Don't Be Fooled: Ellison Lost the DNC Vote Because of a Pro-Israel Smear Campaign
BY: Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer
Did Keith Ellison lose the DNC chairmanship because of multiple threats from the pro-Israel lobby?
Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, a leading candidate for the Democratic National Convention chair, lost the vote on Saturday to Obama’s former Labor Secretary Tom Perez by a margin of 235-200.
Many supporters of Ellison, who is the first Muslim elected to Congress, believe he abruptly lost Saturday’s election after a last-minute rush of anti-Semite and anti-Israel accusations from the pro-Israel lobby. According to an Ellison campaign official, the team used considerable resources to combat the smear campaign in the final 36 hours before the vote.
The Smear Campaign
Democrats vying for the chair debated on Wednesday before Saturday’s election. At the debate, Ellison’s history of criticizing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians was brought up multiple times.
CNN anchor Chris Cuomo was the first to challenge Ellison, stating that if he won, many Democrats would take issue with his viewpoint that “Israel could not be the only lens” through which “all foreign policy was seen.”
Cuomo spoke in reference to a 2010 statement made by Ellison at a fundraising party, where the Minnesota Rep stated: “United States 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. Does that make sense?”
After Ellison announced he was running, Jonathan Greenblatt, director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a pro-Israel group, said the Congressman was a good man and stood behind him, but two weeks later, the ADL released a statement from Greenblatt, saying Ellison was perpetuating an “age-old” stereotype “about Jewish control of our government… that has no place in open societies like the U.S.”
The switch in character allegedly happened after Greenblatt heard another old recording, a 36-second tape from 2007 where Ellison compares the 9/11 attacks to the 1933 burning of the German Parliament, which Nazis used as an excuse to crackdown on its opposition and gain popularity.
In the short recording, Ellison says bigots have used the 9/11 terrorist attacks to crackdown on “religious minorities.” The tape began circulating again by those who think Ellison blames “Jews” for the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the tape. Although he says nothing about blaming 9/11 on Jewish people, this tape, along with the 2010 recording, was used against him during his bid for DNC chair.
The People Behind the Smear Campaign
Steven Emerson, a self-proclaimed expert on terrorism and known anti-Muslim extremist (who has also perpetuated a lie that the Obama administration was working for the Muslim Brotherhood), intentionally took the 2007 clip out of context and has called Ellison an anti-Semite many times. His work is what could have possibly convinced the ADL that Ellison was allegedly anti-Semitic.
During the debate, Cuomo also said Ellison was “dogged by [his] own questions about potential anti-Semitism.”
Ellison pushed back, calling these false allegations, adding, “I have a long, strong history of interfaith dialogue, interfaith communication.” Ellison has been speaking out fiercely against the wave of anti-Semitic hate crimes taking place across the country, which is more than President Trump has said. Ellison has also stated on numerous occasions throughout his career that his intentions are to combat racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia.
Two prominent Jewish Congressmen, Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders endorsed Ellison, as well as other Jewish DNC voters. However, Haim Saban, an Israeli-American mega-donor who has admitted that his only priority is to influence U.S. politics in favor of Israel, also labeled Ellison an anti-Semite. The debate moderator asked if Saban should apologize to Ellison for this accusation.
“I just think everybody should know that Haim and I did have a phone call,” Ellison replied. “I won’t disclose what we talked about but it was amicable and we’re going to get together and build on our relationship.”
Together, Saban, Emerson, Greenblatt and other pro-Israel leaders made it difficult for Ellison to move away from the anti-Semitism conversation.
The Last-Minute Letter That Converted the Democrats
Alan Dershowitz, a self-proclaimed centrist liberal and long time contender to Palestinian author Edward Said, wrote a letter the day before the DNC vote, threatening to leave the party and stop providing funding if Ellison is elected.
Dershowitz wrote that he wouldn’t vote for Ellison because he has a “long history of sordid association with anti-Semitism.” He said he did not believe Ellison when he said he was unaware of anti-Semitism from a Nation of Islam leader from his youth. “That is not a credible statement,” Dershowitz reported. He was referencing Ellison’s youthful support for Nation of Islam leaders, Kwame Ture and Louis Farrakhan. Both leaders have made anti-Semitic statements, but in 2006, Ellison apologized for “not doing more to directly call out their anti-Semitic views.”
In the letter, Dershowitz also said he won’t be voting for Ellison because of a story he heard from a woman years ago. “A prominent lawyer, with significant credibility, told me that while he was a law student, Ellison approached her and said he could not respect her, because she was a Jew and because she was a woman who should not be at a law school. This woman immediately disclosed that anti-Semitic and anti-feminists statement to her husband and friends, and I believe she is telling the truth.”
This story is unverified and seems very out-of-character for Ellison, but Dershowitz chooses the stories he wants to believe.
The letter, along with similar ones written by pro-Israel organizations, was reportedly sent to Jewish DNC voting members in order to stop Ellison.
Using Ellison’s Past to Call Him Anti-Semitic
A few attendees at the Atlanta-based DNC vote blamed CNN’s coverage of Ellison as a contributing factor to his loss. In December of 2016, CNN published a lengthy story examining Ellison’s relationship with Nation of Islam leaders during his youth.
At the same time as the CNN story, the Jewish newspaper Forward, had published a story actually defending Ellison, but was – like many of Ellison’s statements – taken out of context. The author defends Ellison’s 2007 and 2010 events, claiming they do not have any anti-Semitic statements in them, but the investigative report was used as further proof of his alleged anti-Semitism.
The Washington Post also published an op-ed in December arguing that Ellison is not anti-Semitic in order to weed out the false accusations. The article explains how the ADL and Jewish leaders are intentionally using the 2007 and 2010 incidents out of context in order to rally voters for a different DNC chair.
Is it Islamophobia?
Some Ellison supporters believe Islamophobia was at play in the campaign, or that the party wants to be “progressive except on Palestine” – a term used to describe liberals who support equality and justice for everyone, but Palestinians.
“Probably the most heartbreaking part of this process was seeing the fruition of Islamophobia in our own party. It was Islamophobia, to the fullest extent possible, and it was disappointing [that Democrats] were influenced by it,” said Melahat Rafiei, a California DNC voting member who supported Ellison.
A Chicago nurse who attended the Atlanta rally to back Ellison told Vox that “[Democrats] claim they’re an inclusive party, but then they drop a Muslim and everyone backs off.”
Missouri Democrat Brian Wahby, an Arab American voting member, disagrees with the Islamophobia question.
“Nobody said anything to me about that,” Wahby told Vox. He credited Ellison’s loss to “emotions” instead.
“Emotions run high, and they’re running very high now — not just in the DNC but in the country. We say a lot of things we don’t really mean in an election.”
Is Ellison Even That Pro-Palestinian?
Ellison is known for being more pro-Palestinian than a typical democrat, but is he really that supportive? He has visited Gaza on numerous occasions and criticized Israel’s denial of Palestinian’s rights to travel. However, Ellison made major concessions of his pro-Palestine views before the DNC election.
In November, he condemned the BDS movement in an official statement from his office, and at the debate, he reiterated his opposition to the movement once more. He brought up anti-Semitism far more than the rising anti-Muslim attacks, as well.
Ellison’s actions were apparently not enough, though. The frontrunner lost the election at the last minute because of misconstrued and outdated words that don’t even relate to whether or not he has the ability to lead the Democratic Party. Showing the slightest support for Palestinian rights can drown an elected official’s career in a matter of days. Now that’s power.