WASHINGTON – Keith Ellison, a congressman from Minnesota running for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, defended himself against charges of antisemitism at a CNN town hall on Wednesday night by citing broad Jewish- American support for his candidacy nationwide.
The congressman has come under scrutiny after writings from his early life surfaced in recent months, revealing his skepticism toward the idea that Zionism cannot be questioned.
While several liberal Jewish organizations and individuals support his candidacy– including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer – many nonpartisan groups have questioned his record, and whether his prior comments compromise his eligibility for the top party post.
“These are false allegations,” Ellison said on Wednesday night, speaking in a debate format on a CNN program.
“These are smears, and we’re fighting back every day .”
The network’s Chris Cuomo quoted back at Ellison with several verses from his writings on Zionism, and questioned whether he would support Israel.
“I have been a stalwart champion of the two-state solution,” Ellison said, characterizing the policy as a “key cornerstone of my advocacy” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He vowed to maintain bipartisan support for the Jewish state if chosen as DNC chairman.
Ellison said he has the support of his Jewish constituents in Minnesota, as well as of more than 300 American rabbis and Jewish community leaders. But several Jewish organizations have come out with criticism of the DNC candidate.
The first Muslim elected to Congress has over several decades praised the Nation of Islam and its leader, Louis Farrakhan, who in the words of the Anti-Defamation League “has embarked on a wide-ranging campaign specifically targeting the Jewish community.”
Ellison has recently expressed regret over his defense of Farrakhan in the 1990s, but Ellison’s own writings reveal that he has, at least at one point in the past, entertained a similar worldview.
“Whether one supports or opposes the establishment of Israel in Palestine and Israel’s present policies, Zionism, the ideological undergirding of Israel, is a debatable political philosophy,” Ellison wrote in 1990, protesting against the University of Minnesota’s criticism of a campus visit by Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael, who famously claimed that Zionists collaborated with Nazis during World War II.
“The university’s position appears to be this,” Ellison continued: “Political Zionism is off-limits no matter what dubious circumstances Israel was founded under; no matter what the Zionists do to the Palestinians; and no matter what wicked regimes Israel allies itself with – like South Africa. This position is untenable.”
His writings and statements later in life suggest a consistency in this political belief well beyond the ‘90s.
“The United States’ foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad through a country of 7 million people,” he said at a 2010 fund-raiser for his reelection hosted by a man named Esam Omeish, who had three years earlier faced controversy for telling Palestinians that “jihad way is the way to liberate your land.
“A region of 350 million all turns on a country of 7 million.
Does that make sense? Is that logic?” Ellison continued.
“When the Americans who trace their roots back to those 350 million get involved, everything changes. Can I say that again?” ‘No place in US for hatred and antisemitism’ Mike Pence rolls up sleeves to help restore Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery • By MICHAEL WILNER Jerusalem Post correspondent WASHINGTON – US Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday visited a Jewish cemetery in Missouri that was attacked earlier in the week, where aid workers were repairing more than 170 tombstones toppled by vandals.
The act was a tipping point for the White House after weeks of reports that antisemitic incidents and rhetoric were on the rise. Senior officials, including President Donald Trump, began speaking out forcefully against the phenomenon this week, breaking a period of silence.
At the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, Pence said the Trump administration is committed to fighting hatred and bigotry in all of their forms.
“There’s no place in America for hatred or acts of prejudice or violence or antisemitism,” he said. “I must tell you, the people of Missouri are inspiring the nation by your love and care for this place, for the Jewish community in Missouri, and I want to thank you for that inspiration, for showing the world what America is really all about.
“To walk in to see that the headstones that were vandalized are already repaired is evidence of your love and your care for the heritage and the history and for those that are cherished here, to the federation and to all of you,” he added, referring to the local Jewish community chapter.
Pence was joined by a regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, which received a bomb threat to its national headquarters earlier in the day.
More than 70 bomb threats have been phoned in to Jewish community centers and offices since the beginning of the year – an unprecedented spike in antisemitic threats, coupled with a marked spike in antisemitic rhetoric on social media, according the Anti-Defamation League and local authorities.
Trump condemned the previous threats as antisemitism for the first time on Tuesday after repeatedly declining to do so when asked by journalists last week. Some Jewish organizations have criticized his approach, saying they fear that the groups that supported Trump had become more active.
The attack on Chesed Shel Emeth was widely interpreted as motivated by antisemitic animus, although the perpetrators have not been identified.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for the second day in a row, commended Trump on Thursday for taking a stand earlier in the week against antisemitism. He also praised Pence for his words and actions on the matter.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post whether he thinks Trump is doing enough against antisemitism, he replied, “He is, yes.”Herb Keinon contributed to this report from Sydney.