A letter to Keith Ellison: How Jews will love you

Rep. Keith Ellison

Rep. Keith Ellison

Dear Mr. Ellison,

I share many of the concerns expressed by your critics who are opposed to your candidacy to head the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Among other things, your past associations with some nasty anti-Semitic forces, such as the Nation of Islam, and your vote against special Iron Dome funding for Israel, were a major turnoff.

Even the liberal-leaning head of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, came out against you last week after the release of a 2010 audio clip, in which you go on about how a tiny country like Israel can have such an inordinate influence on American foreign policy. Greenblatt called your words “deeply disturbing and disqualifying.”

So, when I put on my pro-Israel hat, my view is that the Democrats can do better. After all, we want Israel to be a bipartisan issue in Congress, so why pick someone with a controversial record on that very issue? Why not have someone who might help us heal the growing rift between the two parties on the hot potato subject of Israel?

But let’s assume, for now, that you will win. What happens then? Can you become an ally in the fight against anti-Semitism? Can you bridge the gaps between the two parties on Israel?

If the past is any guide, the politics will intrude. My comrades on the right will use your victory as further evidence that the Democrats are moving away from their support of Israel, while my friends on the left will get defensive and accuse the right of trying to make Israel a partisan issue. We’ve seen that movie before.

The movie we don’t often see is when the Jewish community puts politics aside for the sake of unity and the common good.

This is where you come in. You can help change the dynamics. You have huge credibility with the people we most need to reach — the multicultural new generation that has been unfairly poisoned on Israel. You can tell them what’s in your heart and what’s in your mind, such as what you said last month:

“I support Israel. And 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.”

You can also tell them that you are opposed to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, which only aims to delegitimize the Jewish state.

But if you want to really endear yourself to the whole community, there’s something else you can do, something more proactive.

In that 2010 audio clip, you seemed to express a grudging admiration and respect for what the Jews and Israel have accomplished. It’s as if you were saying: “Yes, the Jews are powerful, the Jews are successful, the Jews have accomplished a lot, but instead of complaining about it, why don’t we learn from them?”

Am I right in noticing that?

Because if I am, this could be a compelling new trope that would be good for everyone. Some of my Jewish friends may be uncomfortable with that trope, because anything that smacks of stereotypes brings back dark memories. But the way I see it, I’d rather people learn from the Jews and engage with them rather than hate them or boycott them.

It’s the same principle with regard to Israel. You can tell your followers that demonizing and boycotting Israel won’t bring peace, and that the best way to oppose Israel’s policies is to do what the Jews in America have done so well — engage, engage, engage. Work with the system. Get creative, not destructive.

You can also remind your followers of the Jewish people’s indigenous connection to the land of Israel, and that Arab citizens of Israel have more rights and freedoms in the Jewish state than in any Arab country in the Middle East. And if you’re up to it, you can invite the Palestinian leadership to put a peace offer on the table, so we can see how serious they are about making a deal.

Fight anti-Semitism, fight BDS, encourage your followers to engage rather than boycott Israel, and many (if not all) Jews will love you.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

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