Keith Ellison, the black Minnesota congressman and the only Muslim in Congress, wants to become the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee. But he has a checkered record on Jews and, quite frankly, on anti-Semitism. To evaluate the responses to his candidacy, it is useful first to look at roughly four contending viewpoints concerning Israel. I color-code them from white to black.
1) CW Code White
This is the majority group among American Jews, and probably among all Americans. They are people who find no problem in standing for Israel. I count myself in this group. I attend AIPAC meetings when I can, I attend Salute to Israel parades, I contribute to the Jewish National Fund. Like all the other categories, this one is not homogeneous; there are a number of ways in which one can be CW on this issue.
2) CLG Code Light Grey
These are the people organized in groups like JStreet and similar formations. Much of this activity is financed by George Soros (see my writeup here.) The ideas behind this (thin) slice of American Jewish opinion are roughly as follows: Well, yes, of course we are for Israel. One hundred percent. But the government over there ? Can you believe it, it is right wing. Not liberal, not humanistic, not like us at all. They are a bunch of right-wingers, reactionaries, McCarthyites. They are at war with the Palestinians because, well, because they are right-wing chauvinists. They carry on this Occupation. They don’t realize what is good for Israel. We American Jewish progressives, we do know what is good for Israel. If only those unenlightened voters of Israel were to listen to us and were to vote for a left-wing splinter party and end the Occupation, there would be peace in the Middle East, pronto.
3) CDG Code Dark Grey
As things get darker here, we have little grouplets of Social Justice warriors, often overlapping with Code Black, who may not directly call for the destruction of Israel but who are close to it. An example is the New York group “Jews for Racial and Economic Justice,” which I have described here.
4) CB Code Black
Electronic Intifada, Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace. From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free. Intifada ! Intifada !
So much for background. How does it relate to Keith Ellison’s candidacy ? Who wants him in, who wants him out ? A Google search reveals a cacophony of opinion on the matter; I will here only mention those reactions that I found particularly enlightening.
First, there is a strikingly revealing contribution by Sami Rahamim, an undergraduate student who describes himself as “a pro-Israel activist and Jewish student leader,” as well as a “friend,” constituent, and supporter of Ellison. But he also lists all the hostile public positions that Ellison has taken, against Israel, and yes, against Jews. Any careful reader of this piece will most likely take it not as the endorsement that Rahamim apparently imagines it to be, but rather as a fairly clear piece of damning with faint praise.
Next, there is the strident op-ed by Jeremy Ben-Ami, head of the CLG “JStreet.” “Stop smearing Keith Ellison” apoplexes the heading to this piece. “Ellison is but the latest public figure with pro-Israel views that depart from the hawkish dogma of the traditional pro-Israel establishment to find his personal credibility and qualification for high office under fire …” and so forth. To be sure, “Ellison has made mistakes…,” but never mind a spot of anti-Semitism in the past. The true villains, to Mr. Ben-Ami, are Israel and its supporters. And note the style: those fully committed to Israel are not merely mistaken, they “smear,” which is to say they are morally reprehensible.
As we get into deep CB territory, there is even stronger vilification of Ellison’s critics. Mr. Glenn Greenwald does Ben-Ami one better: “The smear campaign against Keith Ellison is repugnant …” Once again the tell-tale propagandistic “smear.” Mr. Greenwald finds that Ellison’s charges against Israel constitute “indisputable fact.” Criticism of Ellison, according to Greenwald, “is sheer insanity: malicious insanity at that.” Mr. Greenwald’s online “Intercept,” totally financed by the Iranian-American billionaire Pierre Omidyar, has now published at least 85 anti-Israel attack articles in its two and a half years of existence.
Another Code Black source, the “Electronic Intifada,” saluted Ellison in 2014 as constituting “a tiny but important crack in [the] unwavering support for Israeli crimes among US elected officials.” Now, in November 2016, the Intifada regrets Ellison’s apparent opposition to the BDS movement. Nevertheless, Electric Intifada advises its readers that “activists … believe Ellison … is still likely to be the best candidate for the job.”
So here is the upshot. Ellison’s public record, in this respect not unlike that of many other American politicians, shows some inconsistency. But there is wisdom in the old adage: show me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are. Those who hate Israel support Ellison. Not a good recommendation for the job of chairman of the Democratic National Committee.