I have been involved in federal elections for about 50 years.
I recall as a student advocating first for Humphrey and then McGovern when they ran against Nixon. Still vivid to me is when I got the news that Nixon won on the radio of my old Dodge Dart, I gripped the steering wheel in disbelief. I worked on the election of Bill Clinton and the candidacy of the Gore/Lieberman ticket. I remember speaking at length with a then long-shot candidate for Senate, Barack Obama, in a bar across the street from the AIPAC convention about 11 years ago, and how he was pledged to the safety and security of Israel. In later years, I expanded my advocacy to become bipartisan.
One consistent thing I have found in all these years, among the hundreds of congressional members and the leaders of the Democratic Party I have worked with, is their commitment to U.S.-Israel relations. This partnership between the pro-Israel American community and the Democratic party has been steadfast and beneficial to our nation and to our ally Israel, and consistent with the sentiments of the vast majority of Americans.
The Democratic Party’s historic support for Israel has been rewarded by receiving the Jewish voting plurality and immense financial support to Democratic candidates for office. It is well known that the pro-Israel voters make their donations both in greater amounts and more consistently than most other groups; this goes for both the Jewish and Christian Zionist voters and donors. America loves Israel and Israel loves America.
There is a natural connection between America, the greatest force for good in the history of mankind, and Israel, miraculously brought back after 2,000 years as a light in the most troubled part of the world. The Democratic Party and its leadership have made this a pillar of their platform since Truman recognized Israel in 1948, minutes after Israel declared its independence.
This legacy of the Democratic Party is at risk with the candidate for the 2017 chairperson for the Democratic National Committee, Congressman Keith Ellison. Given his troubling voting record on Israel and disturbing past affiliations, the pick of Representative Ellison for this top position could spell disaster to the Democratic Party and the bipartisan nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Ellison has served in Congress since 2007, but his controversial actions preceded his term in office. During the 1990s, he served as a local spokesman in Minnesota for Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam movement. Ellison had publicly claimed in 1995 that Farrakhan “is not an anti-Semite.” Although Ellison acknowledged to the local Jewish community during his run for Congress in 2006 that he had been “involved” with Minister Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, he minimized his past role as an affiliate of the religious organization, which was rife with overt anti-Semitism and hateful bigotry.
During his successful 2006 congressional campaign, Ellison received roughly $50,000 in campaign contributions that were given or raised by officials of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which was spun off of the group Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) that was found to have ties to Hamas.
In 2009, although the majority of Congress — including Democrats — rejected the heavily biased Goldstone report, Ellison harshly criticized the House of Representatives’ decision to reject it, arguing that the report “only presents facts and raises recommendations for the future.” Even the author of the report had serious regrets about it in hindsight.
Keith Ellison came to northern New Jersey mosques in 2012 to campaign for Representive Bill Pascrell in the Democratic primary. Pascrell was running in the state’s reconfigured 9th District against fellow incumbent Democrat Steve Rothman, the lone Jewish member of his party in the House of Representatives. This was unusual not just because Ellison was getting involved in a primary between two incumbent opponents from his own party, but also because Ellison’s own Minnesota district was so far away. Members of Congress who are not in leadership positions tend to help campaign for their colleagues in nearby states and districts, not halfway across the country.
Ellison was the congressman who initiated the 2010 “Gaza 54” letter, asking the administration to pressure Israel to ease the blockade of Gaza. He has gone on Twitter and publicly compared the treatment of Palestinians under Israel to “apartheid.”
In the summer of 2014, during Israel’s conflict with Gaza, Representative Ellison was one of only eight members in the House to vote against a bill to provide emergency funding to Israel for the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system. This was a critical time to bolster Israel’s defense as it was being bombarded by a constant barrage of rocket fire from Hamas.
This year, Congressman Ellison was appointed to the Democratic platform drafting committee by Senator Bernie Sanders. As a member of this committee, he expressed favor for removing language condemning Iran in the Democratic Platform and adding language recognizing Israeli “occupation” of Palestinian land.
The person who heads the DNC will be responsible for the party’s platform stance on issues such as America’s response to the Iranian nuclear weapons program and our relationship with Israel and its neighbors. It can be fairly stated that Keith Ellison has one of the worst records on U.S.-Israel relations in Congress. The clear disdain for Israel and its close relationship with America that Representative Ellison has demonstrated is at odds with the party and the nation.
The Democrats traditionally have been pro-Israel, as has their leadership. Keith Ellison is at the fringe of his party and the nation in his views. His nomination to chair the DNC is a poor choice for the Party and our country.
The candidacy of Representative Keith Ellison should be strongly and duly scrutinized by the Democratic leadership as they cast their votes for DNC chair in March.
Dr. Ben Chouake of Englewood is the national president of Norpac, the largest pro-Israel political action committee in the United States. He runs a medical practice in Cliffside Park and is a board member of several Jewish organizations on the local and national level.