We’ve been following the race of Keith Ellison, a former fellow-traveller of the Nation of Islam who will almost surely become the first Muslim elected to Congress this November. In our pages this week, we have a story about the support that the National Jewish Democratic Coalition is throwing behind Ellison, even as Jewish Democrats in the state legislator’s Minneapolis district remain divided.
Here’s another voice in the Democrats Against Ellison camp. The opinion piece appeared in the local Jewish newspaper, the American Jewish World, which earlier published an editorial supporting the Ellison.
Reprinted from the American Jewish World newspaper September 29, 2006
Why this loyal Jewish DFLer can’t support Keith Ellison
By FRED M. B. AMRAM
State Rep. Keith Ellison, candidate for Congress in Minnesota's Fifth Congressional District, has a history. Some argue that attacks on Ellison's history are mean-spirited, racist or right-wing trash. And yet, I believe that one's life choices speak to character and, perhaps, predict future choices. My own history demonstrates why these words are difficult to write and why, despite being a loyal Democrat, I cannot support Ellison. First, I need to build some credibility as a Democrat. I've been a DFL loyalist since the late 1950s. I've chaired congressional district conventions and served as co-chair of a Minnesota state convention. I've been a member of the DFL State Central Committee, served as a delegate to a national Democratic convention (1968) and voted for Mondale and Ferraro in the Electoral College. I've dedicated some sweat and tears to the party, and I regularly supported endorsed candidates, but not this time. My hyperactivity in Minnesota and national politics is motivated, at least in part, by the fact that I am a naturalized U.S. citizen, a Jew born in Nazi Germany, with a memory of government gone wrong. I really care about good politics and good public policy. And I have a difficult time forgiving anti-Semites. Keith Ellison was endorsed by the Fifth District DFL convention to be the party's candidate for Congress. He won a primary election -- albeit by only 41 percent of the vote. He'll almost surely win in the November election and serve in Washington for a very long time. Yet I do not plan to vote for Keith Ellison. Ellison has not denied that he was allied with the anti-Semitic Louis Farrakhan and the racist Nation of Islam. He wants to let bygones be bygones. In a Munich bar I met a man who chose to become a Nazi because the party offered him a motorcycle. He didn't mind harming Jews because the Nazis offered something he dearly wanted. This criminal and hatemonger claims he meant no harm. It was, he said, a youthful indiscretion. My Munich bar mate wanted to let bygones be bygones. Shall I forgive and forget? Shall I forget my cousin who died in a gas chamber at age three? Shall I forget my grandmother? My aunts and uncles? Shall I let bygones be bygones? Never. Ellison, as an adult, without coercion, chose to join a group of hatemongers. And now he wants me to forgive and forget. As a congressman he might serve for decades making decisions about themes that we cannot yet anticipate. If he demonstrates poor judgment in the recent past, can I trust his judgment in the future? I could forgive some indiscretions. I could forgive his numerous unpaid parking tickets, for which he briefly lost his driving privieges, if that were his only indiscretion. I could forgive his problems with the state campaign finance board for not filing financial reports, so egregious that he received a rare fine, if that were his only indiscretion. I could forgive his "forgetting" to pay taxes. I could forgive much of Ellison's history, if there were fewer indiscretions. Under no circumstances can I forgive anti-Semitism. Jews around the world are now in a holy period. The days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are a time when we forgive and seek forgiveness. To forgive Keith Ellison and to accept his apologies would be appropriate for a Jew at this time. And yet this Jewish Refugee from Nazi Germany, traditionally a loyal DFLer, cannot find it in his heart to forgive. Mel Gibson also apologized and told us that he meant no harm. I wouldn't vote for Gibson either--even if he were an endorsed, loyal member of the Democratic Party. I've been asked why many Jews in the Fifth District support Ellison? Perhaps it is that some Jews, born in the U.S., are more forgiving. Perhaps they forget more easily than those of us who were witnesses.
Fred M.B. Amram is the Morse Alumni Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Creativity and Communication at the University of Minnesota