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Rep. Ellison’s Middle East Views Do Not Disqualify Him for Leadership

By Scholars for Israel and Palestine

Scholars for Israel and Palestine condemn the recent attacks on Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) that claim he should be disqualified as a candidate for the position of Chair of the Democratic National Committee because of his attitudes on Israel, Palestine, and Jews. We take no position on who should be selected as DNC Chair. But we insist that attacks on Ellison as anti-semitic or an enemy of Israel are baseless, and nothing he has said or done should disqualify him from the position. Congressman Ellison has consistently supported “a democratic and secure state for the Jewish people, with a democratic and viable Palestinian state side-by-side in peace and dignity.” He also opposes the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. His genuine support for an equitable two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict has been vouched for by many who know him well, in Minneapolis as well as Washington. One may have policy disagreements with Ellison on specific issues, but his positions clearly fall within a legitimate range of opinion and debate for those of us who share a commitment to these fundamental goals.

The Anti-Defamation League has described Ellison’s remarks in a 2010 speech, which appeared to exaggerate the influence of Israel and its supporters on US foreign policy in in the Middle East, as “deeply disturbing and disqualifying.” But that was an ill-advised overreaction to some troubling formulations whose significance is greatly outweighed by Ellison’s overall record. And accusations that Ellison is an anti-semite (made explicitly by important Democratic donors like Haim Saban) are groundless and disgraceful. During a younger period of his life, Ellison unfortunately did fail to acknowledge or criticize the anti-semitism and other forms of bigotry displayed by Louis Farrakhan and other leading figures in the Nation of Islam. But some people can outgrow their mistakes, and Ellison has done so. He has publicly admitted that this was a major error of judgment, apologized for it, and condemned the outlook of Farrakhan and others like him. And Ellison’s record as a member of Congress has shown concretely that those declarations were sincere. Not only is his record free of any signs of anti-semitism; it demonstrates a genuine and serious opposition to anti-semitism. Ellison’s relations with Jewish groups in Minneapolis and with Jewish politicians who are unquestioned supporters of Israel (including Senators Schumer and Franken) are excellent. The fact that Ellison was the first American Muslim elected to the House of Representatives increases the value of these warmly cooperative relationships and underscores the potential damage that unfounded and irresponsible accusations against Ellison could create in this difficult period.

At a time when we face an incoming administration in Washington that will probably give unprecedented support to Israeli rejectionists and supporters of settlement expansion, it is crucial that the Democratic Party, and all who support a just and equitable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts, can speak freely and frankly about the strengths, weaknesses, mistakes, and possible improvements in American policy. The road ahead will likely be difficult. It will not be made easier if unfair and irresponsible accusations are used to intimidate or disqualify voices with legitimate criticisms of existing policies. It is also wrong and foolish to treat potential allies as enemies. We of Scholars for Israel and Palestine strongly believe that in order to achieve a just and secure peace, it is not only possible but essential to be simultaneously pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, and pro-peace. And we are convinced that Congressman Ellison’s views are consistent with this orienting vision.

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