Keith Ellison’s flawed understanding of Rabin and apartheid

Man in winter coat speaks at microphone

Keith Ellison, Minnesota’s attorney general, spoke to an online Americans for Peace Now audience Tuesday evening about Yitzhak Rabin.

Anthony Souffle ZUMA Press

Keith Ellison, Minnesota’s attorney general, was wrong to attend the Americans for Peace Now memorial event for Yitzhak Rabin.

By speaking in honor of Rabin, he stepped on fellow Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a congresswoman from New York City, who had initially accepted the invitation, but then in response to constituents’ concerns reconsidered and decided to withdraw.

Whether Ellison has aspirations to higher office or not remains to be seen. Perhaps he thought this event would help him fight off false accusations of anti-Semitism against him.

What is clear is that he disregarded the deep concern the event engendered among Palestinians and Palestinian Americans.

Following his appearance at the event, we must examine the substance of his remarks.

Were they sufficient? Yes and no. And the no outweighs the yes.

Yes, once there, Ellison was right to raise concerns about Rabin. Ellison stated, “He did things which I think are human rights abuses, including ordering breaking the bones of Palestinian protesters.”


But from there, he pivoted quickly to say, “And so you might think, ‘Why are we honoring him?’”

Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, answered his own question: “It’s brave to fight and risk your life in defense of your country and your people, but if you want to demonstrate true great bravery you have to be able to go to your own people and say to them, ‘Unless we make peace with the other side, this crisis will never end and our children and our grandchildren and our children’s grandchildren will go through this crisis that we face right now.’”

He added, “Transcendent courage is facing your own people, who you love, and telling them, ‘We’ve got to try something different.’”

These words would be beautiful if true of Rabin.

But they profoundly misrepresent Rabin and what he had in mind for Palestinians. They ignore Rabin’s failure to ever really reckon with and take moral responsibility for his part in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the policy of “force, might and beatings” to which he subjected a later generation of Palestinians.

Yes, perhaps had his life not been cut short by a Jewish extremist he would have more fully grappled with his earlier self.

But this is speculation. It’s propaganda that Americans for Peace Now is conveying about what might have been.

It feels good, but it ignores the reality that what Rabin had in mind for Palestinians was a “state minus.”

Bantustans didn’t work in apartheid South Africa and there’s no reason to think a “state minus” – essentially noncontiguous Bantustans – would have been at all acceptable to Palestinians pursuing the transcendent overcoming of a second-class legal standing in occupied territory.

That Ellison, supposedly a strong voice on the left, spoke to honor a man whose view of peace was a dressed-up vision of apartheid is deeply troubling.

There are Palestinians and Jews worth honoring for their work to advance equal rights for all people between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Rabin is not among their number.




Mr. Ellison knew exactly what he was doing. He, like 99.9% of all politicians regardless of stripe, is a consummate political opportunist/animal. Always looking to promoting his next election/towards power. As a Muslim he should be ashamed of himself, but no doubt he isn't. "It's all about the Benjamins baby!" This makes Ms. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez look even more brave and courageous for her actions in NOT attending a genocidal, mass murdering, cold blooded killer's so-called "memorial". Finally, to be called an anti-Semite has now become totally meaningless, it is simply a tactic to silence people, period.

Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune,, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.