The Israel lobby is battling it out inside the Democratic Party; and the US discourse will never be the same again. Last night at a fancy dinner at the Brookings Institution, toymaker Haim Saban, who is one of the biggest donors to the Democratic Party, smeared Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, who is in the running to be chair of the Democratic National Committee, as an “anti-Semite” because of his remarks on Israel. Saban said:
I would just like to clarify something about Keith Ellison and him running for head of the DNC….
I think it’s important for this audience to know. First, The fact that Keith Ellison is a Muslim is a non-issue at all. That is not an issue. With that out of the way, if you listen to Keith Ellison today and you see his statements, he’s more of a Zionist than Herzl, Ben-Gurion and Begin combined. I mean, really, it’s amazing, it’s a beautiful thing. If you go back to his positions, his papers, his speeches, the way he has voted– he is clearly an anti-Semite, an anti-Israel individual.
Words matter, and actions matter more. Keith Ellison would be a disaster for the relationship between the Jewish community and the Democratic Party. Now I’ve said what I had to say.
The comment drew “gasps from the crowd,” said Eric Cortellassa of Times of Israel. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who was on stage, said he agreed with Saban. CNN’s Jake Tapper, Lieberman’s interlocutor, looked gobsmacked. “That wasn’t really a question, but it is the Saban Forum, so–” he quipped, then called on another VIP, Dennis Ross, to ask a question.
Ellison has become controversial to some Jewish groups in recent days because of a comment he made about the power of the Israel lobby in 2010: “United States foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad through a country of seven million people.” He also reportedly made anti-Zionist comments in college and has at times expressed sympathy for Palestinians.
Ellison is gaining support from some centrists in the Democratic Party, including Senator Chuck Schumer and Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of the liberal Zionist group J Street, who described the campaign against Ellison led by the Anti Defamation League as a “witch hunt.” Meantime, Forward editor Jane Eisner characterized Ellison’s remarks about the lobby in 2010 as “awful.”
So American Jewish groups are squabbling over Ellison/Israel inside the narrowed confines of the Democratic Party, even as the Trump administration-in-waiting indicates that it’s going far right. Josh Marshall of TPM has said the last thing the Democratic Party needs right now is a fight over Israel. But we’ve reached our rendezvous with destiny; the leadership is now so out of step with the Democratic grassroots (as Shibley Telhami said at Brookings yesterday, examining polls) that the Ellison battle, and Saban’s hubris, are inevitable. As Saban says, this is about the American Jewish community’s relationship to the Democratic Party. Yeah, we’re split, Kussa! And I have predicted that Saban will have to go Republican in the end.
Haim Saban was the biggest contributor to Hillary Clinton’s superpac, and consulted often by John Podesta, the Clinton campaign chair during the recent presidential campaign, per a series of embarrassing emails leaked Wikileaks.
Here’s the video. The comment comes in at 1:29 or so.
Glenn Greenwald says, “Hard to express how low and repugnant this is.” Greenwald says the Democratic Party is in a pickle because Saban is their biggest donor. Saban gave $10 million to the Clinton Foundation and hosted a Clinton fundraiser with George Clooney.
Yousef Munayyer echoes the point that Saban paid for the microphone. “Haim Saban paid for everyone’s dinner so he gets the first ‘question’ which he uses to slam Keith Ellison.”
No one dissociated him or herself from Saban’s comments. I asked Tapper why he had nothing to say, and he said via twitter that he asks questions of newsmakers, he doesn’t make comments.
In his interview of Lieberman, Tapper put himself forward as part of American Jewry that is distant from Israel and asked what Israel could do about it. Lieberman offered the usual claptrap about Israel being responsible for Diaspora Jews as well as Israeli Jews, and he wants more “Jewish Zionist education” in the United States because Israel depends on young American Jews. He’s talking about the Jewish Israel lobby.