Analysis: No comfort in Perez

Ellison will now serve as deputy to Perez, who must steer a party still reeling from its sweeping November loss to Donald Trump.

February 27, 2017 03:31
1 minute read.
US labor secretary Tom Perez

Former US labor secretary Tom Perez.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

WASHINGTON – Those in the Jewish community who feared the implications of a Keith Ellison victory in his bid to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee took little comfort in the results of Saturday’s tally, in which he lost by a mere handful of votes to former US labor secretary Tom Perez.

Their contest required a second round of voting after Perez failed to secure victory by a single ballot. He ultimately earned 235 votes in the Democratic caucus, versus Ellison’s 200.

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Democrats elect Tom Perez to lead DNC

Ellison will now serve as deputy to Perez, who must steer a party still reeling from its sweeping November loss to Donald Trump. The Democrats have not been in worse shape across government – from the federal level on down to state houses and gubernatorial mansions – since the 1920s.

Supporters of Perez consider him a wonky and clever leader for a party in need of a coherent and aggressive strategy.

But the Democrats were desperate for a unifying figure able to appeal to both its moderate wing and its base. Such a candidate never emerged, and Perez came to represent the establishment, while Ellison fought for the party’s liberal core. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama supported Perez, while Bernie Sanders enthusiastically supported Ellison.

Ultimately, the robust support for Ellison on Saturday demonstrated just how divided the party remains. But it also highlighted the ineffectiveness of Jewish groups concerned with his past rhetoric on Zionism and the politics of Israel.

Several groups, including the National Jewish Democratic Council, said they were “troubled” by Ellison’s past comments on US policy toward Israel – repeatedly forcing him to address the concerns. He labeled them “smears” from the political Right.

“The United States’ foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad through a country of 7 million people,” Ellison said at a 2010 fund-raiser. “A region of 350 million all turns on a country of 7 million. Does that make sense? Is that logic?” Earlier in his career, Ellison questioned the moral basis of Zionism and wrote that Israel was founded under “dubious circumstances.”

Perez ultimately won, but Ellison’s near victory proved that such rhetoric is not, as the Anti-Defamation League declared, “disqualifying.”

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