The recent spate of attacks on Rep. Keith Ellison’s record of support for Israel and the Jewish community need to come to an end. It is time to retire the playbook that aims to silence any American official seeking high office who has dared to criticize certain Israeli government policies.
J Street believes that this recurrent process undermines our ability to have open, honest and productive conversations about Israel and the Middle East in our national politics, and that it does deep and lasting damage to the American Jewish community.
Since Rep. Ellison announced his candidacy for the chair of the DNC, J Street has been clear that while we do not take positions on internal Democratic Party deliberations, we believe he is one of a number of worthy candidates who warrants serious consideration for the position. Rep. Ellison is and has long been a friend of Israel, a champion of pro-Israel, pro-peace policies and an admirable elected official whose thoughtful and considered leadership has shown deep respect for Jewish values and the Jewish people.
Attempts to paint Rep. Ellison as anti-Israel or anti-Semitic aid a concerted and transparent smear campaign driven by those whose true objections may be to the Congressman’s religion, strong support for the two-state solution and/or concern for Palestinian rights. These opponents seek to unearth the slightest inartful statements from decades in public life, take them out of context and use them as a weapon to silence responsible and important voices like Rep. Ellison’s.
Their charges often have little to do with meaningful debate over whether particular policies advance Israel’s security and future. Indeed, Rep. Ellison has been criticized for taking positions, on Iran, Gaza and other issues that are perfectly consistent with the views of the majority of American Jews and many in the Israeli security establishment.
It is clear that those who have long claimed a monopoly on our national political conversation about Israel and the Middle East are frustrated that there are now respected voices challenging hard-line positions which, we believe, seriously endanger Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state and rarely show regard for the rights of Palestinians.
J Street has always stood for open debate, and we welcome and respect disagreements over policy questions. But responsible leaders in the American Jewish community must take care not to charge that those who are critical of certain Israeli government policies are “anti-Israel,” or worse, and thus not “qualified” to hold high national office. It is time to put away the old playbook.