* Note: This is an updated and amended version of the original article posted November 23. In the original, we incorrectly attributed an op-ed piece by someone else named Keith Ellison to the congressman. We regret the error.
As a U.S. representative, Keith Ellison's primary responsibility is to represent his constituents in Minnesota's 5th congressional district.
The first Muslim elected to Congress, Ellison, a Democrat, also seems to feel an obligation to be the voice of Muslim Americans in Washington. That alone would not be an issue. But in his two terms, he has established a disturbing record of promoting and defending radical Islamists who hide beneath a veneer of moderation.
When those organizations are criticized, Ellison often jumps to their defense. He also travels the country to raise money on their behalf. In 2009, Ellison spoke at three fundraising dinners for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and provided videotaped remarks at others, including the CAIR-Sacramento Valley dinner last weekend. He also appeared with CAIR officials at events on health care reform and celebrating the Muslim Eid holiday.
Last month, Ellison took to the House floor to rebuke four colleagues who called for an investigation of CAIR and whether it was targeting offices tied to committees on the judiciary, homeland security and intelligence to place interns. According to the book Muslim Mafia, internal CAIR records show the group sought to infiltrate those congressional offices.
"These charges smack of an America 60 years ago where lists of 'un-American' agitators were identified," Ellison said in his floor remarks. "The idea that we should investigate Muslim interns as spies is a blow to the very principle of religious freedom that our Founding Fathers cherished so dearly. If anything, we should be encouraging all Americans to take part in the U.S. political process."
The four Republican officials never asked that Muslim interns be investigated. Their concern focused solely on CAIR and cited internal CAIR documents published in the book.
The Brotherhood is an Egyptian religious/political movement which aims to spread Islamic law throughout the world. The Hamas support by CAIR founders documented in the terror-financing trial of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development prompted the FBI to cut off communications with CAIR in 2008. CAIR's access reportedly could be restored if it pledged not to support Hamas. CAIR officials have rejected that pledge.
Debating Muslim Moderates
Two weeks before defending CAIR on the House floor, Ellison engaged in a brief debate with M. Zuhdi Jasser, founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. Jasser, a former Navy physician, challenges the insidious threat from political Islam and is a staunch advocate of separating "mosque and state."
Ellison responded to this message with a tirade in which he all but called Jasser an Islamic "Uncle Tom." Blacks, he said, are "familiar with people who would seek to ingratiate themselves with powerful people in the white community and would there turn them on the rest of us and give license to attack us all. Arguing 'African-Americans are criminally inclined, they're all in gangs, they're all on welfare.' Black people who say stuff like this. But what they're really trying to do is win themselves individual benefit at the expense of everyone else."
"I don't know you well enough to know that's what you're doing," Ellison told Jasser. "But I must admit that when I heard you speaking, that's what I thought of."
Muslims must "stand against" extremist members of their faith, Ellison said. But he seemed more threatened by Jasser. "Now is somebody going to snatch my 13-year-old daughter's hijab off, call her a horrible name, spit on her because of something that you said, Dr. Jasser, I worry about that," he added. Read more about it and watch the video here.
Ellison also wants to be regarded as a statesman and an advocate of inter-religious cooperation and peace. When he addressed the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on October 15, he denounced Muslim Brotherhood luminary Sayyid Qutb, whom he described as one of a number of "theorists" who "are responsible for what we would regard today as violent extremism with what I call a Muslim veneer."
In the same speech, however, Ellison praised one very questionable Islamist role model: Hamza Yusuf, president and chairman of the Zaytuna Institute in California. Ellison described Yusuf as one of several "respected religious authorities who converted to Islam." But Yusuf has a long record of anti-Jewish rabble-rousing and other extremist statements. In a 1995 videotape, Yusuf called Judaism a "most racist religion."
