A new tape in which Keith Ellison implies that Israel controls America’s policy toward the Middle East has cost the Minnesota congressman support of the Anti-Defamation League, but did not change the position of his top political supporter, Senator Chuck Schumer.
In the recording, which only 35 seconds of which were published, the Minneapolis congressman, who is the leading candidate to chair the Democratic National Committee, argues that that America’s Middle East policy is biased in favor of Israel, although it represents a small minority of the region’s population.
“The United States foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad through a country of 7 million people,” Ellison said, referring to Israel. “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. Can I say that again?”
Emergence of the new recording has reshuffled Jewish alliances backing Ellison’s bid for the Democratic Party’s leadership position.
The ADL, which had initially rejected claims that Ellison, the first Muslim American to serve in Congress, was unfit for the DNC position, is now saying that comments he made on Israel are “disqualifying.”
The group’s decision to call out Ellison was made after reviewing a recording of Ellison addressing a group of donors in 2010 that was unearthed by The Investigative Project on Terrorism.
This quote, said the ADL, “raises serious concerns about whether Rep. Ellison faithfully could represent the Democratic Party’s traditional support for a strong and secure Israel.” The group stated that “whether intentional or not,” Ellison’s comments “raise the specter of age-old stereotypes about Jewish control of our government, a poisonous myth that may persist in parts of the world where intolerance thrives, but that has no place in open societies like the U.S.”
But Ellison still has the support of his most senior Jewish backer in Democratic politics. New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the incoming Senate Majority Leader, said in a statement to the Forward that his views on Ellison have not changed. “I stand by Rep. Ellison for DNC chair,” Schumer said. “We have discussed his views on Israel at length, and while I disagree with some of his past positions, I saw him orchestrate one of the most pro-Israel platform in decades by successfully persuading other skeptical committee members to adopt such a strong platform.”
Ellison, in an open letter to ADL’s national director Jonathan Greenblatt, disputed the accuracy of the recording snippet provided by The Investigative Project, saying it was “selectively edited and taken out of context.” He explained that the quote in question was a response to a question on how Americans with roots in the Middle East engage in a more effective way in the political process. “My response was meant to encourage those in attendance to increase their level of involvement and effectiveness,” Ellison wrote. He also noted that Steven Emerson, founder of The Investigative Project was called an “anti-Muslim extremist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. “I am saddened by your statement,” he wrote to Greenblatt.
In expressing its “serious concerns” about Ellison’s “disturbing and disqualifying” comments, the ADL is marking a clear shift in course regarding the Ellison’s candidacy which had roiled the Jewish community. Initially, ADL pushed back against “innuendo or slander because of his race or his faith,” and stated that “Keith Ellison is a man of good character.”
Now, the group has reached the conclusion that his approach toward is not in line with the Democratic Party platform which states that a “strong and secure Israel is vital to the United States because we share overarching strategic interests and the common values of democracy, equality, tolerance, and pluralism.”
Conservative Jewish groups including the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Zionist Organization of America had called from the start for rejecting Ellison’s candidacy to chair the DNC, citing his positions on Israel and his past support for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who is known for his anti-Semitic views.
Nathan Guttman staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Contact Nathan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman