Jewish groups are conducting a “witch hunt” against Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, and it exposes “a very bad tendency” of the Jewish community to drive anyone who has criticized Israel out of public position, the leader of the liberal Zionist group J Street said last night to a Jewish audience in New York.
Jeremy Ben-Ami was responding to reports yesterday that Ellison, who wants to be the next chair of the Democratic National Committee, had said in 2010 that American foreign policy for the entire Middle East is “governed by” what is in Israel’s interests because of the “Americans who trace their roots back to” Israel, i.e., American Jews. The Anti Defamation League promptly said that Ellison was disqualified for the DNC position.
Ben-Ami spoke at a Jewish forum on Israel at B’nai Jeshurun, a synagogue on NY’s Upper West Side. Jane Eisner, the editor of the Forward, said that the Keith Ellison statement that had “bubbled up” that afternoon was “awful” and that he has a “rather troubling record” on Israel. But she said she might be willing to dismiss things he had said “offhandedly,” the same way the Jewish community can dismiss the fact that Pentagon pick General James Mattis once said Israel is headed for “apartheid.”
I just have to jump in for his defense. I think that there’s nothing troubling about his record. I think that the witch hunt that is going on on Keith Ellison is reminiscent of the witch hunt that goes on every single time somebody who has dared to criticize the policies of the government of Israel steps forward and has a potential to hold position in this country. And the ADL and other organizations come after them until they’re driven out of the competition for that job and I think it’s a very bad tendency of our community.
Ben-Ami said he has no preference for Democratic party chair, but that Ellison must be allowed to be critical of Israel.
I have traveled with Keith to Israel. I’ve gone to Sderot and talked with the Israeli victims of the rockets from Gaza. We have met with Israelis and Palestinians together. There is no one more committed to a two state solution for the sake of Israel’s security than Keith Ellison….
I do have a stake in the dynamic in America where people like Keith who are critical of Israeli policy end up cast as having a quote unquote troubling record on Israel. It’s not a troubling record. He’s critical of the policies of the government of Israel.
Then he addressed the quote in question and said he has said the same:
And he is calling out the fact that the voices that push for policies here are very very powerful. And the quote that was quoted was him speaking to Arab Americans, saying, If you want to have a say, then you have to learn the way the Jewish Americans do it. I say that to the Arab American leaders…. You have to be organized.
Look at what the Jewish community has done for the last 50, 60 years. I’m proud of it. I’m proud of AIPAC. I’m proud of what we’ve done to build the us Israel relationship. You do the same, get a PAC, get a lobby, get organized.
Michael Makovsky, a neoconservative who heads the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, then said — the panel was all Zionists, no Jewish anti-Zionists, don’t you worry about that — then said that Ellison was no James Mattis. Obviously reading from talking points, Makovsky said that Ellison had been a “member of Farrakhan’s organization the Nation of Islam,” that in 2007 he compared 9/11 attacks to the Reichstag fire as a conspiracy to gain political power, and that in 2014 he was one of eight House members who voted against giving Israel $225 million for military batteries depleted after its assault on Gaza.
Again Ben-Ami leapt to Ellison’s defense. Ellison had apologized for the 2007 remark and he had voted for military aid to Israel “across the board.” He had not done so in 2014 on procedural grounds. “He is a staunch supporter of Israel’s security.”
Then Ben-Ami lumped Makovsky in with the Jewish community’s witch hunt:
To go on this kind of witch hunt where you continue to throw things out about him to imply something about him that isn’t true is what’s wrong with the way we discuss Israel in this community. We slander the reputation and name of a good man who is a friend of Israel and is looking to achieve peace and security not just for Israel but for the Palestinian people.
So pro-Israel organizations are turning on one another. And we’re finally going to have an honest conversation about the power of the Israel lobby? Maybe yes, maybe no. One truth is clear. The most unforgiveable thing about what Walt and Mearsheimer wrote 10 years ago, when they had to publish in London, was that they weren’t Jewish.
P.S. Another interesting exchange occurred when Makovsky, whose political outlook is that the U.S. must have an aggressive foreign policy to project strength and support Israel, all but accused President Obama and John Kerry of anti-Semitism for remarks they made about Israel’s lobbying against the Iran deal. He referred to Obama’s complaint about pressure on him from lobbyists on the Iran deal, and a comment by Kerry that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu would be calling him and saying it’s time to bomb Iran if Congress rejected the deal (at this Senate hearing). Makovsky said the rhetoric was reminiscent of Pat Buchanan and the Republican Party in the 1990s (before Bill Kristol led the purge of “the Arabists,” as he bragged in the very same Jewish space).
“I think the Jewish community let some things pass that they shouldn’t have,” Makovsky said.
Eisner responded that Israel brought the criticism on itself with its overreach: Netanyahu’s speech to Congress in March 2015 against the Iran deal, bypassing the White House. “It is really surprising to me that there wasn’t more retaliation against that,” she said. “I cant imagine the leader of any other country, any other country in the world, having the chutzpah to do that.”