Many Jewish and Pro-Israel leaders have raised concerns about Keith Ellison, who is considered to be the top candidate to be Chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Their concerns are based both on Elllison’s past associations as well as his stands on issues related to Israel.
Ellison is the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, and represents a staunchly Democratic working class district in Minnesota. He was among the strongest Congressional supporters of Bernie Sanders, and like Sanders, he says he wants a Democratic Party that will, according to his recent fundraising email, “stand up to Wall Street greed and corporate America.” “We must champion the challenges of working families and give voters a reason to show up at the polls in 2018 and beyond,” he said in a statement.
However, his past associations and comments trouble many of Israel’s supporters.
He once identified with Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan and in 1996, acting as a spokesman for the organization, the 33-year old Ellison read a statement in which he supported allegations that “Jews are the most racist white people.” He has since renounced his connection with the organization. In a 2006 apology to Minnesota’s Jewish community, he said, “They were and are anti-Semitic, and I should have come to that conclusion earlier than I did.”
That’s not the only controversy surrounding Ellison’s past associations, however. According to a Daily Caller report, Ellison received roughly $50,000 in campaign contributions in 2006 that were given or raised by officials of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Several senior CAIR employees have been convicted and jailed for ties to terrorism.
According to a recent report in the Washington Free Beacon, the House Ethics Committee investigated Ellison in 2008 for failing to disclose that his pilgrimage to Mecca earlier that year had been funded by a Muslim-Brotherhood affiliated group, the Muslim American Society, which also set up Ellison’s itinerary for the trip. The Chicago Tribune published a lengthy expose on the Muslim Brotherhood’s activity’s in America and documented its close association with the Muslim American Society.
In 2007 he made a comparison between President Bush and 9/11 and Hitler and the Reichstag fire in 1933, according to a Daily Telegraph report at the time. “After the Reichstag was burned, they blamed the Communists for it, and it put the leader of that country [Hitler] in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted.” Ellison later apologized for having compared Bush to Hitler and said that he did believe Osama bin Laden was behind the attack.
Ellison’s stands on Israel have also been controversial. He voted against Iron Dome funding during the 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza. He was also a strong supporter of the Iran deal, calling it “a triumph of diplomacy over war and prooof that negotiation is an excellent method of peacemaking. It throws a wrench into the war machine and tells those who profit from conflict: we choose peace.”
He has called for Israel to end the “blockade” of Gaza and called Israel’s military offensive during the 2014 Gaza War “disproportionate.” According to the Arab-American Institute website scorecard, his voting record on Israel has been overwhelmingly critical of Israel and supportive of the Palestinians.
Bernie Sanders appointed Ellison as one of his three delegates to the platform committee, and Ellison argued for including language criticizing Israel’s military presence in the West Bank and condemning the Jewish “settlements” in Judea and Samaria.
Those efforts ultimately failed, but many are concerned with the direction the Democratic Party would take under Ellison’s leadership.
A number of powerful Democratic leaders have announced their support for Ellison to lead the DNC, including Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, form Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, and incoming Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, who is also one of the most prominent Jewish members of Congress. Based on this support, Keith Ellison may soon be playing a key role in shaping the Democratic Party’s positions on Israel and the Middle East.