On September 9, 2001, Yusuf spoke at a fundraiser at the University of California-Irvine for Jamal Al-Amin, then-accused of murdering a Fulton County, Ga. sheriff's deputy and wounding his partner. Al-Amin would be convicted in 2002. Speaking just two days before the September 11 attacks, Yusuf warned: "We saw the destruction of Russia after its invasion of Afghanistan, This country [America] unfortunately has a great…tribulation coming to it. And much of it is already here, yet people are too illiterate to read the writing on the wall."
Ellison went on to describe himself as a "supporter" of Israel, which he described as "an important country, our ally."
But Ellison has also received plaudits from the virulently anti-Israel Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, which publishes hateful stories like this conspiracy theory of an international Jewish organ theft program. Ellison was one of only 33 House members who earned a spot in the Washington Report's "Hall of Fame," supporting the magazine's position on all eight issues polled during the 110th Congress. The issues ranged from opposing sanctions against Iran to calling on the U.S. government to press Israel and Hamas for a Gaza ceasefire.
In his USIP speech, Ellison designated himself pro-Israel to make a segue to a larger point - to urge support for a questionable report from a United Nations "fact-finding" mission on the war this past winter between Israel and Hamas. As careful analysts have pointed out, the mission, headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, was skewed from the start against Israel and in favor of Hamas.
The United Nations Human Rights Council resolution which established the Goldstone mission prejudged Israel's guilt and denounced its behavior while omitting criticism of Hamas. The resolution asserted that Israel's military operation in Gaza "resulted in massive violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people." The resolution called on the Goldstone mission to investigate Israel's conduct in Gaza but not that of Hamas.
Earlier this month, Ellison backed up his words by joining the losing side of a 344-36 House vote in favor of a resolution calling on the President and Secretary of State to oppose any endorsement of the report.
Jonathan Halevi, a research fellow with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and others have documented in great detail how Goldstone and Company misrepresented the facts in attacking Israel's conduct of the war while ignoring the fact that Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups engaged in war crimes by using civilians as human shields. See here and here and here.
But Ellison said it was "unfortunate" to hear reports that the Obama Administration had tried to persuade the Palestinian Authority not to press for a United Nations Security Council debate on the Goldstone report. Israel, Ellison suggested at one point, needn't fear Goldstone because he calls himself "a Zionist Jew." In fact, Israel would benefit if it were to admit its wrongdoing, according to Ellison.
"I also know that the United States has seen Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Jim Crow, all types of problems," Ellison told USIP. "Don't be afraid of a report that might reflect something unflattering about our ally. It won't hurt them. It may strengthen them."
It would be difficult to imagine a more false, disingenuous formulation.
First, it is slanderous to liken Israel's efforts to defend its civilian population from terrorist attack to a genuine moral evil like segregation in the South. Second, the Goldstone mission and the one-sided report it produced weren't authorized by the United Nations Human Rights Council in order to further Israel's moral betterment as Ellison suggests. The resolution, which passed 33-1 (with supporters that included Russia, Cuba, China, Qatar, Bahrain and Jordan), was aimed at undercutting the ability of a democratic nation to defend itself against terrorists who attacked it by operating out of densely populated civilian areas.
Hints of Hamas Support
In the wake of the Gaza conflict, Ellison voted "present" rather than take a stand on a January 9, 2009 nonbinding House resolution "recognizing Israel's right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza, reaffirming the United States' strong support for Israel, and supporting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The resolution passed 390-5, with 22 lawmakers who voted "present." Ellison explained his vote by saying he was "torn" on the issue. The congressman said he supported Israel's right to defend itself but complained that the resolution "barely mentions the human suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza."
In mid-February 2009, Ellison, accompanied by Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), visited Gaza and Israel to observe the humanitarian situation after the Gaza War. Although the pair spent time on both sides of the border, most of their public statements emphasized the idea that Israel, and not Hamas, was victimizing Palestinians in Gaza.
In a subsequent BBC interview, Ellison was asked why he wasn't emulating European nations by talking to Hamas. It wasn't because Hamas is a terrorist group. Rather, the congressman said if he did "I'd have to defend myself to my colleagues why I reached out to a terrorist organization. It would absorb all of my time. I would spend a lot of time fighting off personal attack and would not be able to achieve the goals that I have."
