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Groundswell for Ellison signals end of the era of political assassination by Israel lobby

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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

Hauser got endorsements from the judicious Jim Fallows, as well as poet and activist Moriel Rothman-Zecker, who knows Ellison.

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. 

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20 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    December 6, 2016, 11:33 am

    “Forward editor Jane Eisner said Ellison’s statements about Israel’s influence over U.S. policy were “awful.”

    It would be interesting to know whether anyone ever asked Eisner why she characterized Ellison’s statements about Israel’s influence as “awful” and, if so, what answer she made.

    After all, perhaps she (merely) wants the “influence” to be identified as lying with the AM-Jewish community (or with AIPAC) rather than with “Israel” and is offended at being ignored. Or sump’n.

    IMO she should be made to explain what she meant beyond the obvious — “I don’t want him to be DNC chair”.

  2. just
    December 6, 2016, 12:04 pm

    OT, but interesting:

    “Hundreds of Jewish Protesters at Breitbart News Headquarters Urge Trump to Fire Steve Bannon

    Between 300 and 400 protesters organized by the anti-occupation IfNotNow group demonstrated in front of the far-right website’s Beverly Hills offices.

    Hundreds of Jews and allies demonstrating in Southern California called on President-elect Donald Trump to fire Stephen Bannon as his chief White House strategist.

    The protesters rallying Sunday in front of Breitbart News headquarters in Beverly Hills also said Trump should denounce Bannon, the former executive editor of the far-right website.
    Between 300 and 400 people attended the rally organized by the IfNotNow movement, CBS Los Angeles reported.

    Members of the Jewish community, leading one segment of the march, accused Bannon of building a political career out of targeting Muslims, immigrants, women, the LGBTQ community and other minorities, according to CBS.

    Protesters carried signs reading “Never is now,” “Bannon = Goebbels,” and “Freedom and Dignity for all.””

  3. annie
    December 6, 2016, 12:31 pm

    thanks phil, great round up and analysis.

    • JWalters
      December 6, 2016, 7:51 pm

      Second that. It’s heartening to see this spectrum from the Jewish community stand up for equal rights for all, rather than a misguided, reflexive obsession with ethnicity.

  4. December 6, 2016, 1:33 pm

    “Hauser got endorsements from the judicious Jim Fallows…”

    This site, Phil especially, seems to have a soft spot for Fallows — but wasn’t it Fallows that commissioned the Mearsheimer/Walt Israel Lobby piece, got it, read it, and refused to publish it? Forcing Walt and Mearsheimer to publish overseas? London Review of Books? (And isn’t the London Review of Books where America’s foremost investigative reporter, Seymour Hersh, has to go to get his pieces published these days?)

    Has anyone ever asked Fallows how he feels about that decision now? Seems to have gotten a great free ride on it. Might be an interesting person to interview on MW, Phil, on several matters, but that’s the question I’d lead with.

  5. Maghlawatan
    December 6, 2016, 2:05 pm

    Zionism is a court play just like Tammany Hall was. Money and well connected insiders pulling strings. And telling fairytales.
    The Centurions, by Jean Lartéguy, was set in Vietnam. The main characters were French officers captured at Dien Bien Phu. History records that their months in a jungle prison camp were horrific; at least half died. But Lartéguy focuses on a different matter—what the French officers learned from the Vietminh who had defeated them. The French higher-ups were not much interested in the Vietminh’s approach to war. Like the Americans, they believed that firepower, mobility, and professional soldiering would beat any ragtag army of guerrillas. But Pierre Raspéguy, the hero of The Centurions if there is one, listened to the Vietminh in Camp One and absorbed their rule number one. “You’ve got to have the people on your side,” he said, “if you want to win a war.”

    And power is brutal. Zionism will be shafted because nobody needs Jewish nihilism. That is also the lesson of the Torah. Unfortunately nobody in Israel understands the Torah.

    At the end of every sentence you say in Hebrew sits a Palestinian with a nargileh. Ya’ni

  6. Maghlawatan
    December 6, 2016, 2:30 pm

    Jews are not “a disproportionately large part of the Dem base”. Jewish money is. There is a huge difference.

    • Citizen
      December 6, 2016, 4:51 pm

      Why is that? Why does the big Jewish moneybags always support Israel right or wrong? What am I missing here?

      • JWalters
        December 6, 2016, 7:55 pm

        New big money often requires start-up support from old big money. That support can come with strings attached.

  7. Maghlawatan
    December 6, 2016, 2:46 pm

    Israel /The bots have to crush all potential dissent in order to protect the UNSEC veto which is what turns Israel from a Tzipi Livni into a supermodel.
    Countless careers have been destroyed by the bots.

