Keith Ellison on Israel in 2010: 'We Can't Allow Another Country to Treat Us Like We're Their ATM'

In full speech by DNC chairman frontrunner, snippets of which have already sparked a controversy, Ellison says Israel asks U.S. for money but won't stop settlement construction, urges Muslim Americans to organize like AIPAC.

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U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, Credit: David Zalubowski / AP

Rep. Keith Ellison said in 2010 that while he wanted the “U.S. to be friends with Israel” that “we can't allow another country to treat us like we're their ATM” in a speech the Anti-Defamation League called “disturbing and disqualifying” after an excerpt was published on Thursday.

The full recording and transcript of the speech by the frontrunner for Democratic National Committee chairman six years ago was posted Saturday by the Investigative Project on Terrorism. The organization had published a 36-second snippet from the speech published two days earlier. It was this clip that prompted the ADL criticism, which led Senate Minority leader Senator Charles Schumer to come to Ellison’s defense.

Meanwhile, Democratic mega-donor Israeli-American Haim Saban added his voice to those opposing Keith Ellison on Friday. Saban, a key supporter of unsuccessful Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton said at the Washington D.C. forum he sponsors, “if you go back to his positions, his papers, his speeches, the way he has voted, he is clearly an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual.” Saban warned that “Keith Ellison would be a disaster for the relationship between the Jewish community and the Democratic Party."

The controversy over Ellison’s position on Israel cast a cloud over his candidacy even as a high-profile competitor for the party leadership post, Sen. Howard Dean, dropped out of the race Friday - the same day candidates addressed the Association of State Democratic Chairs meeting in Colorado ahead of the February vote for DNC chairman.

The full speech published by IPT includes strong rhetoric sure to further fuel his critics. It also contains words Ellison’s supporters in organizations like J Street will likely use to back up arguments that Ellison is a friend of Israel whose criticism does not stem from enmity and that his intention was merely to encourage American Muslims to emulate the American Jewish community when it came to advocacy. An opinion piece by the Forward’s JJ Goldberg posited that the full tape showed “he was (mostly) praising Israel - not trashing it.”

The 2010 fundraiser where Ellison spoke was hosted by Esam Omeish, a physician and the past president of the Muslim American Society. In the speech, the congressman greets his audience and makes some remarks about President Obama’s health care legislation, saying that “praise is due to Allah for those Muslim doctors and nurses” who supported Obamacare, before turning to matters of the Middle East.

Ellison told them that over the past day, “American Israel Political Action Committee [AIPAC] was on Capitol Hill just today, and they were all over the place. And they had their dinner last night. Some of you might be a little upset to know that I went. But I always go and I am going to tell you why I go. Because I want to know what's going on. Correct? I want to hear what everybody has to say. Right? And I want you to know that the level of organization that they display is considerable. And you should be, you should watch that level of organization. You should know that they only got one issue – and that is to try to say that whatever Israel does is just fine. But I want you to know there is a growing awareness in the U.S. Congress and in the executive branch that everything anyone does, including Israel, is not fine.”

Ellison reported that on the same day he was speaking he was in a meeting with “these folks” - presumably referring to AIPAC representatives from Minnesota lobbying him - that since “they live in my district, they are my constituents. I have a moral and legal obligation to meet with them.”

He said when he discussed their opposition to Obama’s desire include East Jerusalem in a settlement freeze, “they want to tell me, well you know the real issue is, the real issue is Iran I said, 'Well if East Jerusalem is a small thing why don't you suspend?' Right? If it's such, if Iran is such a big deal, is it a big enough deal for you to suspend your building houses, colonizing what will be the future state of Palestine?’”

Ellison urged the Muslim community to “stand up” and support President Obama by asking questions like “why are we sending... $2.8 billion dollars a year over there when they won't even honor our request to stop building in East Jerusalem? Where is the future Palestinian state going to be if it's colonized before it even gets up off the ground?"

He encouraged them further by saying, “All we got to do is stand up next to the President. We don't have to even get out front on this issue. Now you got Clinton, Biden and the President who's told them – stop. Now this has happened before. They beat back a President before. Bush said – stop, and they said – we don't want to stop, and by the way we want our money and we want it now... We can't allow another country to treat us like we're their ATM. Right? And so we ought to stand up as Americans. Now some of us have affinity for other places around the globe. Some of us are new Americans and adopted America as our home. But whether you're born here or whether you accepted America as your own voluntarily, this is our home. Right? All of our home equally, and we can't allow it to be disrespected because some, by a country that we're paying money to.”

He continued: "I'm looking for public diplomacy And this is not to say that I don't want the U.S. to be friends with Israel. I just want the United States to have a lot of friends. Right? And to be in a position with the friend to say – you are wrong and you must stop. But now we say it and it doesn't happen even though our GDP is you know four times larger than the 2nd largest country. Right? It just doesn't make any mathematical sense. But it makes all the sense in the world when you see that that country has mobilized its Diaspora in America to do its bidding in America. The question is, with all of us here, we ought to be able to do at least as much.”

Ellison also mentioned his efforts the House vote to condemn the Goldstone Report on the 2009 Israeli operation in Gaza, which passed 344-36, noting that he was part of a group that helped convince 58 representatives to either vote no or abstain.

On the humanitarian situation in Gaza, Ellison argued that “I don't care if you're Muslim, I don't care if you're Christian, I don't care if you're Jewish. I don't care if you're Buddhist or Hindu or secular altogether, what's happening to those people is wrong. It's morally wrong. It's morally wrong.”

Again referring to AIPAC without naming them, he said “these people who are meeting today, you know, call us the Hamas 54” - in reference to 54 congressmen who signed a letter co-initiated by Ellison asking for Israel to ease the siege on Gaza.

By using the “ridiculous” nickname, he contended “what they're saying is, anybody who even asks for children to have human rights is a terrorist Or anti-Semitic. And this has nothing to do with being anti anything, this is about being pro something. It's about being pro-human dignity.”

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