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Jewish advocacy group: DNC chair candidate’s Israel remarks are ‘disturbing and disqualifying’

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) is facing quite an uphill battle in his campaign to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

First Ellison, the country's first Muslim congressman, cancelled his sit-down with the New York Times when he learned the newspaper planned to ask him about his ties to extremely controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, and now his past comments about Israel are getting him in trouble with the Anti-Defamation League.

In fact, the leading Jewish advocacy group described the Minnesota lawmaker's recently discovered comments about Israel as both "disturbing and disqualifying" in a statement released by CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt on Thursday.

Greenblatt took particular issue with a speech Ellison gave in 2010 blasting the U.S. government for framing its foreign policy in the Middle East around its historically close relationship with the Jewish state.

"The United States foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad through a country of 7 million people," the ADL quotes Ellison as saying. "A region of 350 million all turns on a country of 7 million. Does that make sense? Is that logic? Right? When the Americans who trace their roots back to those 350 million get involved, everything changes."

And Greenblatt held nothing back in his response to Ellison's words, calling the remarks against Israel "poisonous" and reminiscent of "age-old stereotypes":

Rep. Ellison’s remarks are both deeply disturbing and disqualifying.  His words imply that U.S. foreign policy is based on religiously or national origin-based special interests rather than simply on America’s best interests. Additionally, whether intentional or not, his words raise the specter of age-old stereotypes about Jewish control of our government, a poisonous myth that may persist in parts of the world where intolerance thrives, but that has no place in open societies like the U.S.

The concerns the ADL is now expressing about Ellison are not new. When the Democratic politician first announced his candidacy for DNC chief, the advocacy group "did not rush to judgment," but instead "took a hard look at the totality of his record on key issues on our agenda."

Regardless, Greenblatt found cause for "real concern where Rep. Ellison held divergent policy views, particularly related to Israel’s security."

"We have seen [Ellison] through his work in Congress as an important ally in the fight against anti-Semitism and for civil rights," Greenblatt said in his first statement on the matter. "However, the congressman also has made statements and taken positions, especially regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and on the JCPOA, on which we strongly differ and that concern us."

On Wednesday night, Ellison went into clean-up mode. In a blog post of his own, the Muslim congressman addressed the concerns expressed by the ADL, noting that he has learned from his past comments and distanced himself from Farrakhan, who is a well-documented anti-Semite and all-around radical.

"When I first heard criticism about Louis Farrakhan, the leader of Million Man March, I felt the March’s message of empowering young African Americans was being attacked. But I clearly didn’t go deep enough. I defended the organizer of the March in writing, but I glossed over the hurtful and divisive language he directed at other communities," Ellison wrote.

And of other divisive leaders he's supported in the past, the lawmaker had this to say:

These men organize by sowing hatred and division, including, anti-Semitism, homophobia and a chauvinistic model of manhood. I disavowed them long ago, condemned their views, and apologized.

I have always lived a politics defined by respecting differences, rejecting all forms of racism and anti-Semitism. A politics based on inclusion, and diverse communities organizing together for economic justice for everyone.

Among Ellison's highest profile supporters is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a failed candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, who said last month he is "deeply humiliated" by the DNC's inability to reach white, working-class voters, whom he represents.

One last thing…
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