On Keith Ellison
1. I tend to agree with Chomskythat opponents of the Israel Lobby both overrate it and underrate the power of US imperialism. In other words, that the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis(i.e. the Israel Lobby forces the US to commit bad policy against its own interests) leaves the US government untouched on its high pinnacle of nobility, “Wilsonian idealism,” etc., merely in the grip of an all-powerful force that it cannot escape. More broadly, in the words of Bill Weinberg: The problem with too many who are immersed in the Palestine issue is that they are so awed by Israel’s Washington political machinery that they lose sight of the inevitable and over-arching context for this privileged position within the beltway elite: US imperialism. (I would add Christian Zionism to that, as either a subcategory or its own category, especially as support for Israel becomes less debatable for Republicans than for Democrats.)
2. Is this necessarilyanti-Semitic? Of course not, which doesn’t mean that it’s neveranti-Semitic either. Despite popular myth, it’s not difficult to separate anti-Semites from anti-Zionists. Élise Hendrick provides an excellent overview of who’s who in her 2015 takedown of Counterpunch. Clearly, obsession with the Lobby (what Hendrick refers to as “Lobby fetishism”) is less anti-Zionist than it is anti-Semitic, if only by association.
3. Much of the current Ellison controversy is manufactured, meaning not only that he’s called anti-Semitic for past comments but that those past comments are deliberately taken (occasionally ridiculously) out of context, as Glenn Greenwaldand J.J. Goldberg, among others, have noted:
Some of the evidence against him is downright hilarious. One video clip from 2007 was posted to my Facebook page by an irate reader, as evidence that Ellison blames “Jews” for the 9/11 attacks. It’s circulating around the web with explanations that you can hear audience member saying, “Jews benefited from 9/11,” and Ellison replying, “Well, I mean, you and I both know.”
Except that’s not what’s on the video. For context, Ellison is likening the 9/11 attacks to the Reichstag fire, the 1933 burning of the German Parliament that was used by the Nazis as an excuse to crack down on leftists and consolidate their power. In post-9/11 America, Ellison says, bigots used the attacks to justify a crackdown on “religious minorities.”
At this point, someone off-camera can be heard saying, “But who benefited from 9/11?” Ellison replies, “Well, I mean, you and I both know.” The questioner then answers his own question: “Yeah, Bush.” “Who,” not “Jew.” (Cue the Woody Allen routine.)
4. Ellison isn’t an anti-Semite, and it’s (willfully) wrong to suggest that he is. But it’s also wrong to celebrate the Ellison controversyon the basis that pro-Israel organizations are turning on one another. And we’re finally going to have an honest conversation about the power of the Israel lobby[.] Desires to accelerate the contradictionsof neoliberalism lead nowhere at best, to Presidents Trump and Bush at worst. Why should the contradictions of pro- and anti-Lobby fetishism lead somewhere better for the Democrats, when the Republicans have no contradictions, or for Palestinians, whose rights in Israel (or anywhere else) always become collateral to the Lobby’s rights in America in these arguments?
Robert Kuttner is more realistic:
The battle over a new, more progressive and effective leader for the Democrats is degenerating into a bitter fight over loyalty, score-settling, and the power of the Israel lobby.
The Democrats have enough problems. They hardly need this donnybrook, much less a DNC elected in a narrow and bitter factional win. Ellison is a great guy, but this may not be his moment.
I have no objections to Ellison. I agree with Kuttner that [h]is blueprint for party activism reads like a progressive organizer’s dream. But if someone equally progressive ends up becoming the DNC Chair, I won’t automatically think the Democrats sold out. On the other hand, if the Democratic future needs to look like Tim Kaine, that’s a problem, with all due respect to Tim Kaine. As always, it depends.
5. The irony, of course, isn’t merely that the Party of Bannon has no contradictions on Israel (just ask Ambassador Huckabee, Christian Zionist) or that the most well-known Jewish organizations and fellow travelers denouncing Ellison (AIPAC, the Zionist Organization of America, Alan Dershowitz, David Horowitz) defendedBannon to varyingdegrees, but that Ellison’s opinions on Israel are so conventional.
[H]e is a Muslim peacenik. Since entering politics, he has consistently spoken out in favor of the two-state solution, by which he means Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security.
[Ellison has] made statement after statement defending Israel. “The world needs a secure Israel.” (2010) “Every country has a right to defend itself.” (2009)
“I have long supported a two-state solution and a democratic and secure state for the Jewish people, with a democratic and viable Palestinian state side-by-side in peace and dignity,” Ellison said, in an emailed statement. “I don’t believe boycotting, divesting and sanctioning Israel helps us achieve that goal.”
The two-state solution (which is dead, if it ever really existed, and which wouldn’t remedy legal discrimination within Israel’s current or future borders nor would it promote pluralism or a right to return). The right to defend itself (a truism, but also a euphemism for disproportionate force). Opposition to BDS (a nonviolent movement whose demands are ending the occupation, full citizenship rights for Palestinians i.e. pluralism, and the right to return). Far from being the keffiyah-wearing, bomb-throwing radical his rightwing opponents have projected, Ellison is one Democrat among 187 in Congress.
True, maybe that’s the power of the Lobby talking, but maybe it’s just politics.
Photo courtesy of Congressman Keith Ellison. Available at Wikimedia Commons.