The most remarkable thing about the attack on Rep. Keith Ellison as an enemy of Israel and anti-Semite, led by the Anti Defamation League and Haim Saban at the Brookings Institution, is that it has not KO’d the Minnesota congressman’s bid to be chair of the Democratic National Committee.
We are used to seeing such campaigns gain traction and inevitability till the heretic falls into an abyss. Public servants such as Chas Freeman, Chuck Hagel, Charles W. Percy, Earl Hilliard, Paul Findley and Cynthia McKinney have all been marked and cashiered by lobby groups over criticisms of Israel. Both Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush are thought to have lost a second term as president in part because they crossed the pro-Israel crowd.
This time the narrative is playing out in a different fashion: Ellison is gaining broad support from leftleaning Democrats and liberal Zionists. He does not appear to have been undone by the smear campaign against him. One rightwing website says Ellison has a “clear path” to victory because pro-Israel forces are no longer strong enough to stop him inside the Democratic Party, while the Washington Post says that while Ellison has a “far rockier road” than he projected, he still might get the job.
Last week, the usual mainstream voices could be heard sounding the death-knell for Ellison over Israel. Neocon Michael Makovsky said Ellison was beyond the pale because he hadn’t supported a military package to Israel. Forward editor Jane Eisner said Ellison’s statements about Israel’s influence over U.S. policy were “awful.” At the Brookings Institution, CNN anchor Jake Tapper declined to challenge Haim Saban when he smeared Ellison as “clearly an anti-Semite” and a disaster for the relationship of the Democratic Party and Jews.
While Chuck Todd of NBC and Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post said on Meet-the-Press-daily that Ellison was finished.
Todd: Keith Ellison ― is his candidacy toast? The ADL came out noting some remarks he made about Israel six years ago. He struggled to explain them. There has been some other folks and they are very upset at [Sen. Chuck] Schumer for supporting him. Is pressure building to suddenly stop ― a stop Ellison movement?
Marcus: It sure feels that way. You know, the last thing that the party needs is to have a chairman at the time when you need to rebuild the party that is going to be helping tear apart, you know, a big constituency of it.
What’s different this time is that all these commentaries got prompt pushback. Daniel Marans at Huffpo slammed Todd and Marcus for “enabling” a smear campaign against Ellison. Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street called out Makovsky and Eisner for being part of a “witch hunt” against Ellison, as I reported last week, and said it revealed a “very bad tendency” in the Jewish community:
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.
And a chorus of voices on the center-left has provided backup to Ellison.
Randi Weingarten, the teachers union president, Zionist, and Clinton surrogate who battled Ellison over any criticism of Israel in the Democratic platform last summer, finds the attack on him scurrilous. She writes on Facebook that she supports him to be chair:
Keith Ellison is no anti-Semite and it is maddening when anyone who doesn’t know him or his record makes that ugly accusation. Keith is an agent of change-a fierce fighter for working folk and someone who understands that one has to both fight against bigotry and hate
Weingarten cited her Holocaust bona fides. So does Rebecca Zimmerman Hornstein in this Haaretz op-ed saying it would be “tragic if a smear campaign espoused by the Jewish community kept Keith Ellison from the leadership position Democrats desperately need him to fill.”
The august liberal Zionist JJ Goldberg at the Forward says that Ellison is a friend of Israel for his opposition to settlements. Carin Mrotz, the leader of a Minneapolis Jewish group, penned a strong endorsement at Facebook disparaging the campaign against Ellison:
we are also clever enough to see through attempts to paint our Muslim member of Congress with that same hateful brush for the shell game it is.
Mrotz linked to Glenn Greenwald’s excellent piece on the “smear campaign against Ellison,” at the Intercept. Greenwald:
[E]ven the most inflammatory of Ellison’s campus statements — including his long-ago-renounced praise for the Nation of Islam — were grounded in righteous opposition to “white supremacy and the policies of the state of Israel” and “show him expressing sympathy for the plight of underprivileged whites and making clear that he was not antagonistic toward Jewish people.”
