Jonathan A. Greenblatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League
This article originally appeared in Medium on November 25, 2016
Questions about Keith Ellison Reflect Questions about the Democratic Party
The story of Congressman Keith Ellison’s bid to become the next head of the Democratic National Committee is interesting on many levels. ADL already shared our thoughts on the issue, but it seems worth exploring the topic in more depth, particularly in light of legitimate concerns raised by many as to whether his prospective leadership will help or harm the bipartisan nature of the US-Israel relationship.
As his candidacy has developed, many on the right have attacked Rep. Ellison for a variety of reasons. He has been blasted for once having supported the Nation of Islam. The congressman readily admits to his role in helping to organize the Million Man March. But long ago he disassociated himself from the organization and apologized for its anti-Semitism.
He also has been called a member or sympathizer of the Muslim Brotherhood, the progenitor of Hamas and other Middle East terror groups as well as many extremist political parties. There are questions about the sources of some past campaign funds, but in fact, we have seen no concrete evidence of any link between Ellison and the Brotherhood.
In truth, Ellison has been an advocate on civil rights issues that benefit all Americans. He has been outspoken about anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in his role as a congressman. Local Jewish leadership in his district speaks highly of him.
Long-standing Israel supporter NY Senator Chuck Schumer stands by Rep. Ellison as do many other members of both houses of Congress. Still, there are serious and very legitimate concerns about an Ellison candidacy to run one of the two major US political parties.
While he has stated his support for Israel and a two-state solution, Rep. Ellison has taken the other side at critical moments. He voted against the US providing supplemental funding for Israel’s anti-missile Iron Dome program at the very time that Hamas missiles were raining down on Israeli civilians. He has criticized Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza, ignoring Israel’s legitimate security concerns. He supported the JCPOA despite strong Israeli resistance to the deal. And it is unclear that he would oppose efforts by the Palestinian Authority to undertake unilateral measures to achieve statehood in the short-term, a surefire recipe for disaster in the long-term.
These positions alone raise questions about where Rep. Ellison would take the party. As chairman, would he ensure that the Democratic party prioritize its historic support for the Jewish state? In the event of a future conflict, would he ignore Israel’s legitimate security considerations? We do not know the answers to these questions, but their intersection with other trending issues raise even more concerns.
First, we see trends within the Democratic party that seek to weaken historic US-Israel relations. Recent public opinion polls show that Republicans are significantly more supportive of Israel than Democrats, reversing a reality that existed for many years after the formation of the Jewish state. And there are other dynamics. This past summer, some long-time critics of Israel were invited to shape the Democratic party platform. We also saw some individuals who support delegitimization campaigns against Israel sitting alongside serious candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. In light of all these concurrent factors, many good people fairly ask whether the party will maintain its long-standing balanced commitment to the Jewish state.
Second, we have seen the existing structures in the Middle East unravel in recent years. Extremist forces seem to be more dominant than ever. The horrors in Iraq; the destruction of Syria; the militant expansionism of Iran; the hardening of the terrorist group Hezbollah as a military force; continuing Sunni-Shiite conflict; raging instability in the Sinai; ongoing struggles between Islamic extremists and authoritarian rulers — all these troubling developments underscore the fragility of the region and point to the uniqueness of Israel as a stable country, as a democratic society and as a staunch ally of America. Democrats, like Republicans, should be rallying to Israel’s side at this moment in history. More than ever, America needs to stand firmly behind its friends.
Third, the conduct of Palestinian Authority (PA). Both sides certainly have a responsibility to make peace, but the PA leadership has spent the past several years refusing even to return to the negotiating table with Israel. More than that, they increasingly seek to delegitimize Israel in international institutions; celebrate Palestinian terrorists killed while engaging in murderous actions against Israelis; and repeatedly deny the historic Jewish connection to the Land of Israel. Such ongoing activities create the conditions in which peace will be impossible to achieve.
So, should Keith Ellison serve as the next chairman of the DNC? As a 501-c-3, we will not endorse or reject individuals for such a position. However, as it relates to Israel as a major foreign policy priority, the Congressman needs to explain past votes, to share his present vision, and to clarify how he will act in a future crisis. Without a clear understanding of his positions, it seems impossible to imagine he could build the trust needed to lead a major political party at such a delicate time.
At a time when American leadership on the global stage matters more than ever, all should articulate a vision about how they will pursue our interests and support out steadfast allies, particularly Israel. This is not a political issue per se. Its simply a matter of ensuring the national interest.