     “It was a technique which the Zionists were to employ throughout their struggle. The technique of promoting damaging personal attacks on those who stood in their way rather than trying to counter their arguments.”
    “Such non conformists were subtly made aware that their jobs might be at risk, their books unpublishable, their preferment out of the question, their public reputations vulnerable if they did not renounce the heresy of anti Zionism ”
    Publish it not, Mayhew and Adams, 1975

    hughsansom May 5, 2011 at 4:05 pm
    Let’s note, again, that the Kushner case is one of an enormous list including, but certainly not limited to:
    –the libeling of Norman Finkelstein by Alan Dershowitz
    –the torpedoing of Juan Cole for a faculty post at Yale
    –the assault on Debbie Almontaser and the Khalil Gibran Academy (abetted by Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg)
    –the furor over Jimmy Carter’s “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid”
    –the Brooklyn College attack on Kristofer Petersen-Overton
    –the hate-campaign against Jenny Peto over her Master’s thesis at the University of Toronto
    –the gross difference in treatment of Helen Thomas compared with that enjoyed by Martin Kramer or Martin Peretz (or many others)
    –death threats leveled against Princeton professor Richard Falk after he suggested that Israel had likely committed war crimes
    –attempted campaigns against Edward Said, Rashid Khalidi, Joseph Massad and others
    –the hysterical response to performances of “My Name Is Rachel Corrie”
    –the Atlantic’s memory-holing of the Walt-Mearsheimer paper on the Israel Lobby
    –the University of South Florida’s attacks on Sami Al-Arian
    –the campaign against past members of Congress like James Abourezk and Cynthia McKinney
    –past attacks on Vanessa Redgrave and many others who have dared support Palestinian rights

    not to mention all the assassinations

    Unfortunately the projections were wrong. the Palestinians have not vanished into history as predicted. Ya salaam ! Shalom

  8. wondering jew
    wondering jew
    December 6, 2016, 2:57 pm

    The Democratic party is at a moment of crisis. Democratic representation at the level of state legislatures is at an all time low (or near to it.) Thus a party chairman of either competence, strategy or charisma is needed. It is tough for me to assess ellison’s suitability for the role. It is clearly a tilt to the (elizabeth warren) left wing of the party rather than a move to the (lunch bucket Joe Biden) center.
    Ellison was introduced as a candidate within days of the trump debacle with schumer’s endorsement, assumedly as a quid pro quo for leadership of the democrat senate ( a key role due to the fillibuster ). Ellison apparently was the deal maker between Clinton’s pro israel platform and the dissent led by cornel west and zogby. He opposes bds and pretty much is in lockstep with j street and Meretz on policy, which is in fact the position of most American jews.
    Although saban’s labeling of ellison as antisemitic was gross and unfair, skepticism regarding his career and statements is a reasonable reaction and the opposition to ellison because of skepticism is valid and should not be labeled islamophobia.

    • Mooser
      December 6, 2016, 3:36 pm

      Don’t know why you need to come here to argue with yourself “Yonah”. You always end up agreeing with yourself.

    • Citizen
      December 6, 2016, 4:55 pm

      Gee, what did Ellison say, so long ago? That the US foreign policy in the Middle East comprised of billions of people, is guided by a tiny state comprising 7 million? And he thought that was an illogical, impractical foreign policy. Shame on him, eh?

      • Sibiriak
        December 6, 2016, 10:13 pm

        Citizen: guided by a tiny state comprising 7 million?


        A tiny state in league with a large number of rich and influential American Jewish Zionists , and tens of millions of American Christian Zionists, and tens of millions of American Exceptionalist Zionists.

    • JWalters
      December 6, 2016, 8:19 pm

      “Skepticism” that Ellison won’t be an Israeli slave.

      • wondering jew
        wondering jew
        December 6, 2016, 8:52 pm

        On street corners and in the mw comments section comparing 9/11 with the reichstag fire is common rhetoric, from a congressman it is highly questionable rhetoric. Adding on to this his history as an ally with farrakhan, skepticism about his rhetorical inclinations and his world view are appropriate.

      • oldgeezer
        December 6, 2016, 11:02 pm


        Not even remotely as questionable as the bunch of racist fruitcakes who compare BDS or the upholding of international law and IHL to the holocaust.

        If his remarks disqualify him or call his fitness for the position the areany hundreds who need to be fired outright. Election from the party would not be uncalled for.

    • Maghlawatan
      December 6, 2016, 10:53 pm


      It’s not a moment of crisis. The economic system is breaking down

  9. AddictionMyth
    December 7, 2016, 10:27 am

    Great to see these fissures form. People will have to pick a side and there will be winners and losers. I hope Ellison is elected even though his real agenda (like Schumer) is to push dangerous anti-BDS legislation that will result in another Holocaust if it’s successful. Why? Because I think it’s easier to fight than the Hasbara lobby, especially if Hasbara is discredited.

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