Keith Ellison and the Anti-Semitism Smear

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) recently lost his bid to become the chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Thomas Perez, former Secretary of Labor under the Obama administration and “establishment favorite” of the Democratic Party, secured the tight 235-200 victory over Ellison.

Some of Ellison’s supporters have already expressed their belief that a pro-Israel smear campaign depicting him as an anti-Semite contributed directly or indirectly to his loss. On the other hand, members who voted for Perez, and even some of Ellison’s own supporters within the DNC, dismissed the idea that this propaganda campaign influenced the votes.

It is difficult to say with certainty whether the smear campaign did or did not result in Rep. Ellison’s defeat in the race for DNC chairman. It is unlikely that a voting member would admit to being swayed by anything other than the candidates’ credentials, let alone a malicious attack. Regardless, one thing is certain: some of Israel’s most fervent supporters felt that the race was close enough to require discrediting Ellison.

Despite insinuations that Ellison is an anti-Semite who is opposed to the state of Israel, his record indicates otherwise, and several prominent Jewish Americans, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Al Franken, and nearly 100 rabbis endorsed the Minnesota congressman.

In fact, Schumer points out that Ellison helped orchestrate one of the most pro-Israel Democratic Party platforms in decades, has voted for more than $27 billion in aid to Israel, and has actively fought anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial through interfaith dialogue. He even opposes the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, which works to defend Palestinian human rights. A number of Jewish Americans who know Congressman Ellison speak highly of him, and one constituent says that his views on Israel are actually similar to that of most Jewish Americans.

Given these facts, why did the American Jewish Congress, Alan Dershowitz, Haim Saban, and other staunch Zionists try to portray Ellison as an enemy of Jews and of Israel?

For one, Congressman Keith Ellison has been one of the “most aware” of congressional leaders when it comes to the harsh realities that Palestinians face. Despite his overall support for the state of Israel, he has also criticized some of its human rights abuses against Palestinians. He visited Gaza three times and saw the physical and economic destruction inflicted upon its people. In 2014, he called for the end of the Israeli/Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip, conditional upon an agreed ceasefire.

Ellison was also one of only eight congressional leaders who voted against emergency funding for the Israeli Iron Dome missile defense system in August 2014 (passed in a 395-8 vote – ironically Israel is one of the very few issues that can garner such high levels of bipartisan unity).

The military occupation, colonization, and subjugation of Palestinians is unjustifiable, so it is important for Zionists to stifle any awareness of Israel’s behavior, and misdirection is key. This is why the oldest trick in the Zionist handbook is to allege anti-Semitism against the people who speak out, and this is why Rep. Ellison was targeted. As leader of one of the two major U.S. political parties, he could challenge the conventional views on Israel, and this is simply unacceptable.

This campaign against Keith Ellison is an unfortunate reminder that the political “establishments” of both the Democrats and Republicans are still heavily favored towards Israel. One only has to look at the list of largest donors of both parties to see that this is the case. Shrewd businessmen such as Haim Saban (a Democrat who admits Israel is his primary issue of concern) and Sheldon Adelson (a Republican and huge Netanyahu supporter), would not continue to give millions of dollars to their respective parties if they were not seeing favorable policies.

On the bright side, this reality suggests that American political support for Israel is based more on self-interest rather than ideological beliefs. With time, grassroots advocacy to pressure lawmakers, and perhaps organized financial contributions of their own, supporters of Palestinian rights can shift politicians’ calculations of self-interest to their favor.


Mohamed Mohamed is the Interim Executive Director of The Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center. The views expressed are his own.