In the last 24 hours the Keith Ellison story has changed again. Ellison has agreed to leave Congress if he is elevated to the chair of the Democratic National Committee (thereby removing Ed Rendell and others’ objection that the job needs to be fulltime); and he is getting a tsunami of support for his bid from center-left Jews. These Jews are remaking the Democratic Party base before our eyes on the Israel issue, getting the word “apartheid” into the Washington Post and Slate. The Israel lobby is sweating!
The tide has shifted to the point that Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street and Chemi Shalev of Haaretz are both warning the Israel lobby not to knock out Ellison because if it does, there will be a backlash against Jews.
Let’s go through the ticker. First Michelle Goldberg, a liberal Zionist, posted an earnest piece at Slate saying that Democrats need Keith Ellison, an African-American Muslim, in order to counter the “existential” threat of Trumpism: “if we’re to survive Trump, it will only be through a united front of all the people his administration threatens,” she writes.
The political news in this piece is that while Goldberg sells Ellison to liberal Zionists as “no anti-Zionist,” and assures them that he opposes Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), she is obviously willing to dump Israel to build that united front.
Goldberg includes the tweet below by Ellison with a photograph of an apartheid poster in Hebron; and Goldberg says that she has been to Hebron herself and was horrified, and while she used to obey liberal Zionist taboos against the use of the word apartheid, she is not going to quarrel with that term. “We are in a moment when political taboos are exploding.”
I saw this as I walked down street in Hebron. While window opens to street, no Palestinian can walk/drive on it pic.twitter.com/nMPsM8jqIT
— Rep. Keith Ellison (@keithellison) June 2, 2016
Apartheid is also in the Washington Post! Jesse Myerson manages to slip it in while offering the same coalition-building calculus under Trump that Goldberg does, in a piece praising Ellison:
For Jews to be safe, we will need to build a resistance in partnership with other communities under threat, not prop up an apartheid state in the Middle East.
In a further shattering of taboos, Myerson explains that the Israel lobby does not speak for young Jews, it speaks for rich donors “who care foremost about Jewish ethno-supremacy in the Holy Land.”
[B]ecause young Jews do not make up a wealthy donor base, mainstream media outlets don’t tend to treat our organizations as spokespersons for Jews writ large, nor our policy positions as indicative of Jewish views in general.
J Street is surely hearing the footsteps of all these young Jews. Jeremy Ben-Ami continues his valiant defense of Keith Ellison in the Washington Post and says just what Myerson does, the ideological tide is turning:
Recent polling makes clear that Ellison represents the policy views of the significant majority of Democrats and of Jewish Americans. Leaders with similar views and values are going to be the future of the Democratic Party, of our country and of the American Jewish community.
Then Ben-Ami warns that the Jewish organizational “witch hunt” of Ellison will backfire for Jews:
It is time for those who disagree to halt the personal attacks and smears. These tactics do not win friends for the Jewish community or help ensure that American policy will be pro-Israel in the long run. Frankly, they may have the opposite effect.
Chemi Shalev echoes that warning in Haaretz.
If [Ellison] doesn’t [get to be chairman of the DNC], that will truly be bad news for Jews. They will be blamed for having blocked Ellison’s appointment. They will be viewed as targeting Ellison because of his Muslim religion. They will be accused of putting the interests of Israel above their own party’s. If Ellison is as rabidly anti-Jewish as his detractors claim, he could become the standard bearer for a wave of anti-Jewish sentiment on the left…
That’s a wee bit alarmist. But Shalev knows that Ellison is not going to help Israel in the United States. He warns that Ellison’s religion and Israel-critical statements will be used against him and will hurt the party politically:
On Israel, at least, Ellison occupies a space that is far away from the American center, which is where elections are won and lost. So it is legitimate to think that he is not the best man for the job.
Finally, let me note how obnoxious it is that this discussion is so dominated by Jewish voices. As if Jews are the gatekeepers on the American consideration of Middle East policy, even among the young. But: that’s the physics of our policy, right now.
James Zogby of the Arab American Institute affirms that truth in the story he tells of the Democratic Party’s migration on the Israel issue from 1988 to 2016. In his account you can see the dead hand of donors controlling the Democratic position. Zogby also mentions the force of the young, and of young Jews:
There is a movement among young people for justice that is simply not going to go away. But… there is this onslaught attempting to roll back the change that has occurred in the consciousness of young people, in the consciousness of progressives, whether they be Black or White or Latino, in the consciousness of labor folks who were central to this debate in many cities, and of course, in the consciousness of a network of American Jews that have become as central to this debate, and in some cases more central to this debate, than Arab Americans.
More central than others, including Arab Americans? No. Everyone has a role to play in this conversation; and the Ellison battle will liberate us.
Thanks to James North, who says that “the organized Jewish community now faces its greatest crisis in decades.”