During a debate for the candidates on Wednesday evening, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo challenged Ellison over support for Israel.
“President Trump has made the relationship with Israel central to his understanding of that region of the world,” Cuomo said. The CNN host asserted that if Ellison won, critics would be concerned that the new DNC leader is a person “who said that Israel could not be the only lens” through which “all foreign policy was seen” on behalf of “seven million people.”
Cuomo was confronting Ellison with a distorted version of comments he made in 2010 that were taken out of context by the widely discredited anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim extremist Steven Emerson as part of an effort to derail the congressman’s campaign for DNC chair.
Ellison is the first Muslim elected to Congress.
Embracing party line
Despite surely knowing that Emerson’s smears lay behind Cuomo’s question, Ellison ran away from voicing any semblance of concern for Palestinian rights.
He emphasized his support for $27 billion in US aid to Israel that he had voted for as a lawmaker, aid that has undoubtedly been used to deepen Israel’s occupation and colonization of Palestinian land. Ellison stressed his work with members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.
He described himself as a “stalwart champion of the two-state solution” and insisted, “we’ve got to have Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security.”
Notably, Ellison failed to utter any word of criticism of Israel’s aggressive settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank that is intended to scuttle a two-state solution, or the fact that the Knesset continually passes laws to further curtail Palestinian rights and hamper the work of human rights organizations.
Trump recently upended decades of US policy by saying he was open to a one-state solution, but Ellison missed the opportunity to insist that if that were the case it would have to be a state in which Palestinians have full, equal rights.
Of the seven other candidates on stage, Ellison is the only one known for speaking out in the past about Israel’s abuses of Palestinians.
Yet in an ultimate embrace of Democratic Party orthodoxy Ellison said, “I believe that the US-Israel relationship is special and important. I’ve stood for that principle my whole service and my whole career.”
He vowed that as DNC chair he would work to “maintain the bipartisan consensus of US support for Israel.”
So if this was the line a one-time determined advocate for Palestinian rights was going to take at the debate, it is hardly surprising that neither Cuomo, co-host Dana Bash nor any of the other DNC hopefuls questioned why the US should continue its practically unconditional support for a country that has been violently subjugating Palestinians for decades.
At the previous DNC debate, the other frontrunner along with Ellison, former labor secretary in the Obama administration Tom Perez, was caught on camera fleeing from a reporter’s questions about Palestinian rights.
Breitbart News, the white nationalist mouthpiece formerly run by top Trump adviser Steve Bannon, noted that Ellison is endorsed by Charles Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, as well as by Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and Eric Schneiderman, the New York State attorney general.
Combining anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim bigotry in a single sentence, Breitbart asserted that these “left-wing Jews” were backing Ellison “in spite of his support for Islam.”
During the debate, Cuomo described Ellison as “dogged by your own questions about potential anti-Semitism.”
Ellison pushed back against what he termed “false allegations,” and pointed to the hundreds of rabbis and Jewish community leaders who have endorsed him.
“I have a long, strong history of interfaith dialogue, interfaith communication,” Ellison added. “I have strong support from the Jewish community. So these are smears and we’re fighting back every day.”
“It is critical that we speak up against this anti-Semitism because right now, you have Jewish cemeteries being defaced and desecrated,” Ellison said during the debate. “Right now, you have Jewish institutions getting bomb threats. We have to stand with the Jewish community right here, right now.”
This exchange can be seen in the video at the top of this article.
Yet Ellison is the man labeled an “anti-Semite” by Haim Saban – the Israeli-American billionaire and Democratic Party mega-donor who admits that influencing US policy in favor of Israel is his number one priority.
Wednesday’s debate raises a question that is all the more urgent at a time when unrestrained bigotry is again widespread in American politics: why can’t would-be leaders of the Democratic Party stand both against anti-Semitism and clearly for Palestinians’ freedom in the face of rampant Israeli violations of their human rights?