his quest to become chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC),
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) has become the victim of a witch hunt
and smear campaign.
Jewish groups have branded the dynamic, progressive leader as an
anti-Semite. This is about stifling free speech and criticism of the
Israeli occupation of the Palestinians — and the future of the
Democratic Party itself. Ellison deserves better than this, as do
black people, who have proven themselves the most loyal constituency
of the Democratic Party.
into office with Thomas Jefferson’s Quran, Ellison was the
Muslim-American elected to Congress
and is now one of two including Rep.
(D-Ind.). He supported Bernie Sanders in his bid for the Democratic
nomination for president. And aside from Sanders, he has received the
endorsement of a host of lawmakers such as Sens. Chuck Schumer and
Elizabeth Warren; Reps. John Lewis, Maxine Waters and Elijah
Cummings; and unions such as the AFL-CIO, the United Steelworkers and
the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, among others.
as Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss
reported, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Jewish civil rights
organization, is leading a witch hunt against Ellison for criticizing
Israeli policy, a charge made by Jeremy Ben-Ami, head of the liberal
Jewish group J Street.
issue was a speech Ellison made in 2010, in which he reportedly said
foreign policy in the Middle East is driven by Israel,
implying that the policy was at the expense of the Arab nations in
the region: “The United States foreign policy in the Middle
East is governed by what is good or bad through a country of 7
million people. 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,” Ellison reportedly said.
Ellison’s remarks are both deeply disturbing and
disqualifying,” said ADL’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. And
the congressman has been targeted for once being affiliated with the
Nation of Islam, for defending Min. Louis Farrakhan against charges
of anti-Semitism in his writings as a student and for organizing the
Minnesota delegation to the Million Man March in 1995.
his open letter to the ADL, Ellison said his comments were
“selectively edited and taken out of context by an individual
the Southern Poverty Law Center has called an ‘anti-Muslim
the Israeli-American billionaire and Democratic donor who gave
millions of dollars to Hillary
presidential campaign, said that Ellison is an anti-Semite.
you go back to his positions, his papers, his speeches, the way he
has voted, he is clearly an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual,”
Saban, who supports
profiling of Muslims,
said recently. “Words matter and actions matter more. Keith
Ellison would be a disaster for the relationship between the Jewish
community and the Democratic Party.”
progressive and center-left Jewish organizations, leaders and
thinkers are coming to Ellison’s defense in a tidal wave of
support, suggesting his views on Israel are consistent
with many in the Jewish American community,
including younger people, and that the Israel lobby does not speak
for them. And some writers, such as Michelle Goldberg in Slate
and Jesse Myerson in the Washington
the word “apartheid”
to describe Israel.
Movement for Black Lives
received condemnation from some establishment Jewish organizations
for using the words “apartheid” and “genocide”
to describe the Israeli policy towards the Palestinians and expressed
support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against
the Israeli occupation:
US military accounts for over 50 percent of discretionary federal
spending, a total of 598.5 Billion dollars spent annually, as
compared to 70 billion spent on education, 66 billion spent on
healthcare, $63.2 billion spent on housing and 29.1 billion spent on
social security and unemployment. In addition, approximately 3
billion dollars in US aid is allocated to Israel, a state that
practices systematic discrimination and has maintained a military
occupation of Palestine for decades. Together with aid to Egypt —
Israel’s most important regional ally — this figure
represents nearly 75 percent of all US aid dollars. As these figures
demonstrate, resources and funds needed for reparations
and for building a just and equitable society domestically are
instead used to wage war against a majority of the world’s
groups such as the ADL have sought to kill the debate on U.S. Mideast
foreign policy by leading an assault on the BDS movement and
targeting Palestinian human rights activism on college campuses.
ADL promoted and the U.S. Senate passed a bill
that would have criminalized free speech, equating
criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism
and regarding college students as the perpetrators of
religiously-motivated hate crimes if they focused on human rights and
peace efforts in Israel and delegitimized Israel’s status as a
Jewish state. The legislation failed in the House.
and anti-Semitism are on the rise in America, as are hate crimes
against Muslims, Latinos, African Americans, Jews, the LGBTQ
community and others. This is due to the reactionary environment that
elected Donald Trump, a white supremacist to the White House.
will have white nationalist propagandists, anti-Semites and
Islamophobes in his government, just as he empowered a new generation
of Nazis and agents of intolerance to attack racial and religious
minorities. Yet, even as many Jewish liberals and progressives have
resisted and protested Trump’s racism, right-wing Jewish groups
have given the president-elect and his white nationalist adviser
a pass because of their pro-Israel stance.
an umbrella group known as the Conference of Presidents of Major
American Jewish Organizations is holding
its Hanukkah party at Trump’s new hotel in Washington.
is holding their Christmas party
at the hotel as well.
is where Keith Ellison comes in, and let’s be real: The
fascists Trump has empowered have made it clear they do not regard
Jewish people of European descent as white people. For decades,
anti-Semitism in the U.S. had waned, and Ashkenazi Jewish-Americans —
as opposed to Jews of color who face racism in the U.S. and in Israel
— had arrived, accepting their white card and all the benefits
in the face of the Trump onslaught of white power coming from the
White House, Jewish Americans must find common
cause and unite with others who are also under siege, including black
folks, Muslims, Latinos and immigrants.
conjuring up the black Muslim boogeyman — as fascists take over
the White House — only undermines efforts to work together to
fight our common enemy. Silencing criticism of Israel by scapegoating
Keith Ellison as an anti-Semite is an insult, reflecting a Democratic
Party held captive by old thinking and big money — a winning
strategy for losing more elections.
commentary originally appeared in The Grio