The past year has seen some of the most hateful outbreaks of religious discrimination in decades. Whether it’s a proposed ban on Muslims entering the country, a presidential candidate who targets Jews in his campaign advertising or a literal neo-Nazi rally in favor of the president-elect, people of all faiths have been under attack in way I’ve never seen before.
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After a campaign where the winning candidate sought to divide our country based on faith, race and national origin, I can’t stay silent while the hate of the right wing turns its attention to one of my close friends. Congressman Keith Ellison is an incredible public servant who has spent his life fighting against anti-Semitism and religious discrimination. He’s the kind of person this country needs right now. And it’s time the vicious, false attacks against him stop.
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I’ve known Keith for years. In 2003, while in the Minnesota State Legislature, Keith helped prosecute Holocaust deniers. Throughout his career he’s forged close relationships with groups like the Jewish Council for Public Affairs to make progress on a variety of initiatives to help disadvantaged Americans.
In Congress, Keith has worked to combat anti-Semitism, improve Israel’s security capabilities and advocate for a peaceful resolution to Middle East violence. In 2010, a group of Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders visited the Dachau and Auschwitz concentration camps to witness firsthand the horrors of the Holocaust. Keith invited the trip participants to testify before Congress on the need for Americans of all religious backgrounds to speak out against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.
Anyone who knows Keith knows he is a staunch supporter of Israel and the Jewish people. He has demonstrated unequivocal and outspoken support for the Jewish state and shares America's longstanding foreign policy goal of a two-state solution and a secure and democratic future for the Jewish state – a policy that is supported by the majority of American Jews.
Keith has supported and voted for more than $27 billion in bilateral aid and assistance to Israel. Just this week, he voted to extend sanctions against Iran, allowing the U.S. to punish Iran should the country fail to live up to the terms of the landmark nuclear deal reached last year.
Even in moments of disagreement, Keith's door has always been open. He always listens. He is always respectful. And he always engages with those who talk with him. He was with progressive Jews when we stood for fair lending practices. He was with us when we fought for marriage equality. He was with us when we demanded better wages and better working conditions. And he danced and sang with us at Jewish Community Action's 20th Anniversary. In fact, he played his guitar on stage.
I know Keith can withstand these attacks. He has spent his career bringing people of all faiths, ethnicities and races together to fight against bigotry and hate. The question we need to ask ourselves is: Can we, as Jewish Americans, stand against this hate when it is so plainly visible?
One of my favorite texts in Jewish tradition is about how even a 70-year-old is required to plant a tree that she might never see bear fruit. My work with Keith has always felt like we've been planting trees that we may never see bloom. But our children and their children will.
Keith's vision has always been the same as mine: leave the world a better place than we found it.
Rabbi Adam Latz is Senior Rabbi at the Shir Tikvah Congregation in Minneapolis.