DNC candidate Ellison slams 'smear' he is antisemitic -- The JPost
WASHINGTON -- Keith Ellison, a congressman from Minnesota running to chair the Democratic National Committee, defended himself against charges of antisemitism on Wednesday night at a CNN town hall by citing broad Jewish American support for his candidacy nationwide.
The congressman has come under scrutiny after writings from his early life surfaced in recent months, revealing his skepticism toward the idea that the idea of Zionism cannot be questioned.
While several liberal Jewish organizations and individuals support his candidacy– including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer– many non-partisan groups have questioned his record, and whether his prior comments comprise his eligibility for the top role.
"Theses are false allegations," Ellison said on Wednesday night, speaking in a debate format on a CNN program. "These are smears, and we're fighting back every day."
The network's Chris Cuomo quoted back to Ellison several verses of his writings on Zionism, and questioned whether he would support the state of Israel.
"I have been a stalwart champion of the two-state solution," he said, characterizing the policy as a "key cornerstone of my advocacy" on the conflict. He vowed to maintain bipartisan support for the Jewish state if chosen as DNC chair.
Ellison has convinced many of his colleagues, with whom he has personally worked over several years, that he is sufficiently supportive of the Jewish state. The congressman points to his voting record on US foreign and military aid as proof of his credentials. Yet in recent months, his past statements and positions on Israel have become the primary obstacle to his election as chair of the Democratic National Committee.
The first Muslim elected to Congress has over several decades praised the Nation of Islam and its leader, Louis Farrakhan, who in the words of the Anti-Defamation League "has embarked on a wide-ranging campaign specifically targeting the Jewish community." Ellison has recently expressed regret over his defense of Farrakhan in the 1990s, but Ellison's own writings reveal that he has, at least at one point in the past, entertained a similar worldview.
"Whether one supports or opposes the establishment of Israel in Palestine and Israel's present policies, Zionism, the ideological undergirding of Israel, is a debatable political philosophy," Ellison wrote in 1990, protesting the University of Minnesota's criticism of a campus visit by Stokely Carmichael, who famously claimed that Zionists collaborated with Nazis during World War II.
"The university's position appears to be this," Ellison continued: "Political Zionism is off-limits no matter what dubious circumstances Israel was founded under; no matter what the Zionists do to the Palestinians; and no matter what wicked regimes Israel allies itself with — like South Africa. This position is untenable."
His writings and statements later in life suggest a consistency in this political belief well beyond the '90s.
"The United States' foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad through a country of 7 million people," he said at a 2010 fundraiser for his reelection hosted by a man named Esam Omeish, who had three years prior faced controversy for telling Palestinians that "jihad way is the way to liberate your land."
"A region of 350 million all turns on a country of 7 million. Does that make sense? Is that logic?" Ellison continued. "When the Americans who trace their roots back to those 350 million get involved, everything changes. Can I say that again?"
During the same event, Ellison suggested the US foster closer ties with Saudi Arabia and Libya, which at the time remained under the dictatorial leadership of Muammar Gaddafi.
And in 2014, Ellison was only one of seven House members to vote against supplementary funding for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system– a vote he cast during an emergency ballot, when the country was enduring over 4,000 rocket strikes by Hamas.
Confident they have identified a pattern in Ellison's statements and behavior, Jewish American groups are now piling on Democratic members of Congress to block his appointment as DNC chair. And their pressure appears to be building by the day.
While it comes as no surprise that GOP-affiliated groups have targeted the Democrat from Minnesota– the Republican Jewish Coalition calls his record "disturbing"– more notable is the vocal opposition coming out of Democratic organizations that have long been reticent to weigh in on intra-party politics.
In a rare statement, the National Jewish Democratic Council said it was "troubled" by Ellison's comments and said the position should be filled by someone who can serve on a "full-time basis"– an increasingly popular way for Democratic individuals and organizations to oppose Ellison's appointment without criticizing him personally.
"It should be a full-time position, and therefore no elected official should be DNC chair as it would be part-time for them," said one top aide to Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, a top Democratic member who has long prioritized Israel policy. "Next year the Democrats will have no control over the House, Senate, or Presidency, so we really should have someone who can focus all of their attention and effort on running the DNC, full-time."
Several other Jewish members of Congress tell The Jerusalem Post that they are concerned with Ellison's candidacy, but are hesitant to take their questions public.
"When voices for Jewish Democrats, which have been outspoken in their support for President Obama, criticize the leading candidate for DNC chair, people listen," said a Democratic source familiar with the inner workings of the race for DNC chair. "As much as right wingers or anti-Obama pro-Israel types have yelled about Keith, it's important to remember that at the end of the day, the most partisan Democrats are electing their leader– and they just don't care what anti-Obama partisans think."
Other Democrats are taking a less diplomatic approach.
"If you go back to his positions, his statements, his speeches, the way's he voted, he's clearly an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual," Haim Saban, a billionaire and Democratic megadonor who generously gave to Clinton this election cycle, said before a baffled crowd of top Democratic lawmakers in December, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. "Keith Ellison would be a disaster for the relationship between the Jewish community and the Democratic Party."
The Anti-Defamation League has characterized Ellison's past comments as "disqualifying." Some Democrats see the ADL playing politics: Caucus leadership believes the non-profit is seeking to demonstrate balance after harshly criticizing President-elect Donald Trump's appointment of Stephen Bannon, whose career tracks with the rise of the white nationalist and antisemitic alt right movement.
"My record proves my deep and long-lasting support for Israel, and I have always fought antisemitism, racism, sexism and homophobia," he said. "I believe that this is an attempt by right-wing interests to drive a wedge between longstanding allies in the fight for equal rights."
And at least one Jewish group is standing with him.
"J Street has always stood for open debate, and we welcome and respect disagreements over policy questions," the group said in a statement. "But responsible leaders in the American Jewish community must take care not to charge that those who are critical of certain Israeli government policies are 'anti-Israel,' or worse, and thus not 'qualified' to hold high national office. It is time to put away the old playbook."
The DNC will select its next chairman this month.