Keith Ellison sure knows how to turn the other cheek!
Last December at the Saban Forum in Washington, probably the biggest Democratic Party donor, Haim Saban, rose to say that the Minnesota Congressman, who is running to be the next chair of the Democratic Party, is “clearly an anti-Semite” and a “disaster” for the party’s relationship to Jews:
[H]e 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
Last Wednesday in Washington, Huffington Post held a debate among seven major candidates to be Democratic National Committee chair, and reporter Ryan Grim asked (minute 27 in the link), “Please raise your hand if you think that Saban should apologize for those remarks.” Reportedly (it’s not clear in the video) all those on stage except Ellison and Fox news commentator Jehmu Greene raised their hands. Ellison then rose to say:
“I just think everybody should know that Haim and I did have a phone call, I won’t disclose what we talked about, but it was amicable, and we’re going to get together and build on our relationship. So I don’t want everybody to think that that was the last word, it wasn’t. And I think we’re on the road to recovery in that regard. So I just wanted people to know that.”
Huffington Post later described the five hands-raised as “a rare rebuke from political aspirants directed toward a deep-pocketed supporter.”
Ellison’s wordy disclaimer must be understood in the context of money: he is assuring all the powers in the Democratic Party that he will not alienate the springs of support from powerful pro-Israel Jews.
In another Israel moment at the debate, former Labor Secretary Tom Perez condemned the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), when Grim asked, what kind of nonviolent movement for Palestinian independence should Democrats support if not BDS (at minute 120). Perez:
I don’t support the BDS movement because I think you look at many of the things that have been said by that movement, and I think they have been very destructive. Rather than forging consensus they’ve torn us apart, and that’s not right. What we need to do whether it’s the vexing question of Israel and the need for a two state solution, the need to get both sides together so that we can have peace and longterm prosperity… We need to make sure that we have people who are organizing who are moving the ball forward. I don’t think the BDS movement is moving the ball forward, plainly and simply.
After the debate, Zaid Jilani of the Intercept asked Perez what he would do about the hundreds of Palestinian house demolitions. Perez ran away from the question, saying, “I understand it’s a complicated issue.”
Ali Abunimah has covered Perez’s disgraceful performance thoroughly at Electronic Intifada. He also noted the similarity to progressive favorite Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s duck and run performance on Gaza in 2014. “Senator, as you know, Israel invaded Gaza today and we just wanted to get your thoughts on that,” Joe Schoffstall of Capitol City Project asked. Warren said, “No,” and walked away.
I believe this is about the importance of Jews for the Democratic Party, politically, journalistically, and materially. Older Jews are largely devoted to Israel, and older Jews represent a “gigantic,” “shocking” proportion of the party’s donor base, experts agree, including even Jeffrey Goldberg. That’s the power of the Israel lobby.
Thanks to Ofer Neiman and Adam Horowitz.