Ellison expressed hope that European parliamentarians could persuade Hamas "that if they soften their position it would be a lot easier for American politicians to talk to them."
CAIR 's Go-To Congressman
Among all these activities, Ellison's collaboration with CAIR has been the most persistent dating back to his taking office in 2007. He also appears at functions for the Muslim American Society (MAS) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), both entities created by Muslim Brotherhood members in the U.S. In fact, when Ellison traveled to Saudi Arabia last year to make the hajj, a pilgrimage required of Muslims able to get there once in their lives, the MAS-Minnesota chapter paid his way.
Among other examples:
- In November 2007, Ellison spoke at CAIR-National's 13th Annual Banquet, where he thanked CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad for appearing there. This occurred after Awad was identified by the FBI as someone who participated in a 1993 summit of Hamas supporters in Philadelphia.
At the banquet, Ellison touted "Muslim finance" as a solution to the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis. He questioned whether the United States would be facing a subprime mortgage crisis if Muslims were to "truly promote" it. He suggested that many Jews and Christians would favor such financing schemes which could enable them to "actually hang on to their house" and "not be thrown out when the interest rate jumped up."
Ellison also said Americans should "thank God" for groups like CAIR who were working to safeguard their liberties against a reprise of the Salem witchcraft trials.
- In November 2008, Ellison, interviewed at CAIR-Tampa's 6th Annual Banquet by a local radio station, urged support for Sami Al-Arian, who pleaded guilty in April 2006 to conspiring to provide goods and services to the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Evidence in Al-Arian's 2005 criminal trial showed he was a member of the PIJ's governing board and that he solicited donations by praising the group's terrorist attacks.
Al-Arian faces a criminal contempt charge for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury investigating terror financing in northern Virginia, despite a grant of immunity, but Ellison saw the PIJ member as a victim.
"I hope that Dr. Al-Arian and his family have peace" and "justice, and are able to secure a greater quality of justice for their case. You don't declare democracy and the rule of law and then it's that way forever. You have to fight for it," he told WMNF Radio. "That's why we have an appeals process, habeas corpus, various legal instruments to try to get ourselves a just and proper result." Ellison added that "there are some things about his [Al-Arian's] case that I think raise legitimate questions."
In his speech at the banquet, Ellison urged CAIR members in the audience to get jobs in the Obama Administration in order to make "recommendations about how the United States can safely extricate itself from Iraq."
- Eight days after speaking to CAIR-Florida, Ellison spoke at a CAIR-National fundraiser in Washington, D.C, where he called for closing the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay; urged the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq; said Muslims should mobilize to make sure that U.S. forces are not sent to Iran; and repeated his call for CAIR supporters to apply for jobs in the incoming Obama Administration.
After Ellison and Rep. Baird visited Gaza last February, earning praise from Hamas (see above), MAS Freedom sent out a press release announcing that it "Commends Congressman Ellison and Baird on Call for Immediate Relief and Change in Policy in Gaza."
- Ellison boasted of his work on behalf of "the flying imams" during CAIR-Arizona's banquet in September 2009. US Airways removed the six imams from a 2006 after passengers and crew members expressed concern about their behavior. They sued the airline and tried to sue the passengers who reported them. The case ended October 20 when the airline agreed to pay an undisclosed amount.
Congress passed legislation over the objections of Ellison and many of his fellow Democratic lawmakers, protecting private citizens who report suspicious activity and law enforcement authorities who act in good faith based on reasonable suspicion. Read more here.
Ellison's record is clear. Ellison has spoken on the behalf of radical Islamists, defended Hamas over Israel and has a dubious voting record. The Congressman either doesn't know about the nefarious connections of those he works to support, or he doesn't care. It might not be the issue Minneapolis voters hinge their votes on, but it is a part of his public record on which he can be judged.