In late 1993 and early 1994, Keith Ellison and I were both deeply involved in politics and policy, he as a civil rights lawyer and radio talk-show host in Minnesota, and I as legal counsel to a United States senator. During that time, Louis Farrakhan’s national adviser, Khalid Abdul Muhammad, gave a speech at Kean College in New Jersey in which he attacked Jews, Catholics, homosexuals, and others in the most shocking and violent way.
Here’s a sample of what Muhammad had to say in that speech, which he delivered Nov. 29, 1993, about the Holocaust:
You see, everybody always talk about Hitler exterminating 6 million Jews. … But don’t nobody ever asked what did they do to Hitler? What did they do to them folks? They went in there, in Germany, the way they do everywhere they go, and they supplanted, they usurped, they turned around, and a German, in his own country, would almost have to go to a Jew to get money. They had undermined the very fabric of the society.
And there was worse. I returned from a vacation to read a copy of the speech the ADL had left in my Senate inbox together with its New York Times full-page ad denouncing it. It so shocked and disgusted me that I stalked across the hall to my boss, Sen. John Danforth of Missouri, and asked what he thought of calling for a “special order” on the Senate floor; a block of time for members to make statements reacting to Muhammad’s speech. Known to his colleagues as “St. Jack,” Danforth was not only a senator, he was an active Episcopal priest, the author of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, and the legislator responsible for creating a permanent Holocaust Memorial Commission, leading to both America’s annual “Days of Remembrance” and the Holocaust Memorial Museum on the Mall in Washington.
I waited silently while Sen. Danforth read the speech. Finally, he looked up. “I don’t want a special order,” he said grimly. “I want an up-or-down vote. I want it now.” I rushed back to my desk and called the Senate cloak room to tell them what was coming.
I also called Rep. Kweisi Mfume’s office leaving an urgent message. Mfume chaired the Congressional Black Caucus, and I didn’t want to blindside the members. A few months earlier, in September 1993, the CBC had entered into what it called a “Sacred Covenant” with Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam for which it had been roundly criticized. Muhammad’s speech was so grotesquely beyond the pale that some members of the CBC had already distanced themselves from it. I thought the caucus deserved a chance to distance itself officially before the pressure that was likely to follow. Then I started drafting.
Moments later, the usually easygoing senator appeared at my desk to see what I had come up with. After all, this was alien territory—Sen. Danforth had also been Missouri’s attorney general, and this was a vote to condemn what we both knew to be constitutionally-protected speech. “Just give me what you have now,” Danforth said. I printed out my rough first draft, typos and all. He looked at it and said, “This works. Let’s go.” Then he strode out of the room to the Senate floor. I lingered just a moment to ask my colleagues to keep trying Mfume’s office, then I ran out after the senator.
As soon as we arrived at the Senate floor, I headed for the cloakroom. A number of messages were already waiting from offices that wanted to join with us. Suddenly I got a frantic message from my office—I was receiving personal threats from CBC staffers. I called one, trying to explain that this was not an attack on them; that had I been trying to hurt them, I would have just ambushed them. The response was a stream of invective-laden threats, and then the line went dead.
Sen. Danforth, along with four other Republicans and five Democrats as co-sponsors, offered the resolution: “To express the sense of the Senate that the speech made by Mr. Khalid Abdul Mohammed [sic] at Kean College on November 29, 1993 was false, anti-Semitic, racist, divisive, repugnant and a disservice to all Americans and is therefore condemned.”
It passed the Senate 97-0. Three weeks later, a more detailed and explicit bipartisan companion resolution was offered in the House by Holocaust survivor Rep. Tom Lantos. It passed 361-34.
Keith Ellison and I were then both 31 years old. He was on record as defending Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism since at least 1989, under the alias of Keith Hakim. But unlike the CBC, which immediately suspended its ties with the Nation of Islam after the vote, Ellison apparently saw no reason to rethink his position. In fact, he continued to identify with Farrakhan and work actively for the Nation of Islam for years after Muhammad’s speech.
In 1995, Ellison himself organized a rally featuring Muhammad—still an outspoken racist and anti-Semite—at the University of Minnesota. Muhammad apparently brought his A-game to the rally, promising that “if words were swords, the chests of Jews, gays and whites would be pierced.”
In 1997, Ellison defended a member of the Minneapolis Initiative Against Racism who said that Jews are “the most racist white people.” In his remarks, Ellison also defended America’s most notorious anti-Semite. “She is correct about Minister Farrakhan,” Ellison insisted. “He is not a racist. He is also not an anti-Semite. Minister Farrakhan is a tireless public servant of Black people…”
In fact, Ellison continued to publicly defend Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam through at least the year 2000, by which time he was serving as a Minnesota state representative. But in 2006, while running for Congress, Ellison evidently had second thoughts about the usefulness of the main public affiliation he had maintained from his early 20s into at least his late 30s, when, responding to concerns voiced by the Jewish Community Relations Council, he claimed that his only involvement with NOI was during an 18-month period supporting Farrakhan’s October 1995 “Million Man March”; that he was unaware of NOI’s anti-Semitism; and that he himself never held nor espoused anti-Semitic views. Most of that is demonstrably false, the remainder begs skepticism.
