The Democratic Party denounced Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan today for suggesting vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, may be more loyal to Israel than to the United States.

“I’m sure most Americans would repudiate those remarks,” said Rick Hess, deputy press secretary for the Democratic National Committee. “There is always that element in America, but it is distinctly the minority view.”

Lieberman, a two-term U.S. senator from Connecticut, is the first Jewish politician to run on a major U.S. political ticket, and says his “first and primary loyalty” is to the United States.

Nevertheless his selection by Democratic presidential hopeful Al Gore is testing the extent to which U.S. voters are comfortable with the idea of an Orthodox Jew holding the nation’s second-highest post—one in which he would assume the presidency should the commander-in-chief die in office.

Farrakhan Makes Incorrect Statement

Sharply criticised by Jewish leaders as anti-Semitic, Farrakhan on Friday questioned Lieberman’s national loyalty, asking if his religion made him more faithful to Israel or the United States, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Mr. Lieberman, as an Orthodox Jew, is also a dual citizen of Israel,” Farrakhan asserted incorrectly at a news conference. “The state of Israel is not synonymous with the United States, and the test he would probably have to pass is: Would he be more faithful to the Constitution of the United States than to the ties that any Jewish person would have to the state of Israel?”

Farrakhan’s comments come just ahead of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, where delegates will formally anoint Gore and Lieberman as their presidential ticket.

Lieberman Refutes Accusation

Appearing on CNN’s “Larry King Live” earlier this week, Lieberman rejected suggestions that his religion would influence his policies regarding Israel.

“In my work in the Senate, and if I am honored and fortunate enough to become the vice president of the United States, my first and primary loyalty is, of course, to the United States of America,” Lieberman said.

But Lieberman said he backed moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, a move analysts say could provoke a potentially explosive reaction in the Arab and Moslem world because Palestinians regard East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Israel sees the whole of Jerusalem as its “united and eternal” capital.

Lieberman has also described America as “pro-Israel.”

Farrakhan Is Not Alone

Farrakhan’s magnetism has boosted membership in the Nation of Islam to around 200,000 since he took over leadership of the group in 1978.

But he has drawn criticism for espousing black separatism and damning whites, particularly Jews. In speeches, Farrakhan has called the Jews “wicked deceivers of the American people,” the “synagogue of Satan,” and has insisted that a coterie of Jews controlled the U.S. government to the detriment of blacks.

Farrakhan’s were not the first controversial comments about Gore’s selection of a Jewish running mate.

Earlier this week, a veteran Dallas civil rights activist quit as head of the local NAACP after the national organisation rebuked him for anti-Semitic comments about Lieberman.

The activist, Lee Alcorn, said in a radio interview he was wary of Gore’s choice. “I’m concerned about, you know, any kind of Jewish candidate, you know, and I’m concerned about the Democratic Party. I’m sick of the Democratic Party taking the African-American vote for granted,” Alcorn said.

“I think we need to be very suspicious of any kind of partnerships between the Jews at that kind of level because we know that their interest primarily has to do with, you know, money and these kinds of things.”

The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) suspended Alcorn for the remarks.