When Keith Ellison threw his hat into the ring to seek the chairmanship of the Democratic Party, he challenged long-held thinking about the type of person who could lead a major American political party. Ellison is both African-American and Muslim, two personal attributes that make him unique as a leading figure in American politics today and that challenge, despite eight years of President Barack Obama, conventional thinking about what a leading American politician should look like.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the first minefield that Ellison has encountered during his candidacy is about whether or not he’s sufficiently pro-Israel and supportive of Jewish values. After all, a tape was recently leaked that purportedly had Ellison making anti-Israel and anti-Jewish remarks, leading to a spike in concerns about him.
Yet, as often happens in our outrage-based political culture, this is much ado about nothing.
In fact, what Ellison’s remarks on the tape revealed were that his views fit well within the majority view of American Jews about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while demonstrating admiration for American Jewish political organizing. And on the substance, Ellison called for an end to Israeli settlement construction and the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel with its capital in East Jerusalem. This position mirrors the position of Obama and the recent Democratic Party platform.
I empathize with Ellison as he grapples with these unfair charges. As a former congressional candidate in Maryland, I too was labeled as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic when I entered my race. And why? Because I strongly advocated in my professional career for peace between Israel and the Palestinians through a two-state solution.
To me it’s clear that the problem that Ellison’s detractors have with him is less about him as a person and more about his message. His views on how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict not only fit well within the majority view of American Jews, but are also shared by a majority of Israelis and much of America’s foreign policy community.
As a committed Democrat, I want my party’s leader to stand for the values of inclusion at home and peace abroad. The last thing we should do is pay attention to the misrepresentations being made by those who oppose these values. Ellison’s record, which falls squarely within the mainstream opinion of Jewish Democrats today, has become a proxy for this battle.
As American Jews, we should not let these misrepresentations take down this honorable man. For if we do, it will say much more about us than it does about him.
Joel Rubin, president of Washington Strategy Group, is a former candidate in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District and a former deputy assistant secretary of state.