Thursday, December 22, 2016

Ellison Continues To Impress on Jewish Engagement

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), one of two leading candidates to become the new DNC chair (the other being former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez), has faced concerns about prior associations with anti-Semitic groups -- specifically the Nation of Islam.

He's also done, in my view, a very good job responding to them -- certainly, he's been far more impressive than certain Jewish organizations I could name which treated him as a make-up call for Steve Bannon. I was extremely pleased to see the group I'm a part of, Third Narrative, issue a strong statement defending Ellison on this front. And the letter Ellison just wrote to a group of Conservative Rabbis only reaffirms my sense that he'd be an excellent friend and ally to Jewish Democrats as DNC chair:
Ellison, beginning his three-page letter to the Rabbinical Assembly with a quote from Pirkei Avot, Jewish ethical teachings – “The one who learns, learns from everyone” – expressed regrets, as he has several times since launching his bid to lead the DNC, for his association years ago with the anti-Semitic Nation of Islam.
“At the time, I did not grasp [Louis] Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism,” he wrote, referring to the movement’s leader.
“It was difficult for me to see that the struggle for equality for African Americans could be subverted into hatred of others, specifically anti-Semitism,” Ellison wrote. “I focused on Farrakhan speaking to concerns of Black men. When I became aware that he made hateful statements about other groups, including the Jewish community with whom I was so close, I knew that I must reject his teachings. And I rejected them completely.”
Ellison, who has routinely voted for defense assistance to Israel, also for the first time regretted his exceptional vote against additional missile defense assistance for Israel during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.
“In my mind, confident that the Iron Dome funding that I have always strongly supported would pass, I cast a vote reflecting my commitment to restoring calm and quiet at a moment of violence,” he said, referring to the anti-missile system Israel used to deflect Hamas rockets. “My voice was not being heard and I felt in the moment that casting my vote was a vital way to amplify my message. It was the wrong way to speak out and it was the wrong way to vote. I regret it deeply.”
Ellison, who first publicly rejected the anti-Israel Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement in a statement last month to JTA, says in the letter that he has “fought” BDS with Jewish allies.
“Together we have fought against BDS and continuous attempts to delegitimize Israel in Minnesota, in the United States, and around the world,” he said. “I have said time and time again that BDS does not help anyone advance the goal of a two-state solution.”
Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, also recalls his years of combating Holocaust denial, including among Muslims.
Good for him -- and in particular, good for him on the Iron Dome portion (which has been one of the last remaining sticking points for many of my Jewish friends).

I should say that, my warm feelings towards Ellison aside, I remain undecided between him and Perez (who's been doing outreach of his own to the Jewish community). On the one hand, Perez comes more from my "wing" of progressivism (wonkish rather than populist). On the other hand, I think it's fair to say that my wing had its people in place this election and we lost. On the other other hand ... well, this would be its own post.

But this is all overshadowed by my main priority: the ever-futile effort to prevent a choice between two great progressive options becoming a hysterical battle wherein each side considers the other traitors to the party (it was such fun in 2016 and 2008!). Both Perez and Ellison would make excellent DNC chairs. Simple as that. But on the subject of the Jews and in the context of being a great DNC chair, one of Rep. Ellison's greatest strengths will be the genuine and sincere friendship he's extended to the Jewish people and his commitment to the preservation of a secure, democratic state in Israel that exists in peace with a Palestinian neighbor.


bookworm914 said...

2 months later, I see the below-linked opinion piece by Professor Dershowitz addressing the same topic with rather opposite conclusions. I mostly find Dershowitz unreliable and a contra-indicator of my beliefs, but I hadn't heard the claim about Ellison's comments to his then-law professor. Have you heard this claim before / do you find it reliable, and have you heard about Ellison addressing it at all?

David Schraub said...

I think to a lawyer, not a law professor? In any event, I had not seen those reported anywhere else (which makes my antennae go up, since it's not like Ellison's lacked for scrutiny). Ultimately, I trust the Jews in the Twin Cities area (a community I used to reside in) over Dershowitz any day of the week. And while it does seem clear to me that Ellison had some significantly problematic views in his past, as I wrote earlier this week: "Anyone who rejects the possibility that someone who was antisemitic can come to reject it likes fighting antisemitism more than beating it."