WASHINGTON - A number of Jewish American organizations expressed dismay on Monday after The Wall Street Journal revealed that Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, attended a private dinner with Nation of Islam founder Louis Farrakhan, who has expressed Anti-semitic opinions over the years.
According to The Journal, Ellison attended the event in New York in 2013. Both Farrakhan and Iranian President Hassan Rohani were present. Ellison had praised Farrakhan in the past, but repudiated him during his first Congressional run in 2006.
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti Defamation League, addressed the issue in a series of tweets on Monday. While cautioning that his organization was still gathering information about it, Greenblatt wrote that "Based on what we know, it is extremely disturbing that Democratic [members of Congress] or members of any political group would attend a session hosted by hatemongers."
Greenblatt also wrote that even if Ellison was only one of many people who attended the event, "the presence of Louis Farrakhan should have been a red flag. He is an unrepentant anti-Semite who has said Jews are Satanic and responsible for 9/11." Greenblatt called on Ellison and others at the event who have denounced Farrakhan in the past to do so again.
Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington D.C., told Haaretz that he thinks Ellison needs to step down from his position as vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee in light of the news.
"It is simply outrageous that Ellison, less than five years before becoming Deputy Chair of the DNC, thought it was acceptable to have a private dinner with one of America’s most notorious anti-Semites and the president of a nation which calls for the annihilation of Israel," Halber said. "It demonstrates a clear lack of judgment and he should immediately step down from his party’s leadership position."
The Republican Jewish Coalition used the occasion to attack the left-wing nongovernmental organization J Street, which came to Ellison's defense in December 2016 after he was attacked for his positions on Israel. J Street said at the time that "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 or concern for Palestinian rights." The RJC also wrote on Monday that Ellison "lied in 2006 when he said that he cut ties with Farrakhan."
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National Journal political editor Josh Kraushaar wrote that he spoke with Ellison's office, which told him that "Ellison didn't talk to Farrakhan at the event" and that "they were on opposite sides of the room and didn't have dinner."