WASHINGTON — The Anti-Defamation League has changed its tune on Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison’s bid to become the next chair of the Democratic National Committee, saying remarks he made on Israel in a newly revealed 2010 speech were “both deeply disturbing and disqualifying.”
The ADL’s rebuke comes after an audio recording was published Tuesday by The Investigative Report on Terrorism in which Ellison speaks at a private fundraiser hosted by Esam Omeish, a former head of the Muslim American Society who resigned from a Virginia state board over recorded comments he made to other Muslims promoting jihad.
“The United States foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad through a country of seven million people,” Ellison said during the talk to his supporters. “A region of 350 million all turns on a country of seven million.”
“Does that make sense?” he asked. “Is that logic? Right? When the Americans who trace their roots back to those 350 million get involved, everything changes.”
Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, announced his intention to run for the open post on Nov. 14 after the Democratic Party suffered a devastating defeat in this year’s elections.
But on Thursday, the racism watchdog group said that Ellison’s remarks that recently surfaced from six years ago made his campaign to lead the Democratic Party no longer acceptable.
In a statement, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt castigated those comments and suggested they reflected not only an inaccurate understanding of American foreign policy but also promulgated prejudiced misconceptions about the Jews and power.
“His words imply that US foreign policy is based on religiously or national origin-based special interests rather than simply on America’s best interests,” he said. “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 US.”
Greenblatt went on to note the long-held bipartisan support for Israel in Washington and expressed concern that that would sustain itself with someone like Ellison leading one of the two major parties.
He further said that Ellison’s comments were out sync with the official 2016 Democratic Party platform, which holds “a strong and secure Israel is vital to the United States because we share overarching strategic interests and the common values of democracy, equality, tolerance, and pluralism.”
When the Minnesota congressman announced his candidacy to lead the Democrats’ largest umbrella group, it immediately drew scorn from hawkish pro-Israel groups for his past criticisms of Israel, his previous affiliation with the Nation of Islam and his past defense of Louis Farrakhan against charges of anti-Semitism, which he later walked back.
The leader of the largest, most prominent Jewish group, however, did not jump to join that choir right away; rather, he came to his defense.
Greenblatt subsequently released a statement on Twitter saying he thought Ellison was “an important ally in the fight against anti-Semitism” but held views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “on which we strongly differ and that concern us.”
In July, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida) was forced to resign as DNC chair last summer after leaked emails revealed DNC officials discussed aiding Hillary Clinton’s candidacy against challenger Bernie Sanders in the primary.
Longtime Democratic strategist Donna Brazile has been the interim chair since those July revelations. Once the election concluded earlier this month, the search for the next party chair began.
Ellison’s candidacy drew notice for his ties to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders progressive wing of the party. Indeed, Ellison was one of the Vermont senator’s most outspoken Congressional backers.
Also noticed was Ellison’s divergent views on Israel from past Democratic leaders, including a more openly critical posture.
He opposed efforts to castigate the UN’s Goldstone Report, which alleged Israel committed war crimes by deliberately targeting civilians during its 2009 war in the Gaza Strip — a claim the South African jurist who led the report committee, Richard Goldstone, retracted in 2011. Ellison also voted against increased Iron Dome funding during the 51-day Gaza conflict in the summer of 2014.
He has long been a darling of the liberal advocacy group J Street, which has supported him throughout his political career.
“Representative Ellison is a true friend to the Jewish people,” the organization said recently. “His support for a two-state solution, opposition to settlement construction and advocacy for US leadership to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are supported by the majority of American Jews.”
A number of other powerful Democratic leaders have announced their support for his bid to chair the DNC, including Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, one of the most prominent Jewish members of Congress.
The ADL closed their statement by reiterating they are a non-partisan organization, but said they felt speaking out on this issue was merited by their commitment to bipartisan support for Israel.