As CNN itself acknowledged when digging up these old Ellison quotes: “None of the records reviewed found examples of Ellison making any anti-Semitic comments himself.” How is that, by itself, not the end of the controversy?
Greenwald concludes that the lie lives because of Islamophobia.
Many have passed along an inspiring series of tweets by Emily Hauser, an Israeli writer living in America. Here are a few of that series:
The ADL is sure that Keith Ellison, a good man who is NOT AN ANTI-SEMITE, is an anti-Semite, b/c he’s willing to argue w/ Israel’s govt.
But yrs ago, the organized Am-Jewish community chose to make being an Am-Jew all abt having a collective crush on Israel, come what may
So when faced w a good man devoted to the wellbeing of all INCLUDING THE JEWISH STATE,we can’t handle that he won’t demonize Palestinians
Richard Goldwasser says Ellison’s real crime was trying to build political pressure to counter AIPAC, the leading Israel lobby group. And notes correctly:
The term anti-Israel is rendered meaningless when it is applied to a Congressman who has voted for more than $27 billion in aid to Israel.
Goldwasser put pressure on Jake Tapper of CNN and others for their passivity when Saban issued the smear at Brookings:
A room full of very powerful and influential people is silent when their host unfairly maligns someone as an anti Semite.
Another post that’s getting passed around is from Tamar Zandberg, a Meretz member of the Knesset, who also knows Ellison and defended him ably on Facebook.
From personal experience I can say that Ellison’s position on Israel is the same as on every other issue: a progressive position, peaceful, promoting justice and equality, opposing racism, Anti-Semitism, chauvinism and homophobia of any kind and from every direction.
I believe that Ellison will survive. And that the battle will solidify the place of Palestinian solidarity inside the Democratic Party. That of course is the crisis. In the era of Trump, the left wing and the liberals have been shoved into the same defeated Democratic camp, and they are going to have to figure out how to rebuild the party together. One big loser is likely to be Israel. As Saban said on Friday night:
Keith Ellison would be a disaster for the relationship between the Jewish community and the Democratic Party.
Chris Cilliza in the Washington Post echoes the point, saying that Jews are a disproportionately large part of the Democratic donor base.
even if [Ellison] does ascend to the DNC chairmanship, a decent-size chunk of Democratic voters and donors will probably be none too happy about it.
That is a welcome discussion: the outsize role of wealthy Jewish Israel supporters in the Democratic Party (which JJ Goldberg and the president of Emily’s List have described as “gigantic” and “shocking”). Maybe the media will stop writing about the Koch Brothers so much and start looking into the Israel lobby. Even Josh Marshall, who is fearful that the controversy will rip open the Democratic Party, has said that what Ellison said about the Israel lobby as a policy-influencer is true, and the ADL is wrong:
Do we really think US policy on Israel isn’t significantly impacted by the activism of American Jews and even more in recent years by that of Christian evangelicals?….
The discourse is changing before our eyes: ideas that were a third rail ten years ago merely deliver a jolt now, and the speaker can still keep walking. That’s the great progress that Ellison’s survival will signal: The Israel lobby is at last going to be debated openly in the American press.
Let me close with a quotation from Alan Dershowitz — who is against Ellison because of his association with “anti-‐Semitic bigotry”– but who offered a far grander assessment of Jewish influence than Ellison did, in his book Chutzpah, in 1991. Notice how Dershowitz calls the Israel lobby “the Jewish Lobby,” conflating Judaism and Zionism:
When the “Jewish Lobby” defeats an enemy of Israel or of the Jews, we should proudly proclaim the victory of justice over injustice. When “Jewish contributors” influence the outcome of a media campaign, we should declare a victory of truth over falsity.
That era is coming to an end, both the political assassinations and the conflation. In fact, the assassinations will end because the conflation will end.
Thanks to James North and Yakov Hirsch.