Teachers Union Chief Randi Weingarten Defends Keith Ellison by the Forward

Teachers Union Chief Randi Weingarten Defends Keith Ellison

Image by Shmulik Almany

(JTA) — The Jewish president of a U.S. teachers union came to the defense of Rep. Keith Ellison, slamming claims that the Minnesota congressman holds anti-Semitic views.

On Saturday, Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers praised Ellison as “an agent of change” and called claims that he held anti-Semitic views “maddening.” Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, is a leading contender to head the Democratic National Committee.

“I can feel and smell anti Semitism. Keith Ellison is no anti-Semite, and it is maddening when anyone who doesn’t know him or his record makes that ugly accusation,” Weingarten wrote in a Facebook post in which she called herself “a proud American Jew and a progressive Zionist.”

“There’s a lot of anti Semitism and Islamaphobia in the world. Don’t pretend it exists in Keith Ellison’s heart or soul,” she concluded.

Weingarten’s union represents 1.6 million members.

Ellison’s criticism of Israel has brought tension among Jewish groups, which intensified last week with the publication of a 2010 recording in which the lawmaker said that American foreign policy is “governed” by Israeli interests.

Ellison has come under fire from Jewish groups for his sharp criticism of Israel in his youth, which was spent as an activist with the Nation of Islam and defending some black nationalists who had hostile relationships with the Jewish community.

He distanced himself from his earlier activism, but the release of the 2010 recording threatened to undo improved ties with the Jewish community.

American-Israeli Haim Saban, a major Democratic donor, said Ellison’s positions, statements and voting record showed that “he’s clearly an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual,” and said his election as DNC chairman would be a “disaster for the relationship between Jews and the party.”

Anti-Defamation League National Director Jonathan Greenblatt, who had previously praised Ellison, called the congressman’s remarks “deeply disturbing and disqualifying.”

But others, like Weingarten, urged caution.

“It is time to retire the playbook that aims to silence any American official seeking high office who has dared to criticize certain Israeli government policies,” said a statement Friday from J Street, which noted it was not endorsing Ellison for the DNC spot.


Josefin Dolsten

Josefin Dolsten

Josefin Dolsten is a former news fellow at the Forward, writing about politics and culture, and editing the Sisterhood blog. She received an MA in Jewish Studies and Comparative Religion from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a BA in Government from Cornell University. Follow her on Twitter at @josefindolsten.

Jewish United Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten Head Defends Keith Ellison

Your Comments

The Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. All readers can browse the comments, and all Forward subscribers can add to the conversation. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Forward requires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not and will be deleted. Egregious commenters or repeat offenders will be banned from commenting. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and the Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Recommend this article

Teachers Union Chief Randi Weingarten Defends Keith Ellison

Thank you!

This article has been sent!