The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Keith Ellison votes against GOP-backed Israel resolution

Rep. Keith Ellison attends a news conference with the Congressional Progressive Caucus about the nominations for President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet in Washington on Dec. 8, 2016. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who had not commented on a controversial United Nations resolution that called Israel’s settlements in disputed territories “illegal,” voted Thursday night against a largely bipartisan resolution that condemned it. He did not give a floor speech explaining the vote, but in a statement, he said that he had hoped to vote on a compromise resolution but had to oppose a version that looked like a political swipe.

“Today Republicans were more interested in attacking President Obama in his last weeks as President,” said Ellison. “A two-state solution has been the longstanding bipartisan, international consensus, and I believe it is the only way to truly achieve peace. This resolution makes that goal less achievable, and that is why I cannot support it.”

Ellison was one of 76 Democrats and four Republicans who opposed the GOP resolution, which was nonbinding, and criticized by some on the right for not going further in its critical language. The Republican “no” votes came from Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) and Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.), two paleo-conservatives who usually break from the party on foreign policy; Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a libertarian-leaning member; and Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas conservative, who said he opposed the resolution because it did not go far enough. The Democratic votes came largely from progressives, some of them Jewish, in politically safe seats. Ellison was the first Muslim elected to Congress; Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.), who was the second, also voted “no.”

In the run-up to Thursday’s vote, Ellison had co-sponsored a Democratic amendment that would have softened some language. Without specifically condemning the recent U.N. vote, it clarified that it was the “longstanding practice of the United States to oppose and, if necessary, veto United Nations Security Council resolutions or other international efforts that seek to impose a solution to the conflict.”

But that amendment did not get a vote. What did was a compromise between House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce and ranking member Eliot Engel, and the vote on that could affect Ellison’s race for chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Up to now, criticism of his stance on Israel has mostly come from outside the DNC’s membership and the congressional party. Ellison has never shied from criticism of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians, and has been filmed encouraging Muslims to get more involved in politics so that “a country of 7 million people” did not entirely determine American policy in the Middle East. Last summer, he tweeted a photo from Hebron, in the West Bank, in which a critic of Israel’s policies had put up a sign calling Israel’s domestic policy “apartheid.”

That, and Ellison’s (renounced) praise for the Nation of Islam, has inspired some prominent Jewish Democrats to say that his election to the DNC chairmanship would drive them away. Haim Saban, a major party donor, called Ellison an “anti-Semite,” while lawyer and commentator Alan Dershowitz said that he would quit the party if Ellison won.

Neither man, however, is a member of the 437-member clique that will choose the DNC’s leader next month. The search for Democratic critics of Ellison has stretched to include Dov Hikind, a legislator in New York who backed Trump for months last year before writing in House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) for president. No Ellison rival, and no DNC member, has publicly criticized him over Israel; and Ellison’s early entry into the race was endorsed by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the most prominent Jewish politicians in America.

“I’m not worried about the Israel stuff even though he and I disagree,” Schumer told The Washington Post last month.

House Minority Nancy Pelosi voted with Ellison against tonight’s resolution.