A left-wing Israeli Knesset member on Sunday spoke out in support of Keith Ellison, a Minnesota lawmaker in the race for chairman of the Democratic National Committee who has been accused of harboring anti-Semitic and anti-Israel views.
Citing a “personal source” familiar with the candidate, Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg said Ellison’s views on Israel were consistent with his progressive positions on other social issues.
“This kind of figure is exactly what the global left needs to combat the wave of populism on the right: a left that is clear and unapologetic, that connects between various struggles and minority groups, and one that certainly does not cede to a divide-and-conquer strategy,” she said in a Facebook post.
Ellison’s left, Zanberg said, does not “exclude Israel from its commitment to uphold certain values or get confused in thinking that supporting Israel means supporting the occupation.”
“The fact that the allegations of anti-Semitism have come from those who are willing to overlook the people giving the Nazi salute or the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan is frightening and grotesque,” she added, referring to behavior by supporters of president-elect Donald Trump.
A progressive Democrat and the first-ever Muslim member of Congress, Ellison announced his intention to run for the chairmanship of the DNC on November 14, shortly after the Democrats’ wipeout in the 2016 elections.
Ellison’s candidacy has raised concerns from right-leaning pro-Israel groups over his past criticism of Israel, as well as his one-time affiliation with the Nation of Islam and defense of Louis Farrakhan against charges of anti-Semitism, which he later walked back when he first ran for Congress in 2006.
Last week, an audio recording of Ellison from 2010 was published in which the Minnesota lawmaker can be heard saying 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.”
On Thursday, Ellison insisted those remarks had been “taken out of context,” and were meant to galvanize those present at the private fundraiser to be more engaged with foreign policy.
He also claimed the audio recording had been 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.
Meanwhile, Anti-Defamation League head Jonathan Greenblatt responded to the release of the audio recording by calling Ellison’s 2010 comments “both deeply disturbing and disqualifying.”
“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.
Jewish billionaire megadonor Haim Saban also lashed out at Ellison, calling him “clearly an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual.”
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.”