WASHINGTON ― Top candidates vying to be the next chair of of the Democratic National Committee rebuked one of the party’s wealthiest donors on Wednesday, calling on billionaire Haim Saban to apologize for labelling Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) “an anti-Semite.”
HuffPost’s Ryan Grim asked the seven DNC candidates on stage to raise their hands if they believed Saban needed to apologize for calling Ellison an “anti-Semite” who “would be a disaster for the relationship between the Jewish community and the Democratic Party.”
All but Jehmu Greene and Ellison raised their hands, including Ray Buckley, Jaime Harrison, Sally Boynton-Brown, Pete Buttigieg and Thomas Perez.
“An attack against one of us really is an attack against all of us,” Buckley said.
“Keith is a great guy,” Harrison said. “I don’t believe that there’s an anti-Semitic bone in his body.”
Greene, a former Fox News commentator, didn’t call for Saban to apologize. “We need to stop falling for these gotcha questions,” she said, claiming “the media” was trying to “divide our funders from our leaders.”
Ellison said he had spoken with Saban by phone and that they were “on the road” to reconciliation.
Ellison is not anti-Semitic. He has a long record of working with Jewish community leaders in his Minneapolis district, and has been endorsed for the DNC chair post by the two most prominent Jewish lawmakers in Washington ― Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Saban’s attack on Ellison has been decried by journalists and liberal leaders. Voices as diverse as Glenn Greenwald and ThinkProgress have labeled the comments part of a “smear campaign” against Ellison.
Saban attacked Ellison at a December event at the Brookings Institution, a centrist think tank.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten called Saban’s comments an example of “Islamophobia” in a December interview with The Huffington Post. Ellison would be the first Muslim head of the DNC.
“There should not be a litmus test about whether you are or not in favor of Israel or derogatory about Jews simply because you may not agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Weingarten told HuffPost. “I have a different view on Israel than Prime Minister Netanyahu and I would hope that no one would ever accuse me of anti-Semitism for that.”
Ellison participated in the Louis Farrakhan-organized Million Man March on Washington in 1995, alongside Barack Obama. Farrakhan has a long record of anti-Semitism, and has been labeled as an anti-Semite by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
When he was a law school student in the 1990s, Ellison defended Farrakhan against charges of anti-Semitism. He later retracted those comments and apologized for them, saying he did not adequately scrutinize Farrakhan’s views.