The declaration by Rep. Keith Ellison of his intention to run for chairman of the Democratic National Committee has brought up many questions of his voting record and past statements as it pertains to Israel. While many have been quick to either praise or vilify him, the Rabbinical Assembly has taken a more deliberative approach.
The RA, which is the international association of Conservative rabbis, made public a two-page letter with six questions that they would like answered. Rabbi Harold Kravitz of Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka, and Rabbi Morris Allen of Congregation Beth Jacob in Mendota Heights were two of the rabbis who spearheaded the letter.
“Rep. Ellison is an individual who has a record that for some is very exciting, and for some is very concerning,” Rabbi Allen said. “Obviously, those of us who have had the opportunity to know him and work with him understand his role as a U.S. representative. But leading a political party is different than being one of 435 members [of Congress].”
Allen said that he knows Ellison has received the letter and that the congressman is planning on responding. As to what he’s hoping to hear, Allen said, is rather simple.
“We just want the answers to the questions. To be honest, there is so much anger out there on the street, Facebook, the press, and that sometimes is exacerbated by people thinking they can give opinion right away on every issue. We’ve lost the ability to really talk to one another,” he said. “The Rabbinical Assembly modeled it beautifully that it’s time to take a pastoral role. It would be appropriate to sit down and talk and engage in real conversation, which is what we’ve sought to do. Instead of a statement of positive or negative, we are giving him a chance to give answers.”
Allen said that the RA hasn’t discussed how it will proceed after getting Ellison’s answers. All nine of Minnesota’s rabbis that are part of the RA had the opportunity to weigh in prior to the letter being sent to the congressman, with most of them responding.
“I think most of us have our hands full with congregational issues. And while the head of the Democratic Party may be some sort of avocational interest, our vocation demands we focus on other things,” he said. “The kind of animus his campaign has generated in some aspects of Jewish community and hope in other [aspects], led us to suggest that we need to sound him out where there is a gap between his thinking and the majority of the Jewish community.”
The most important question, Allen said, was the last one: “If you become the head of the Democratic party, how will you actively maintain your stated support of Israel when faced with the clearly stated opposition to these views on Israel by your strongest supporters?”
“The areas where people have concerns are with his foreign policy,” Allen said. “It’s less about his past record, but how to ensure that Jews will continue to feel welcome in the Democratic Party, and that the voices rising to denigrate Israel won’t be on the ascent if he were elected.
“Personally, I’ve worked with him on many issues on immigrant rights. I’ve spoken on panels with him on issues of corporate abuse, undocumented workers. There are many issues where Rep. Ellison, like every representative in the state, has been responsive to Jewish community concerns. When it comes to understanding foreign policy issues and the direct impact on Israel, there are questions we believe need to be answered.”