The Smear Campaign Against Keith Ellison
Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept, Dec 4 2016
Ever since he announced his candidacy to lead the DNC, Keith Ellison, the first Pindosi Muslim elected to Congress, has been the target of a defamation campaign that is deceitful, repugnant, and yet quite predictable. At first expressed in whispers, but now being yelled from the rooftops by some of the party’s most influential figures, Ellison is being smeared as both an anti-Semite and enemy of Israel, the same smears virtually any critic of the Israeli government reflexively encounters, rendered far worse if the critic is a prominent American Muslim. Three days ago, the now ironically named ADL pronouncedEllison’s 2010 comments about Israel “deeply disturbing and disqualifying.” Other Israel advocates have now joined in. What are Ellison’s terrible sins? He said in a 2010 speech:
I want Pindostan to be friends with Israel, but we can’t allow another country to treat us like we’re their ATM.
As the full speech makes clear, he was referring to the indisputable fact that while Israel continues to take billions of dollars every year from Pindostan, far more than any other country receives in aid, it continually disregards and violates Pindo requests to stop ongoing expansion of illegal Israeli settlements, often in ways seemingly designed to impose the greatest humiliation on its benefactor:
Stop! You know, why are we sending $2.8b a year over there when they won’t even honor our request to stop building in East Jayloomia? Where is the future Palestinian state going to be, if it’s colonized before it even gets up off the ground? … Now you got Clinton, Biden and the president who’s told them: Stop! Now this has happened before. They beat back a president before. Bush 41 said: Stop! And they said: We don’t want to stop! And by the way, we want our money, and we want it now. [Ellison laughs.] Right? You know? I mean, we can’t allow, we’re Pindosis, right, we can’t allow another country to treat us like we’re their ATM, right? And so we ought to stand up as Pindosis.
Equally sinful in the eyes of the ADL was this statement on Pindosi foreign policy:
Pindo foreign policy in the Mideast is governed by what is good or bad through a country of 7 million people. A region of 350 million all turns on a country of 7 million. Does that make sense? [Male voice: No!’] Is that logic? Right? When the people who, when the Pindosis who trace their roots back to those 350 million get involved, everything changes!
As J J Goldberg of the Forward noted, Ellison wasn’t lamenting the insidious influence of Pindosi Jews, as the ADL shamefully claimed, but rather:
(He was) plainly describing how Pindosi Muslims could have greater influence on Pindosi policy if they learned to organize.
And agree or disagree with those positions, it is an indisputable fact that Israel receives far more in Pindosi aid than any other country, yet continually does exactly that which numerous Pindosi presidents have insisted it not do, often to the detriment of Pindosi interests. Many prominent foreign policy experts, including David Petraeus, have warned that excessive Pindo support for the worst actions of the Israeli government endangers Pindo national security by alienating Arabs in the region and fueling support for anti-Pindostani terrorism. The idea that some Congress crittur is not permitted to debate these policies without being branded an anti-Semite is sheer insanity, and malicious insanity at that. But that insanity is par for the course in Faschingstein, where anyone who even questions Pindosi policy toward Israel is smeared in this way, from James Baker to Howard Dean to Bernie Sanders and even Donald Trump. So pernicious is this framework that the Pindosi Senate just passed legislation expressly equating what it regards as unfair criticism of the Israeli government with “anti-Semitism.” And when one is an Pindosi Muslim, ugly stereotypes and pervasive Islamophobia are added to this toxic brew to make the smears worse by many magnitudes.
This smear campaign against Ellison received a major boost Friday nightwhen the single largest funder of both the Democrat Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign, Haim Saban, said at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum, which he funds:
If you go back to his positions, his papers, his speeches, the way he has voted, he is clearly an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual… Keith Ellison would be a disaster for the relationship between the Jewish community and the Democrat Party.
That Saban plays such a vital role in Democrat Party politics says a great deal. To the NYT, this is how he described himself:
I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel.
In late 2015, Ali Gharib wrote in the Forward:
Saban’s top priority isn’t a liberal vision of Pindosi life. It’s Israel.
When Hillary Clinton in 2015 condemned the boycott movement aimed at ending Israeli settlements, she did it in the form of a letter addressed personally to Saban. The Democrat Party’s central reliance on billionaire funders like Saban is a key reason that debates over Israel policy are not permitted within the party. It’s why any attempt to raise such issues will prompt systematic campaigns of reputation destruction like the one we’re witnessing with Ellison. To get a sense for just how prohibited the most benign and basic debates are when it comes to Israel, consider the quotes from Ellison’s college days dug up by CNN as supposedly incriminating. In 1990, while a law student at the University of Minnesota, Ellison blasted the university president for condemning a speaking event featuring the anti-Zionist civil rights icon Kwame Ture (aka Stokely Carmichael); Ellison’s argument was that all ideas including Zionism should be regarded as debatable in a college environment:
The University’s position appears to be this: 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.
