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Saban calls Ellison ‘clearly an anti-Semite’ (and not on Wikileaks)

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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.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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15 Responses

  1. pabelmont on December 3, 2016, 12:22 pm

    So sad that the opinions, the heartfelt hand-wringing soul-wrenching of ordinary folks, taken one at a time, are not heard (or given press) whereas those of the billionaires make the world turn over on its axis (or in its grave).

    Imagine how nice the world could be if billionaires all donated to good causes rather than to causes they merely imagine (due to living in a hard-walled bubble) to be good.

    As to bubbles, see Stephen Hawking’s excellent statement, and prescient warning:

  2. weiss on December 3, 2016, 12:43 pm

    Saban, LIEberman, & Ross …

    That is quite a Trio of Doom…

    Could this panel be any less one-sided?

    Please, Please drop all pretenses and OPENLY move to the Extreme Far Right with the new Drumpf Stormtroopers…

    This is Civil War within the Jewish community, and I will not be SILENT about this horrendous self-inflicted drive back towards Fascism.

    • Mooser on December 4, 2016, 12:26 pm

      “This is Civil War within the Jewish community, and I will not be SILENT about this horrendous self-inflicted drive back towards Fascism.”

      We have got to make sure we end up on the right side of the Fascists this time!

  3. lyn117 on December 3, 2016, 1:51 pm

    I guess Ellison’s pandering, disavowing BDS, isn’t helping him either.

    Maybe the problem with the Democrats is they’re such panderers in the first place. The Republicans are honest racists.

    Edit: I don’t mean all Republicans, many I’ve known are just practical people, and lots of Democrats are racist as well.

  4. Keith on December 3, 2016, 2:35 pm

    HAIM SABAN- “Keith Ellison would be a disaster for the relationship between the Jewish community and the Democratic Party.”

    Thank you Haim for making it abundantly clear who the Democratic Party represents.

    • hophmi on December 5, 2016, 12:04 am

      Thank you for making it clear once again that in your world, a Jew isn’t permitted to speak his mind.

      • Mooser on December 5, 2016, 11:52 am

        “Thank you for making it clear once again that in your world, a Jew isn’t permitted to speak his mind.”

        “Hophmi” what on earth are you talking about? “Keith” just thanked Saban for saying what’s on his mind.

      • annie on December 5, 2016, 12:52 pm

        and it’s such an absurd statement. keith said nothing about “a jew”, saban is one of the dem party’s top funders and his words belie “the Jewish community” — who he does not represent (because they do not speak in one voice) — is his primary concern. so do dems decide their own fate, or is it the funders who run the party?

        when hops sees saban that’s what he sees “a jew”. but that is not what i see. i see a billionaire who wants to control one of 2 political parties in the united states. that’s a lot of power. and he doesn’t just “speak his mind” — that is not what i object to. he, like everyone else should speak their mind. it’s what’s on his mind that i question and the power he wields to actualize his priorities. but hops victimizes this powerhouse by claiming his adversaries don’t want to “permit” him to speak because he’s jewish!! how absurd.

        there should be laws in place that prevent monstrously large donations to political parties or officials.

      • Mooser on December 5, 2016, 1:15 pm

        “and it’s such an absurd statement”

        And made much too soon.

      • Keith on December 5, 2016, 1:43 pm

        HOPHMI- “Thank you for making it clear once again that in your world, a Jew isn’t permitted to speak his mind.”

        You have it backwards, Hophmi. I love it when fat-cats engage in straight talk and say things usually only uttered in back rooms behind closed doors. He who pays the piper calls the tune, or at least has veto power. Curiously, some folks don’t seem to understand that as long as Lord Saban and his ilk more or less own the Democratic Party, there is no likelihood of the Democratic Party becoming truly progressive. Bernie’s “revolution” is a fraud. I repeat a previous quote and link in case you missed it.

        “In other words, in this article Hayden was describing, in an unusually concrete way, how the state of Israel, through its state officials and their compliant American partners, was effectively managing—exercising veto power over Democratic Party candidates, at the very least—American elections down to the level of State Assembly. In any constituency “attuned to the question of Israel, even in local and state elections,” Hayden knew he “had to be certified ‘kosher,’ not once but over and over again.” (Jim Kavanagh) – See more at:

  5. John Salisbury on December 3, 2016, 7:50 pm

    What is in America’s best interest ?

    For some people that consideration isn’t even on the radar screen.

  6. ToivoS on December 3, 2016, 10:48 pm

    I guess Ellison has no choice now but to withdraw his nomination. Those 10s of millions of dollars he has given to the Dems are going to be very hard to replace. Too bad the Dems have given up on using grass root volunteers to run their campaigns. These days they rely on hiring workers at $15 per hour for election tasks.

  7. Sulphurdunn on December 4, 2016, 3:51 pm

    The burden of proof rests with the accuser. Ellis is not an anti-Semite just because Saban says so, or because Saban doesn’t approve of something he wrote or said unless it specifically incited the persecution of Jews for being Jews. I don’t buy the BS that anti-Semitism is whatever Jews say it is, especially if it is criticism of Israeli policy towards Palestinians and other subject peoples.

    Even if Ellis were proven to be an anti-Semite (unlikely), how is it that a bigot like Debbie Wasserman Schultz (you know, the lady who publicly bemoaned Jewish intermarriage) was acceptable? Would it be anti-Semitic to suppose it just might have something to do with Haim Saban’s knee jerk Zionism and his money?

  8. hophmi on December 5, 2016, 12:06 am

    The case against Ellison rests on his involvement with the Nation of Islam, which is led by an unrepentant bigot. Ellison has repudiated Louis Farrakhan, and personally, that’s enough for me, but I suspect that most people here wouldn’t extend the same benefit of the doubt if the tables were turned.

  9. punterweger on December 5, 2016, 1:22 pm

    Has no one noticed that there is a total contradiction in Saban’s statement? First he says: “…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.” And right after that he calls him an anti-semite.

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