Hon. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, America’s first Muslim Congressman, has put himself forward for the job of Chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. Heavy hitters on Ellison’s side include the country’s ranking Democrat, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. But what looked like a shoo-in in the days immediately following Hillary Clinton’s surprise loss now threatens to be de-railed by questions about Ellison’s longtime association with one of America’s leading anti-semites, Louis Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam. A summary of Ellison’s connections to Farrakhan, and a response from Ellison, can be found here.
But Ellison’s associations with Farrakhan may not be the only possible skeletons in the Congressman’s closet with the potential to deter some Jewish Democrats. In 2009, Ellison was the object of a months-long House Ethics Committee investigation for failing to report a trip to Mecca that was paid for by the Muslim American Society, a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate in the U.S. Ellison’s record of attending events sponsored by Muslim groups that, according to FBI reports, are connected with the Muslim Brotherhood, is a long one—and his speaking engagements on the fringes of the pro-Palestine movement have repeatedly brought him into contact with figures that might make even some progressive Democrats uncomfortable.
One such event was the American Muslims for Palestine’s 2010 conference, which took place in New Brunswick, New Jersey on November 26-28th of that year and which advertised Congressman Keith Ellison as a participant. While Ellison’s office did not respond to repeated inquiries, both the website of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and a detailed agenda circulated online and dated the day before the event list Ellison as a panelist, speaking alongside Syrian actor Samer al-Masri, former U.S. ambassador Edward Peck, and Palestinian activist Moustafa Barghouti at an 8:30 AM panel discussion on November 27, entitled: “Two Years after the War on Besieged Gaza: Analyzing Results and Exploring the Future.”
The conference speaker list on the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation’s page includes a number of anti-Israel notables as event participants, including the Scottish firebrand George Galloway, Allison Weir of If Americans Knew, Sheik Mohammed al Hanooti, who was named by the FBI as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 2008 Holy Land terror financing case, Othman Atta of the pro-Hamas Islamic Circle of North America, and Kifa Mustafah, who was once implicated in helping to organize a U.S.-based Hamas support network.
In the absence of a repsonse from Ellison’s office, there is no hard evidence that Ellison (or, for that matter, Galloway) attended—his name is absent from a conference booklet that appeared online and he isn’t in any photos of the conference that appeared in a CNN ireport recap of the event. Links to the U.S. Campaign’s own photos of the conference have gone dead. A search of the AMP website shows that Ellison has repeatedly written letters or spoken at events that are sponsored or highlighted by the group (although it also criticized the congressman in one of its statements).
When reached for comment, Hatem Bazian, the founder and chairman of American Muslims for Palestine, confirmed that his organization had been in touch with Ellison’s office about the conference. Bazian wrote by email that he hoped Ellison would attend the 2010 conference, “considering the high Islamophobic nature of the 2010 election which targeted him for his Muslim background.” In the end, Bazian recalls that Ellison was a no-show: “No reason was given for not attending and AMP wanted the congressman to attend and address the issues at hand. As far as I remember, the conversation with his staff in Minnesota that was handling the invite and it was all the way to the last minute before the convention that no one had a final yes or no so the agenda reflected it.” Bazian says that “Ellison did not attend or speak at the AMP annual conference in 2010 or any other events organized by AMP.”
At the very least, then, if Bazian is correct, Ellison considered attending the event, whose participants were a matter of public record, up until the last minute, when he decided not to go.
When reached for comment, Jonathan Greenblatt, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said “it would be deeply disturbing if [Ellison] knowingly took part in an event alongside virulent anti-Israel activists like George Galloway or individuals associated with Hamas or any other terror group. These people and their noxious views should not be legitimized in any way, let alone validated by appearing alongside a member of Congress. It’s completely unacceptable.”
The office of Chuck Schumer, an early backer of Ellison’s DNC chairmanship bid, reiterated its support for the Minnesota congressman. “Congressman Ellison showed Senator Schumer he actively supports Israel and will push DNC platform members to also back a strong pro-Israel plank. At the DNC, Congressman Ellison understood the need for a pro-Israel platform and helped persuade other members of the platform committee to back it, making it one of the strongest we’ve had,” Schumer spokesperson Marisa Kaufman wrote by email.
Armin Rosen is a staff writer for Tablet magazine.