An Ellison footnote

RealClearPolitics executive editor Carl Cannon comes to the defense of DNC chairman wannabe Keith Ellison in an Orange County Register column in which he finds Ellison the victim of “the character assassination that’s now a permanent feature of our politics.” Cannon has an arguable point to make about the necessity of civility and good faith in our politics. Although the point is arguable, it is misapplied to the case of Keith Ellison.

Defending Ellison against the charge of anti-Semitism based on a supposedly isolated quote, Cannon treats Ellison’s story as a “faith journey” to Islam. Cannon omits any mention of Ellison’s long involvement with the Nation of Islam. Ellison said and did bad and anti-Semitic things working on behalf of the Nation of Islam in Minneapolis. Moreover, as a member of Congress Ellison has associated with every prominent Islamist front group operating in the United States.

Ellison lies about his involvement with the Nation of Islam every time he addresses it. It is an inconvenience to him. His involvement extended at least from his third year in law school at the University of Minnesota (1989-1990) to his speech at a National Lawyers Guild fundraiser for Kathleen Soliah/Sara Jane Olson (2000). Cannon nevertheless takes at face value a characteristically false statement Ellison made to Politico’s Glenn Thrush (Thrush is presently moving on to the New York Times) in a podcast posted last week:

“I’m 53 years old,” [Ellison] told Politico recently. “I have four kids. My youngest child is 20. Some of the things they want to hit me for, I was younger than her when I wrote them. And so, come on. At some point, we all are human beings who have evolved over the course of 25 years, and yet we want to freeze each other in time.”

Cannon seconds Ellison: “Amen to that, Brother Keith.”

In the quoted portion of the podcast Ellison was obviously referring to statements he made as an advocate of the Nation of Islam. Contrary to Ellison’s assertion in the Politico podcast, however, none of Ellison’s words and deeds on behalf of the Nation of Islam constituted teenage indiscretions. With the exception of the columns he wrote as a third-year law student for the University of Minnesota Daily, they all derive from the time when Ellison was making his name in Minneapolis as an attorney and radical activist. As a mature adult Ellison was a long-time advocate and activist on behalf of a racist, anti-Semitic hate cult.

The Ellison quote with respect to which Cannon springs to Ellison’s defense derives from Ellison’s current period of service representing Minnesota’s Fifth District in Congress. Steve Emerson provides the full quote and context that are otherwise lacking in Cannon’s column. Cannon also quotes Ellison defending Louis Farrakhan against the charge of anti-Semitism; Cannon fails to note that Ellison was active in the Nation of Islam at the time Ellison spoke up for Farrakhan. Both quotes are of a piece with Ellison’s career. However well intended, Cannon’s description of criticism of Ellison bearing on this history as “character assassination” is wildly off the mark.

NOTE: In his column Cannon pairs Ellison with Jeff Sessions: “Sessions and Ellison represent, almost literally, polar opposites on our political spectrum. Yet they share a bond: Each man has been on the receiving end of the character assassination that’s now a permanent feature of our politics.”

Cannon introduces the Ellison question this way: “Keith Ellison, one of two Muslims in Congress, is an anti-Semite whose hostility toward Israel cloaks an animus toward Jews. That’s the story being pushed by many conservative Republicans — and mainstream Democrats and Jewish groups.”

Here is Cannon’s defense of Ellison in its entirety:

Let’s look at the record, starting with Rep. Ellison. While running for re-election in 2010, he made this assertion: “United States policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad [for] a country of 7 million people.”

Personally, I’m a Zionist who loves Israel, so that description wouldn’t bother me if it were true, which it is obviously isn’t. But why is that “disqualifying,” the term used by the Anti-Defamation League?

Keith Ellison was 19 years old when he gravitated toward Islam. He was raised by parents who were devout Catholics, but the kind who let their kids choose their own paths. One of his brothers became a Baptist pastor. Keith, who found Catholicism too infused with “rules and regulations,” considered himself agnostic by the time he was a Wayne State University sophomore.

In his recollection, Ellison was preparing for a calculus test when a study pal, a native of Libya, excused himself by saying he was going to Friday prayers. Ellison was invited to tag along. He liked it from the moment he saw the shoes lined up outside the mosque’s prayer room, and liked what he heard, too. He began reading the Quran and frequenting the local Muslim center. When he was sworn in to the House of Representatives in 2007, he took the oath on a copy of the Quran once owned by Thomas Jefferson.

Although Islam is still exotic to many, Ellison’s spiritual sojourn is really a quintessential American faith journey. It’s also true that along the way, especially in his early stages, he went off the rails occasionally. In a student editorial for the school newspaper he described Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan — who really is a virulent anti-Semite — as a “role model for Black Youth.”

These words have come back to haunt him. This doesn’t seem fair to Ellison, or to me. “I’m 53 years old,” he told Politico recently. “I have four kids. My youngest child is 20. Some of the things they want to hit me for, I was younger than her when I wrote them. And so, come on. At some point, we all are human beings who have evolved over the course of 25 years, and yet we want to freeze each other in time.”

Amen to that, Brother Keith.

Whole thing here.

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