US Senator Joseph Lieberman ceded no ground in his vocal support of Israel on Friday, drawing a hostile reaction as he addressed a gathering of Arab-Americans in this Detroit suburb.
Lieberman, the first of seven Democratic presidential candidates scheduled to speak at the Arab American Institute's national leadership conference, refused to criticize Israeli policies and insisted on the need for Palestinians "to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure."
His comments drew such a vehement response that James Zogby, head of the Arab American Institute, had to intervene twice to calm the audience so that Lieberman could continue.
Hecklers interrupted him several times, demanding to know his position on what they described Israeli "terrorism" and on Israel's planned security fence through the West Bank. "What about the wall?" shouted one woman.
A chorus of moans could be heard when Lieberman said "the wall is temporary" and would be torn down when Israel and a contiguous Palestinian state live side-by-side in peace.
However, Lieberman won applause for criticizing the roundup of hundreds of Arabs and Muslims after Sept. 11, 2001, and for expressing outrage over remarks from a senior Pentagon intelligence official who has told Christian gatherings that Muslims worship an "idol."
"I've studied Islam. That's not just wrong. That is a desecration. The war on terrorism is a war on terrorists, not on religions," said Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew.
Arab-Americans could provide an important swing vote in Michigan and other states still considered wide open in the 2004 presidential election.
Lieberman later told reporters that he expected to face criticism from the crowd.
"I was not going to pander or waffle to please a crowd," he said of his defense of Israel.
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