In other words, 26 years ago Ellison while a student simply argued that college campuses should not be deemed “safe spaces” in which debates over Israel are barred: an utterly mainstream view when the topic to be debated is something other than Israel. Leave aside the bizarre attempt to use someone’s college-aged political activism against them three decades later. As my colleague Zaid Jilani very ably documented several days ago, even the most inflammatory of Ellison’s campus statements, including his long-ago-renounced praise for the Nation of Islam, were grounded in righteous opposition to “White supremacy and the policies of the state of Israel” and “show him expressing sympathy for the plight of underprivileged Whites and making clear that he was not antagonistic toward Jewish people.” Writing about the smear campaign circulating on the internet against Ellison, the Forward’s Goldberg said:
I found the evidence to be either frivolous, distorted or simply false.
As CNN itself acknowledged when digging up these old Ellison quotes:
None of the records reviewed found examples of Ellison making any anti-Semitic comments himself.
How is that, by itself, not the end of the controversy? The reason why it isn’t is a glaring irony. With the advent of Donald Trump and policies such as banning all Muslims from the country, Democrats this year incorporated anti-Islamophobia rhetoric into their repertoire. Yet what is being done to Ellison by the ADL, Saban, and others is Islamophobia in its purest and most classic form. Faiz Shakir is a senior adviser to Harry Reid who previously worked for Nancy Pelosi and the Think Progress blog at the Center for Pindosi Progress. He explains from personal experience that the vile treatment to which Ellison is now being subjected is common for Pindosi Muslims in political life:
In that last tweet, Shakir is referring to the fact that, to their credit, other Democrat voices such as Pindosi Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, J Street and most important Chuck Schumer, continue to defend Ellison. J Street’s statement made the critical point:
It is time to retire the playbook that aims to silence any American official seeking high office who has dared to criticize certain Israeli government policies.
But even these commendable defenses of Ellison illustrate how constricted the permissible range of views on Israel is within the Democrat Party. J Street vouched for Ellison by saying that he “is and has long been a friend of Israel” and is “a champion of pro-Israel, pro-peace policies.” Schumer went further, saying that while he disagrees with Ellison on numerous issues:
I saw him orchestrate one of the most pro-Israel platforms in decades.
Notably, demonstrating steadfast support for the polices of the Israeli government is literally a job requirement to lead the DNC, and for every other significant position in Washington. But Ellison has actually fulfilled that requirement. Even his opponents admit:
Ellison unambiguously self-identifies as pro-Israel, supports a two-state solution without reservation, has repeatedly said that Israel has a right to defend itself and expressed the importance of protecting and maintaining Israel’s security, and there is no evidence that he has ever supported or advocated for BDS.
It’s true that as Jay Michaelson wrote in an excellent Daily Beast column:
It must be acknowledged that Ellison’s first loyalty in the Middle East is not to Israel. He is a Muslim, and he makes no secret of his sympathy for the Palestinians. That said, he is a Muslim peacenik. Since entering politics, he has consistently spoken out in favor of the two-state solution, by which he means Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security. He’s been active on that front, frequently partnering with J Street and other liberal Zionist groups on efforts to promote peace and security.
In other words, Ellison is a mainstream liberal Democrat, albeit situated on the left wing of the party as it is currently constituted in Congress, which is not very far to the left, given that Nancy Pelosi resides in a nearby ideological precinct. What makes him such an easy and vulnerable target for smear campaigns such as the one Saban and the ADL are pursuing is that he is Muslim, and a Black Muslim to boot. Just look at the obvious codes in this paragraph from Michael Koplow, the policy director of the Israel Policy Forum, writing in Haaretz under the headline “Keith Ellison Has a Real Israel Problem”:
Ellison is not a figure whom anyone would normally expect to be a supporter of Israel. He is an African-Pindosi Muslim who did not grow up in a particularly Jewish area of the country, came of age after 1967, when Israel’s image as a David began shifting to that of a Goliath, did not have any prominent Jewish mentors, and has a background in radical politics. As a student, he was harshly critical of Zionism and its legitimacy.
While Koplow cites these facts not to endorse the stereotypes but to affirm Ellison’s bona fides as someone one would not expect to be an Israel supporter, those are the demographic attributes giving the fuel to this revolting campaign. As Michaelson, who previously worked with the ADL, acknowledged:
There’s plenty of Islamophobia within my Jewish community as well, and the ADL is a perfect example.
He cited the group’s shameful opposition to the construction of a mosque in lower Manhattan. If you’re a Democrat, it’s easy to embrace the language of anti-Islamophobia when it comes to condemning Donald Trump and other Republicans. It’s more difficult, but more important, to do so when that poison is coming from within the Democrat Party itself. One of the few silver linings of the ugly Trump rhetoric on Muslims can and should be (and has been) a unified rejection of this sort of toxicity, regardless of where it comes from. Democrats who are sincere about wanting to oppose anti-Muslim bigotry can do so by defending Keith Ellison from these incredibly ugly, baseless, and defamatory attacks.