If you’ve been following the uproar over Congressman Keith Ellison and his run for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, you might recall hearing about a 36-second audio clip containing a snippet of an Ellison speech that, according to his critics, proves he’s anti-Israel and shouldn’t get the job. You may even have listened to the clip and been left wondering exactly what it means.
If so, you’re in luck. The other 22 minutes of Ellison’s speech are now available for your listening pleasure. You can listen and make up your own mind.
Some background: The audio file captures Ellison, the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, addressing a 2010 campaign fundraising event for a fellow Muslim who was running (unsuccessfully) for the Virginia state legislature. Ellison is heard claiming that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is “governed” by “what’s good or bad” for a certain nation of 7 million. Translation: Israel’s welfare is a primary goal of American policy.
He goes on to say that American Muslims could wield their own influence on American policy if they got more involved in the political process. In other words, donate tonight and help the Muslim cause. More on that later.
The clip was released on Tuesday, November 29, by the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a sharp-elbowed operation founded and run by ex-journalist Steven Emerson. The project’s accompanying statement depicts the Virginia candidate and his key backers as Islamist radicals with links to the Muslim Brotherhood.
It caused quite a stir. The Anti-Defamation League was moved on Thursday to withdraw the kosher stamp of approval it gave to the congressman the previous week. The league said in its statement that Ellison’s words “raise the specter of age-old stereotypes about Jewish control of our government.”
I posted a piece on Friday morning dissecting various bits of evidence that Ellison’s critics cite to prove he’s anti-Israel, including the 36-second audio. I expressed skepticism about the case against him. Regarding the audio, I wrote that it could just as easily be understood as a description of plain fact: that Israel’s welfare ranks high among U.S. policy priorities and Muslims might have more influence if they were better organized. That Israel’s advantage is held up not for condemnation so much as emulation.
It’s worth noting that the first interpretation — the ADL’s reading — accords with the image of Ellison as an Israel-hater that’s popular in conservative Jewish circles. The second, more benign reading, on the other hand, jibes with the picture of Ellison portrayed by the Democratic leadership in Congress and virtually the entire leadership of the Jewish community in Ellison’s hometown of Minneapolis-St. Paul, where he’s consistently described as a friend and ally of the community and a supporter of Israel.
But, I wrote, we couldn’t really know which is the correct reading of the clip, since we’d only been offered 36 seconds of what was obviously a much longer speech. What else was said? We don’t know, I wrote, because “the group that released the clip, Steven Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism, chose to cut out the rest of it.”
Well, on Friday afternoon I got an email from Steven Emerson. He wrote that there was no intention to leave the audience dangling, and that the full speech, audio and transcript, was about to be released. And sure enough, an hour later the full speech appeared on the project’s website. Click here to read and listen to the full 22-minute speech.
As you do, here are a few things to watch for:
First, he’s openly critical of some key Israeli policies, including the blockade of Gaza and Israel’s housing construction in East Jerusalem, which he calls “settlements.” Also, he accuses Israel of treating America “like we’re their ATM.”
Second, he speaks approvingly of the Goldstone Report.
Third, he “always” attends the annual AIPAC conference. He knows his Muslim audience might disapprove of that, so he makes an excuse — “I go because I want to know what’s going on.” But the excuse is really a joke, and the audience responds with laughter.
Fourth, he wants American Muslims to organize and push for their goals in the Middle East. And what are those goals? An end to Israeli “settlement” in East Jerusalem and advancement of Palestinian statehood alongside Israel.
Fifth, in case anyone thought he was advocating extreme action, he’s calling for “public diplomacy.” He says it twice. And, he adds, crucially: “This is not to say that I don’t want the U.S. to be friends with Israel.” (Having trouble sorting out all the double and triple negatives? Hint: He just said he wants the U.S. to be friends with Israel. To what he thought was a closed audience of Muslim activists.)
He continues: “I just want the United States to have a lot of friends. And to be in a position with the friend to say — you are wrong and you must stop.” (That is, Israel is and will continue to be a friend, but friends don’t let friends drive drunk.)
Finally, here’s his most conspiratorial-sounding statement: “That country” — Israel — “has mobilized its Diaspora in America to do its bidding in America.” Sounds ominous, right? He’s accusing AIPAC of doing a good job. But now he draws the lesson he wants to drive home to Muslims: “The question is, with all of us here, we ought to be able to do at least as much. You understand what I am trying to say? That we got a lot of work to do.” That is, the Jewish community does effective work on its causes. Muslims should learn from them.
Does that sound like a friend or an enemy? In part that depends on whether the goal he’s set out, ending settlements and creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel with its capital in East Jerusalem, is good or bad for the Jews.
But don’t listen to me. Read and listen to the speech and then make up your own mind. I don’t want to influence you.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).