Today, Ellison still traffics in libels and lies, but about the Jewish State—a form of anti-Semitic propaganda that, unlike calling Jews “bloodsuckers” or blaming them for the Holocaust, is now socially and politically acceptable on the left. There are rules to this game, of course. Thus, on a trip to Israel in June 2016, Ellison tweeted a photo of a sign, hung on a residential window in Hebron, that labeled Israel being guilty of “apartheid.” Ellison’s comment reinforced the libel.
In July 2016, at the Democratic National Convention, Ellison participated as a featured speaker in an event held by the anti-Israel group U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation—part of an alliance of anti-Israel groups, such as American Friends Service Committee, Students for Justice in Palestine, and Jewish Voices for Peace, who all promote the BDS hate campaign against Israel. Ellison also emerged as a key player in trying to make the Democrats’ official platform more antagonistic to Israel. [Update, Nov. 22, 4:00 p.m.: In response to publication of this piece, Rep. Ellison issued the following statement: “I have long supported a two-state solution and a democratic and secure state for the Jewish people, with a democratic and viable Palestinian state side-by-side in peace and dignity. I don’t believe boycotting, divesting, and sanctioning Israel helps us achieve that goal. I supported the Democratic Platform, which embraces this position.”]
It is clear that Ellison trafficked with incredibly virulent, open anti-Semites and supported and defended them until it became politically inconvenient. Then he lied about it—and once in office, he decided to target the Jewish state. Ironically, one of Ellison’s Democratic defenders, Steve Rabinowitz, acknowledges Ellison’s poor record on Israel—in addition to agitating against Israel’s blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza, Ellison was one of the very few members of Congress who opposed aid to repair Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system in a 395-8 vote. Rabinowitz gamely if patronizingly explains Ellison’s role on the Democrats’ platform fight thusly: “He fell in with a bad crowd.” So, is Keith Ellison an anti-Semite? I don’t know. But collaborating with the enemies of Jews and Israel does seem to be a lifelong habit.
Perhaps Ellison was running with the same delinquent crowd in 2012, when halfway across the country from his own district in Minneapolis, he worked to unseat pro-Israel New Jersey Congressman Steve Rothman—a fellow Democrat—in a nasty primary fight that pitted the district’s Arabs and Muslims against its Jews, and where Rothman’s support for Israel was explicitly the issue. The candidate supported by Ellison, who came to the district to campaign at a high-profile event at a mosque, was also supported by a local Hamas sympathizer and other Israel-haters. What could have motivated Ellison to go to such great lengths to try and defeat a sitting member of his own party?
Personally, I don’t care if Ellison ever did or still does hate Jews. He’s entitled to love and hate whomever he wants. What worries me is that a leading member of the extreme anti-Israel wing of the Democratic Party is poised to become the party’s chairman. What disturbs me is that the mainstreaming and elevating of this man—who, at the very least, is clearly more enthusiastic about Louis Farrakhan than he is about the State of Israel—is being done with the support of Sen. Chuck Schumer, and of organizations that claim to represent the interests of American Jewry.
It is also hard to miss the fact that these same politicians and groups are now diverting attention away from actual threats to a campaign of politically-motivated fictions and calumnies directed against Donald Trump, a man who has spent decades supporting an impressive array of Jewish causes and of the State of Israel—and whose daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren are Orthodox Jews. Trump’s daughter Ivanka chose to join the Jewish people, and she did so by all accounts with the approval and full support of her father. Perhaps Keith Ellison, despite his associations and activities, is secretly a great friend of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, and Donald Trump, despite his friends and family, is secretly the raving anti-Semite his detractors allege. But even the most extreme partisan would have to admit that the evidence for either proposition is quite thin. In fact, the ADL and friends have also had to withdraw their accusations of anti-Semitism against Trump’s adviser Steve Bannon and Breitbart news, which briefly flourished after Trump’s win, since they could not point to any actual evidence that either charge was true: In fact, Bannon and Breitbart have demonstrably been among the most dedicated supporters of the State of Israel and most vociferous opponents of BDS and campus hate in the America media.
Why is such a stance necessary? During the Obama years, real anti-Semitism—grotesque libels and actual violence—grew dramatically around the world. In Europe and the Middle East victims of Islamic terror were deemed “innocent victims”—unless they were Jews, in which case they were somehow combatants in a righteous struggle. Here in America, for the first time in our lives, as Obama and Kerry’s “Israel is our misfortune” rumblings grew, we heard rabbis and Jewish leaders—including ADL’s previous chief executive—discuss in agonized tones how the world was beginning to resemble the 1930s. Under Obama, for the first time, we witnessed older Jews huddle after synagogue for hushed debates about whether there was anywhere left for Jews to run now that America was growing inhospitable and Israel was being put under the existential threat of nuclear annihilation. Younger Jews became hesitant to wear yarmulkes on campuses and on the streets.
Donald Trump didn’t pave the way for Iran—a country that quite literally and repeatedly promises to commit genocide against Jews—to acquire a nuclear bomb. Nor did Trump and his close aides seek to demonize his opponents as “wealthy donors” and “warmongers” with loyalties to a foreign power. Nor did Trump ally the United States with Iran in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. President Barack Obama did all these things, and he did them openly, with hardly a peep from the same people who now pretend to fear for their lives under Donald Trump.
Who knows? Maybe reasonable people can differ about these things. But here’s another thing to consider: The people who vouched for Obama to the American Jewish community are now vouching for Rep. Ellison, while condemning Donald Trump and his advisers for the sins of stoking hatred and anti-Semitism that Obama demonstrably committed, and the Democratic Party is now hoping to induce our community to forget.
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