The parade of unwarranted condemnations of Steve Bannon, President-elect Trump’s choice as his senior counselor, continues apace. Strangely, though, other than in some Jewish media and Republican circles, disturbing facts about Representative Keith Ellison, the Minneapolis congressman who is the leading candidate to chair the Democratic National Committee, seem to remain largely under wraps.
Mr. Ellison’s college-day flirtations with racist Louis Farrakhan’s “Nation of Islam” should not be an issue. When the Minnesota politician first ran for his congressional seat in 2006, he expressly disavowed that misjudgment, and stated that he “categorically and unequivocally reject[s] anti-Semitism in any form and from whatever source,” and admitted that he “did not adequately scrutinize the positions and statements” of the black supremacist group and its followers. He further stated clearly that “They were and are anti-Semitic, and I should have come to that conclusion earlier than I did. I regret that I didn’t.”
That apology was, and is, fully accepted. Mr. Ellison has no record whatsoever of having said or written anything anti-Semitic in nature, and has enjoyed good relationships with his Jewish constituents and with Jewish members of Congress.
None of that, though, means that he deserves to chair the DNC.
More recent political sentiments the Congressman has expressed have come to light, and are disquieting. They reveal that, despite his repeatedly declared support for Israel’s right to exist and live in peace, he harbors views on both the Mid-East and about American Jewish influence on Congress that are outside the American mainstream.
Last week, the Investigative Project on Terrorism released an audiotape from 2010 in which Representative Ellison addressed a private fundraiser for his re-election campaign. It was hosted by Esam Omeish, a past president of the Muslim American Society who was forced to resign from a Virginia state immigration panel in 2007 after he praised Palestinians for choosing “the jihad way … to liberate your land.”
On the tape, Mr. Ellison told the gathering that “The United States foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad through a country of 7 million people,” an awkward but apparent reference to Jewish Americans. He continued: “A region of 350 million all turns on a country of 7 million. Does that make sense? Is that logic? Right?” Then, encouraging his listeners to become more politically involved, he asserted, “When the Americans who trace their roots back to those 350 million get involved, everything changes.” And then, for emphasis, he calls out: “Can I say that again?”
Those comments have been regarded by some as innocuous, a simple exhortation to citizens who are sympathetic to a more “evenhanded” American Mid-East policy to become politically active. But their tone is disconcerting.
And they dovetail with what Mr. Ellison told Al Jazeera a year earlier, as Israel responded to missile fire from Hamas-controlled Gaza, that, in the United States, “the people who have a strong sympathy for the Israeli position dominate the conversation. It is really not politically safe to say there have been two sides to this.”
Mr. Ellison, moreover, was one of only eight House members to vote against increasing funding for Israel to provide added funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense program, arguing that, instead, “the U.S. government needs to be prioritizing a ceasefire between the two sides.”
He was also among Democratic delegates who wanted the party platform to omit a description of Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided capital” and remove language opposing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement targeting Israel.
None of those positions bothered the ADL, whose CEO Jonathan Greenblatt enthusiastically welcomed Mr. Ellison’s candidacy for the DNC position when it was announced. After release of the audiotape last week, however, Mr. Greenblatt acknowledged that the “new information recently… come to light… raises serious concerns about whether Rep. Ellison faithfully could represent the Democratic Party’s traditional support for a strong and secure Israel.”
He went on to withdraw support for Mr. Ellison’s bid to head the DNC, calling the congressman’s taped comments, “both deeply disturbing and disqualifying.”
For its part, the “progressive” group J Street released a statement defending Mr. Ellison against the recent “hateful attacks” on him.& The group said it was “deeply disturbed” that the congressman’s critics “have spent the last few days digging through tired claims about his past to sow tension between him and the American Jewish community. These attacks are false and unacceptable.”
The claims, though, are neither tired nor false. They are recent and accurate. They do not provide evidence that Mr. Ellison is anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. But they do show that he is not the best person to head the Democratic National Committee, at least not if the Democratic Party wishes to remain relevant to mainstream America.