WASHINGTON, D.C.—Former Green Party presidential contender Ralph Nader accused Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison yesterday of changing his stance on Israel to appease political elites as part of his bid to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee—and that he can’t tell if the “real Keith Ellison” or a “transformed, conditioned Keith Ellison” would take over the party if he triumphs in next months internal election.
Ellison, an African-American and the first Muslim ever elected to the House, has faced some resistance from more conservative factions in party because of his since-repudiated past association with the Nation of Islam and his occasional criticism of Israel. Earlier this month, he voted against a Republican-supported measure attacking a United Nations’ resolution that censured the Jewish State for its settlement activity in the West Bank. Ellison asserted that he has always supported a two-state solution and that the GOP proposal “makes that goal less achievable.”
But Nader insisted at the Progressive Unity Summit on Sunday that Ellison was no longer one “top progressive legislators in the Congress” like he was five years ago.
“When he started running for the chair of the DNC, he began changing: toning down his opinions, not repeating progressive positions,” the Lebanese-American politician and activist told the Observer after the event.
The consumer advocate suggested that this shift was in part a reaction to former Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, an ally of former President Barack Obama, entering the contest to lead the Democratic Party’s central fundraising and message-setting body.
“And then he said that, because he was losing ground to the establishment who wanted former Secretary of Labor Perez to be the chair, he said, well he would quit his seat, won’t be a part-time chair, starts backing off on Israel-Palestine issue,” Nader continued. “So I think, do we have the real Keith Ellison or do we have a transformed, conditioned Keith Ellison so desperate for the position that he’s forgotten a lot of his own former courageous stands and is willing to spend the lot of his time raising money from Democratic Party fat cats, which is the prime occupation of the chair of the Democratic National Committee.”
A spokesman for Ellison did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ellison has received endorsements from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the former Democratic presidential nominee, and Sen. Charles Schumer, the newly-minted Senate Minority Leader. The City Council Progressive Caucus—which includes City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito—and Mayor Bill de Blasio have also come out behind him.
Nader ran for president on the Green Party line in the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections and as an Independent in the 2004 and 2008 elections. In 1992, he was a write-in candidate.
During the panel of the summit, organized by the Progressive Independent Party and the Justice Party, Nader sounded unconvinced that Ellison was going to win the election for DNC vice chair.
“What makes you think he’s even in the running? They’ve already picked Perez,” Nader said—garnering laughter from the audience of 60 people—after Brana argued that Ellison was becoming the safe choice for Democrats for the position.
The panel also included 2012 and 2016 Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein and Nick Brana, who worked on the Bernie Sanders campaign. Brana, who served as national political outreach coordinator for the Bernie Sanders campaign, recalled how Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s unsuccessful presidential candidate inspired progressives.
A year later, Dean became DNC chairman and took that grassroots energy and “funneled it back into the party and they brought it back into the party.”
Brana called Ellison “great” and “fantastic” and noted hat he worked with him on Our Revolution, Sanders’ organization to promote left-wing candidates. The issue, the activist said, is the party machine—designed to take people and “spit them out as corporate kind of manifestations, as representatives of the billionaire.”
“It doesn’t matter whether it was Ellison or someone else,” Brana said. “Whoever is in that position of leadership, the chairman of the Democratic Party is gonna be ultimately accountable to the DNC, the superdelegates and to the donors.”
“Ellison has been, two delegates are unsure of whether Ellison’s gonna be able to raise he money necessary for the party,” Brana continued. “The primary function in the Democratic Party is fundraising. Fundraising, you know, going to donors. So what’s he been doing since then? What’s he gonna do after, after he’s picked?”
Araquel Bloss, founder of the Progressive Independent Party—which hosted the summit along with the Justice Party—said that it was an “ego-free” environment and that the purpose of the event was to get people to take over the movement “and be the leaders we need you to be.” The summit was the last day of the Occupy Inauguration mass rally and protest seeing to break the “stranglehold duopoly of the GOP and DNC.”
“We’re asking everyone to sharpen your pencils and strategize how we’re gonna take our country back,” she said. “So that’s who we are. We are whoever we need to be and I’m asking you to put your egos down, put your pride aside, knock down your silos. We’re not here to step on toes, we’re here to join hands.”