Muslim lawmaker cries foul after ADLs condemnation

Aides to the country’s first Muslim congressman say they were blindsided by a stinging condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League because it came after the lawmaker told the ADL he planned to recant his comparison of Bush administration policies to Nazi tactics.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) ignited the flap in a July 8 speech to an atheists’ group in Minnesota when he compared Bush administration policies after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to Adolf Hitler’s use of the burning of the Reichstag to consolidate his rule.

After Ellison defended his remarks in a subsequent interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the ADL reached out to him to discuss the issue and convinced him that it was inappropriate to use such an analogy.

Ellison aides and ADL staff spent much of Tuesday, July 17 negotiating the language of his recantation, both sides said. It was understood that Ellison would release a statement expressing regret over the comparison and make his feelings known in an interview with The Associated Press.

So Ellison aides said they were shocked when, before the congressman released his statement and the AP article was distributed, journalists called asking about an ADL statement slamming his earlier remarks. The statement said Ellison demonstrated “a profound lack of understanding about the horrors that Hitler and his Nazi regime perpetrated.”

The flap follows several incidents during the past year that have left Democratic lawmakers and staff fuming over what they describe, often privately, as unfair treatment from Jewish organizations. In this case, Ellison aides said the ADL turned its back on good-faith negotiations.

“We went to great lengths, had ongoing conversations,” said Ellison’s spokesman Rick Jauert. “No sooner had we gotten off the phone than I received the news — what did we just engage in? It’s not the way friends treat each other.”

The ADL statement, which quoted its national director, Abraham Foxman, landed in journalists’ e-mail inboxes at 5:30 p.m. with an urgent notification — just after Ellison thought he had wrapped up his negotiations.. The AP story was sent out a couple of hours after the ADL statement, at 7:30 p.m.

Foxman said he put out the statement although he was aware of the negotiations between Ellison’s staff and the ADL’s Washington office, because the congressman waited too long.

“That story was out there for days,” Foxman said. “He didn’t say anything.”

The ADL in recent years has criticized Democratic and Republican lawmakers for employing Nazi and Holocaust analogies to score political points.

Reaching out to Ellison, ADL staffers persuaded him that the Nazi analogy was misplaced. “It was probably inappropriate to use that example because it’s a unique historical event without really any clear parallels,” Ellison was quoted as saying. He added that ADL staffers “thought any sort of comparison to the modern world we live in, in some way diminishes the horror of the Nazi era.

“I told them I feel they’re right,” he added

But Foxman said “the response is not an apology.”I’m looking for a much clearer acknowledgment that he’s sorry,” he said.

Ellison noted his efforts as a Minnesota state legislator to reprimand a colleague who had questioned the Holocaust.

He earned the endorsement of top Jewish figures in Minnesota because of such actions, as well as his repudiation of his brief association in the mid-1990s with the Nation of Islam, a militant black organization frequently accused of anti-Semitism.

After his election in November, Ellison joined House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) on a visit to Israel earlier this year.

Ron Kampeas

Ron Kampeas is the D.C. bureau chief at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.