of this community."

County Commissioner Burt Aaronson called the selection of Kucinich "an absolute horror" and said he would refuse to share the podium with him.

Kucinich has opposed sanctions against the anti-Israel government of Iran. In January, he was one of only five House members to vote against a resolution condemning Hamas rocket attacks on Israel and reaffirming Israel's "right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against Hamas's unceasing aggression."

Kucinich said Friday in an e-mail to county Democratic Chairman Mark Alan Siegel that he supports the Jewish state and its right to defend itself and said his critics are "falsely characterizing me as 'anti-Israel.' "

But Kucinich said he did not want the controversy surrounding him to hinder the party's ability to raise money, so he would "humbly withdraw."

Siegel said the decision to invite Kucinich was made by a "leadership circle" of about 20 people and no one raised concerns about Kucinich's record on Israel.

Siegel heard those concerns Friday.

"People feel he's anti-Israel. I don't read it that way, but the leadership of AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and other elements of the Jewish community do and I don't want to get into an argument with them," said Siegel, who is Jewish.

Siegel said he doesn't know who the party will get as a keynote speaker for the dinner, which is scheduled for Nov. 14 at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.

The event has traditionally been called the Jefferson-Jackson dinner, but the name was changed this year to the Truman-Kennedy-Johnson dinner because of qualms among party activists about Thomas Jefferson's slave ownership and Andrew Jackson's Indian-removal policies.

Siegel said the nixing of two keynote speakers this week shows party leaders are listening to the concerns of Democrats.

"In both cases, the same thing happened," Siegel said. "We responded to complaints from important elements of our constituency and neither one of them is speaking."

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