In his quest to become chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) has become the victim of a witch hunt and smear campaign.
Some Jewish groups have branded the dynamic, progressive leader as an anti-Semite. This is about stifling free speech and criticism of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians — and the future of the Democratic Party itself. Ellison deserves better than this, as do black people, who have proven themselves the most loyal constituency of the Democratic Party.
Sworn into office with Thomas Jefferson’s Quran, Ellison was the first Muslim-American elected to Congress and is now one of two including Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.). He supported Bernie Sanders in his bid for the Democratic nomination for president. And aside from Sanders, he has received the endorsement of a host of lawmakers such as Sens. Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren; Reps. John Lewis, Maxine Waters and Elijah Cummings; and unions such as the AFL-CIO, the United Steelworkers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, among others.
However, as Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss reported, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Jewish civil rights organization, is leading a witch hunt against Ellison for criticizing Israeli policy, a charge made by Jeremy Ben-Ami, head of the liberal Jewish group J Street.
At issue was a speech Ellison made in 2010, in which he reportedly said that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is driven by Israel, implying that the policy was at the expense of the Arab nations in the region: “The United States foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad through a country of 7 million people. A region of 350 million all turns on a country of 7 million. Does that make sense? Is that logic? Right? When the Americans who trace their roots back to those 350 million get involved, everything changes,” Ellison reportedly said.
“Rep. Ellison’s remarks are both deeply disturbing and disqualifying,” said ADL’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. And the congressman has been targeted for once being affiliated with the Nation of Islam, for defending Min. Louis Farrakhan against charges of anti-Semitism in his writings as a student and for organizing the Minnesota delegation to the Million Man March in 1995.
In his open letter to the ADL, Ellison said his comments were “selectively edited and taken out of context by an individual the Southern Poverty Law Center has called an ‘anti-Muslim extremist.'”
Meanwhile, Haim Saban, the Israeli-American billionaire and Democratic donor who gave millions of dollars to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, said that Ellison is an anti-Semite.
“If you go back to his positions, his papers, his speeches, the way he has voted, he is clearly an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual,” Saban, who supports profiling of Muslims, said recently. “Words matter and actions matter more. Keith Ellison would be a disaster for the relationship between the Jewish community and the Democratic Party.”
However, progressive and center-left Jewish organizations, leaders and thinkers are coming to Ellison’s defense in a tidal wave of support, suggesting his views on Israel are consistent with many in the Jewish American community, including younger people, and that the Israel lobby does not speak for them. And some writers, such as Michelle Goldberg in Slate and Jesse Myerson in the Washington Post, even used the word “apartheid” to describe Israel.
The Movement for Black Lives received condemnation from some establishment Jewish organizations for using the words “apartheid” and “genocide” to describe the Israeli policy towards the Palestinians and expressed support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against the Israeli occupation:
The US military accounts for over 50 percent of discretionary federal spending, a total of 598.5 Billion dollars spent annually, as compared to 70 billion spent on education, 66 billion spent on healthcare, $63.2 billion spent on housing and 29.1 billion spent on social security and unemployment. In addition, approximately 3 billion dollars in US aid is allocated to Israel, a state that practices systematic discrimination and has maintained a military occupation of Palestine for decades. Together with aid to Egypt — Israel’s most important regional ally — this figure represents nearly 75 percent of all US aid dollars. As these figures demonstrate, resources and funds needed for reparations and for building a just and equitable society domestically are instead used to wage war against a majority of the world’s communities.
Meanwhile, groups such as the ADL have sought to kill the debate on U.S. Mideast foreign policy by leading an assault on the BDS movement and targeting Palestinian human rights activism on college campuses.
The ADL promoted and the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would have criminalized free speech, equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and regarding college students as the perpetrators of religiously-motivated hate crimes if they focused on human rights and peace efforts in Israel and delegitimized Israel’s status as a Jewish state. The legislation failed in the House.
Racism and anti-Semitism are on the rise in America, as are hate crimes against Muslims, Latinos, African Americans, Jews, the LGBTQ community and others. This is due to the reactionary environment that elected Donald Trump, a white supremacist to the White House.
Trump will have white nationalist propagandists, anti-Semites and Islamophobes in his government, just as he empowered a new generation of Nazis and agents of intolerance to attack racial and religious minorities. Yet, even as many Jewish liberals and progressives have resisted and protested Trump’s racism, right-wing Jewish groups have given the president-elect and his white nationalist adviser Steve Bannon a pass because of their pro-Israel stance.
Further, an umbrella group known as the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is holding its Hanukkah party at Trump’s new hotel in Washington. The RNC is holding their Christmas party at the hotel as well.
This is where Keith Ellison comes in, and let’s be real: The fascists Trump has empowered have made it clear they do not regard Jewish people of European descent as white people. For decades, anti-Semitism in the U.S. had waned, and Ashkenazi Jewish-Americans — as opposed to Jews of color who face racism in the U.S. and in Israel — had arrived, accepting their white card and all the benefits it bestows.
But in the face of the Trump onslaught of white power coming from the White House, Jewish Americans must find common cause and unite with others who are also under siege, including black folks, Muslims, Latinos and immigrants.
ADL conjuring up the black Muslim boogeyman — as fascists take over the White House — only undermines efforts to work together to fight our common enemy. Silencing criticism of Israel by scapegoating Keith Ellison as an anti-Semite is an insult, reflecting a Democratic Party held captive by old thinking and big money — a winning strategy for losing more elections.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove