Real News 24/7


September 27, 2003

Wesley Clark is fourth Democratic candidate touting his Jewish connections

by Ken Francis

Part I: Descended from the priestly caste of Kohen   Part II:  Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the most kosher of them all?  Part III: The Clinton Factor   Part IV: Calling General Backtrack!   Part V: Waco and Kosovo and Part VI: coming soon

"That's the big thing this season, Jewish ancestry."

—Wesley Clark on
running for president

You don't need to be Jewish to be running as a Democrat for president, but it doesn't hurt!  No fewer than four candidates have Jewish ties and in some cases, at least, the controlled news media have made much of the fact.

When Joe Lieberman ran as Al Gore's running mate in the 2000 election, his standing as an Orthodox Jew was widely reported, as was his place in history as the first openly Jewish candidate on major party ticket. (Who is Joe Lieberman?) This time around he's seeking the White House.

John Kerry, who regularly had been referred to in articles as being Irish-Catholic, shocked the political world last February, when he announced that  his immigrant grandfather was an Czech Jew named Kohn, who later changed his name to Kerry. And Kerry added that his paternal grandmother was also of Jewish descent. ('Irish-American' Kerry's Jewish roots revealed)

When candidate Howard Dean's wife has been mentioned, it's usually as Mrs. Judy Dean, but at her office, she's known as Dr. Judith Steinberg. Although Dean is an ex-Catholic who now identifies his faith as Congregationalist, his spouse is considered a "devout Jew" and their children are being raised as Jews. (The Unlikely Rise of Howard Dean)   

The latest candidate with a Jewish connection to throw his hat into the ring is retired General Wesley K. Clark (photo, right).  According to some Jewish news sources, the telegenic former NATO commander during the Bosnian War (who some have accused of war crimes) and a player in the deadly assault of the Branch Davidians in Waco proudly boasts of coming from sturdy rabbinical stock.

Part I: Descended from the priestly caste of Kohen

In an article on Baltimore's Jewish Times website, reporter Ron Kampeas began with what for many readers may be something of a surprise:

Raised a Southern Baptist who later converted to Roman Catholicism, Gen. Wesley Clark knew just what to say when he strode into a Brooklyn yeshiva in 1999, ostensibly to discuss his leadership of NATO's victory in Yugoslavia.

"I feel a tremendous amount in common with you," the uniformed four-star general told the stunned roomful of students. "I am the oldest son, of the oldest son, of the oldest son -- at least five generations, and they were all rabbis." (Wesley Clark's Jewish roots This past March, Clark conceded that he might be wrong about the line of "rabbis" among his Jewish ancestors, but apparently Kampeas doesn't know this or doesn't want to leave out a spicy detail. See Wesley Clark still on maneuvers for clarification.)

Later, Clark elaborated on his background when interviewed by a Jewish publication:

He told The Jewish Week in New York, which first reported the yeshiva comment in 1999, that his ancestors were not just Jews, but members of the priestly caste of Kohens.

Clark's Jewish father, Benjamin Kanne, died when he was 4, but he has kept in touch with his father's family since his 20s, when he rediscovered his Jewish roots. He is close to a first cousin, Barry Kanne, who heads a pager company in Georgia.

"Apparently Clark, 58, revels in his Jewish roots," writes Kampeas, who notes that he is a staunch supporter of Israel, who also "favors many of the liberal views popular with many Jews. He is pro-choice, and is strongly in favor of separating church from state." (In other words, he supports a social policy that is, in practical terms, atheistic.)

Concerning Clark's ancestery, Lowell Ponte, writing for Front Page magazine, adds:

Wesley’s grandfather’s name had been Jacob Nemerovsky when he fled from Russian pogroms in the 1890s to Switzerland, where he obtained a false passport with the family name Kanne with which he immigrated to the United States.

General Wesley Clark speaks fluent Russian and could become the first American President to do so. Why he has not boasted of this in campaigning for Leftist Democratic support is a mystery. (Wesley Clark: General Issues Ponte notes that Clark's middle initial stands for Kanne, a detail left unmentioned in the "Meet the General" section of, the official website of the Clark campaign. The biography there is so sketchy as to make no mention whatsoever of his birth or upbringing.)

But there are other connections, too, however. Kampeas writes that

Two of Clark's top advisers are Jews who had prominent roles in the Clinton and Gore campaigns. Eli Segal was a top adviser to President Clinton in his first term; Ron Klain helped run Vice President Al Gore's 2000 campaign.

Having Jewish advisers, then, is definitely keeping with the times, but it is not nearly as trendy for the Democrats as being a Jew or at least having one in your family. "That's the big thing this season, Jewish ancestry," Clark said back in March, when he was still in the ranks of the undeclared. Commenting on this remark, the Washington Post asked:

Why would Clark mention his Jewish heritage in the context of it being "the big thing this season" if he weren't placing himself in the context of the presidential field? And why would anyone care about Clark's ancestry if he were not a candidate for president, or vice president, or perhaps a Cabinet post? (Wesley Clark still on maneuvers These questions call to mind other ones that need to be covered in depth, such as: Why and how did being Jewish all of a sudden become the "in" thing for Democratic candidates? As opposed, say, to Catholic or Seventh Day Adventist?)

Now that these questions have been answered with Clark's throwing his hat (or "yarmulke," to use the Post's quip) into the ring, the question becomes not: "Is he Jewish?" but "Is he Jewish enough?"

Part II:  Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the most kosher of them all?

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