NEW YORK- “I have been a strong supporter of the Jewish state [...] I also am committed to its safety and security, and believe in the importance of the US-Israel relationship and striving for a two-state solution,” the top contender to be the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Keith Ellison, wrote in an open letter to the ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt on Thursday.
Earlier that day, ADL had released a statement calling into question Ellison’s his ability to faithfully represent the democratic party’s traditional support for Israel, after coming across a speech recorded in 2010 in which Ellison is heard suggesting that American foreign policy in the Middle East is driven by Israel.
“The United States foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad for a country of seven million people,” he said in the recording. “A region of 350 million all turns on a country of seven million. Does that make sense? Is that logic? Right? When the Americans who trace their roots back to those 350 million get involved, everything changes.”
The comments, Jonathan Greenblatt said, are “deeply disturbing and disqualifying.”
“His words imply that US foreign policy is based on religiously or national origin-based special interests rather than simply on America’s best interests,” the ADL CEO explained.
“Additionally, whether intentional or not, his words raise the specter of age-old stereotypes about Jewish control of our government, a poisonous myth that may persist in parts of the world where intolerance thrives, but that has no place in open societies like the US”
The Anti-Defamation League had initially supported Ellison’s candidacy, acknowledging areas of commonality, while still expressing some concern over his views on Israel and its security. Greenblatt had also conducted a conversation with Ellison himself.
In it’s statement on Thursday, ADL added that Ellison’s recorded comments “sharply contrast with the Democratic National Committee platform position”, which states that a strong and secure Israel is “vital to the United States because we share overarching strategic interests and the common values of democracy, equality, tolerance and pluralism.”
Greenblatt further added that bipartisan support for Israel is “crucial” for the US-Israel relationship, based on shared values such as “equality and commitment to the rule of law."
“Whoever it may be, we would hope that the next head of the Democratic Party would have fidelity to these timeless ideals at all times,” he continued.
In his response to Jonathan Greenblatt, Ellison, who was also the first Muslim elected to Congress, made clear he is a supporter of the country and even voted “for more than $27 billion in aid to Israel."
As for the tape, Ellison wrote that “the audio released was selectively edited and taken out of context."
“My memory is that I was responding to a question about how Americans with roots in the Middle East could engage in the political process in a more effective way,” he explained. “My advice was simply to get involved.”
“I believe that Israel and the US-Israel relationship are, and should be, key considerations in shaping US policy in the Middle East,” Ellison continued. “Americans with roots or interests in the region should be involved in advocacy and discussions of public policy concerning the region.”
The congressman also wrote: “I have always fought anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, and homophobia - the same values embodied by the Anti-Defamation League.”
According to him, the release of the tape was “an attempt by right-wing interests to drive a wedge between long-standing allies in the fight for equal rights.”
“I am saddened by your statement, but I am committed to building a strong relationship with you,” Ellison told Greenblatt in conclusion. “Let’s get together as soon as possible to discuss our shared beliefs and commitment to fairness and justice.”