The Anti-Defamation League took exception to Donald Trump naming Steve Bannon his chief strategist, but the Jewish civil rights organization is also sounding the alarm over the man widely expected to be the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee. In a statement, the League’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, said his group was appalled by comments Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison made about Israel:
New information recently has come to light that raises serious concerns about whether Rep. Ellison faithfully could represent the Democratic Party’s traditional support for a strong and secure Israel. In a speech recorded in 2010 to a group of supporters, Rep. Ellison is heard suggesting that American foreign policy in the Middle East is driven by Israel, saying: “The United States foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad through a country of 7 million people. A region of 350 million all turns on a country of 7 million. Does that make sense? Is that logic? Right? When the Americans who trace their roots back to those 350 million get involved, everything changes.”
Ellison, who enjoys an out-sized level of name-recognition because he was the first Muslim elected to the House of Representatives, is being championed by many Democrats to take over the embattled DNC. He has won endorsements from Sen. Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer, who say he represents the progressive wing of the party in a way the current DNC leadership does not.
But Ellison’s history, which includes longtime support for the Nation of Islam, is a troubling one. Critics have accused him of harboring anti-semitic views, and those views, according to Greenblatt, are lurking around the edges of Ellison’s 2010 speech.
“His words imply that U.S. foreign policy is based on religiously or national origin-based special interests rather than simply on America’s best interests,” Greenblatt writes. “Additionally, whether intentional or not, his words raise the specter of age-old stereotypes about Jewish control of our government, a poisonous myth that may persist in parts of the world where intolerance thrives, but that has no place in open societies like the U.S.”
Ellison responded to the ADL in an open letter, where he affirmed his support for the state of Israel and blamed the 2010 comments on anti-Muslim antagonists who edited his speech.
“I believe that Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship are, and should be, key considerations in shaping U.S. policy in the Middle East,” Ellison wrote. “Americans with roots or interests in the region should be involved in advocacy and discussions of public policy concerning the region. My response was meant to encourage those in attendance to increase their level of involvement and effectiveness.”
The ADL doesn’t necessarily have the final word on any particular issue or politician, but Ellison’s connections with anti-semitism and extremist organizations go well beyond any one speech, edited or otherwise. At a time when the Democratic National Committee desperately needs to rise above controversy, it’s hard to imagine a worse choice for chairman.