Nation of Islam: Keith Ellison a Coward

Keith Ellison has faced a hail of criticism from Democrats and Jewish groups for his past ties to Minister Louis Farrakhan, the firebrand leader of the Nation of Islam. Now the black nationalist group says Ellison is a hypocrite.

“There is nothing wrong with Rep. Ellison’s desire to move his party forward or his desire to help make America progress,” reads a December 7 editorial in the Final Call, the group’s official newspaper. “But he must be condemned and lambasted for trying to make his political bones by smearing the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.”

The NOI also pushed back on the years-old claims that their organization and leader promote anti-Semitism.

“Over the past 40 years, the NOI and the Minister have not harmed nor prohibited any Jewish person from exercising their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” the editorial reads.

In a speech about Israel, Farrakhan once appeared to call Judaism a “gutter religion.” The NOI leader maintains he was not talking about Judaism itself but referring to “the machinations of those who hide behind the shield of Judaism.”

Ellison was a NOI supporter 25 years ago as a young civil rights lawyer and organized a group attending the 1995 Million Man March on Washington — a nationwide protest organized by Farrakhan.

But Ellison has repeatedly denounced Farrakhan since then, as both anti-Semitic and homophobic — and has been forced again to restate his position on Farrakhan as he vies for the DNC seat.

“These men organize by sowing hatred and division, including anti-Semitism, homophobia and a chauvinistic model of manhood,” Ellison wrote again in a December 6 Star Tribune op-ed, referring to NOI. “I disavowed them long ago, condemned their views and apologized.”

The NOI editorial quoted articles that Ellison wrote for a black newspaper in 1995, in which he praised Farrakhan as a “sincere, tireless and uncompromising advocate of the black community and other oppressed peoples in America and around the world.”

Ellison apparently went by Keith X. Ellison then. The initial X is taken by NOI members to replace names seen to have been imposed by white slaveholders after their African names were taken from them. In 1995, Ellison urged members of the Jewish community to “engage in a dialogue with black people who support Minister Farrakhan.”

That’s not the tone Ellison takes now — and the NOI feels betrayed.

“If Mr. Ellison once believed those things about the Minister and changed his mind, that’s his business,” the NOI editorial reads. “We will leave Allah (God) to judge and handle the hypocrites.”

“The Minister has been a strong voice for black self-determination, a warrior against Jewish paternalism,” the editorial goes on, “and a sledge hammer against the wall of white supremacy and neo-colonialism.”

Even before this spat with Ellison, the NOI occupied strange territory in this year’s fraught election season.

Farrakhan criticized both the Democratic and Republican candidates in strong, nearly apocalyptic, language. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to vote. If I have to vote for Satan or Lucifer, I don’t have much of a choice there,” he said.

But Farrakhan did speak highly of Trump in multiple interviews, notable with Infowars, the pro-Trump website run by conspiracist shock-jock Alex Jones.

In those interviews, Farrakhan praised Donald Trump, saying he appreciated the Republican’s brash style and the fact that he did not appear beholden to political lobbyists. “Not that I’m for Mr. Trump,” Farrakhan said, “but I like what I’m looking at.”

Email Sam Kestenbaum at and follow him on Twitter at @skestenbaum


Sam Kestenbaum

Sam Kestenbaum

Sam Kestenbaum is a staff writer for the Forward. Before this, he worked for The New York Times and newsrooms in Sana, Ramallah and Beijing. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter at @skestenbaum and on Instagram at @skestenbaum.

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