WASHINGTON — Jewish billionaire megadonor Haim Saban lashed out at Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison Friday, calling him “clearly an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual.”
At the Brooking Institution’s annual Saban Forum, which is hosted and funded by the media mogul, Saban chimed in from his seat in the audience during a question-and-answer session between CNN’s Jake Tapper and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. Tapper had earlier in the session asked the Israeli minister about Ellison’s controversial bid to chair the Democratic National Committee.
While he prefaced his remarks by saying Ellison’s Muslim faith was a “non-issue” and that some of his statements now have been more Zionist than that of Zionism visionary Theodore Herzl, Saban designated Ellison as fundamentally hostile to Jews and the Jewish State.
“If you go back to his positions, his papers, his speeches, the way he has voted, he is clearly an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual,” he said. “Words matter and actions matter more. Keith Ellison would be a disaster for the relationship between the Jewish community and the Democratic Party.”
Saban, an Egyptian-born Israeli-American, is a major donor to Democrats. He and his wife Sheryl gave more than $12.5 million to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s latest bid for the White House.
Since 2007, Saban has been well known as one of the highest overall individual contributors to the Democratic Party. In 2002, he wrote a $7 million check to fund the DNC’s headquarters building in Washington, D.C.
Since Ellison formally announced he would run for the DNC chair opening on November 14, he has ignited a vibrant response from both supporters and detractors regarding his past positions and rhetoric on Israel.
On Friday, Tapper asked Liberman to react to the Anti-Defamation League’s statement Thursday that said comments he made in 2010 were “disqualifying” for the open DNC chair post.
Ellison later penned an open letter in response to ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt insisting his words were “taken out of context.”
Earlier this week, an audio recording was published by the Investigative Report on Terrorism in which Ellison, speaking at a private fundraiser, argued that “United States foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad through a country of seven million people,” referring to Israel.
“A region of 350 million all turns on a country of seven million,” he went on, with the larger number a reference to the Arab Middle East. “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 said the audio was manipulated.
“The audio released was selectively edited and taken out of context by an individual the Southern Poverty Law Center has called an ‘anti-Muslim extremist,’” he said, referring to Steven Emerson, who has claimed the Obama administration “extensively collaborates” with the Muslim Brotherhood.
“My memory is that I was responding to a question about how Americans with roots in the Middle East could engage in the political process in a more effective way,” he said.