Report: Minnesota Jewish group helped Israeli government monitor ‘bad Muslim,’ Rep. Ellison

This article originally appeared in Mondoweiss.

Keith Ellison, the progressive Congressional representative for Minneapolis’ fifth district, is no darling of the Israeli government, largely because of the letter he spearheaded that called for an end to the blockade of Gaza.  Now, new details indicate that the Israeli government actively monitored Ellison’s activities with the cooperation of the Minnesota chapter of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC).

The story first emerged in the New York Times piece on FBI documents leaked to blogger Richard Silverstein that provides a peek at U.S. spying efforts on Israel.  Scott Shane reported on what Silverstein told him was in blog posts based on information provided by former FBI translator Shamai Leibowitz:

A third [blog post] describes a call between an unnamed Jewish activist in Minnesota and the Israeli Embassy about an embassy official’s meeting with Representative Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota, who was planning an official trip to Gaza.

An article published yesterday in the Minnesota-based American Jewish World reveals that the “unnamed Jewish activist” worked for the Jewish Community Relations Council and describes what the activist talked about with the Israeli consulate in Chicago.  Mordecai Specktor reports:

“I do recall that there was a lot of discussion in that conversation about Keith Ellison, and about his hostility toward Israel,” said Silverstein. “They used the fact that he had gone on a trade mission to Saudi Arabia, shortly before the conversation happened between the JCRC person and the diplomat, to testify, in their eyes, to how anti-Israel he was…”

Silverstein told the AJW that the “local Minneapolis person was… updating the [Israeli] diplomat on what they knew about Ellison’s schedule… then the JCRC person said, ‘and he’s going on a trip to Gaza with [Rep.] Brian Baird, of Washington state.’

“They were talking about how harmful this would be to Israel, and how [Ellison and Baird] were trying to hurt Israel by this kind of activity,” Silverstein recalled…

In an e-mail message to the AJW on Wednesday night, Silverstein recalled details from his April 2009 blog posts based on the wiretap materials. He wrote that Israeli officials had a “problematic” relationship with both Ellison and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum…

On April 28, 2009, Silverstein posted a message on his blog: “Earlier this month, a senior official of Israel’s D.C. embassy contacted a Minneapolis Jewish communal staffer, to inform him about a D.C. meeting between Congress member Keith Ellison and deputy chief of mission, Jeremy Issacharoff.”

Silverstein, in both his phone conversation and a subsequent e-mail, mentioned that the wiretapped conversation between the person affiliated with the JCRC and the Israeli diplomat included a discussion that compared Ellison, the first Muslim member of the U.S. House, with André Carson, D.-Ind., the second Muslim ever elected to the House. Paraphrasing the conversation, Silverstein said that the local Jewish activist and the Israeli diplomat deemed Ellison to be the “bad Muslim,” who was too independent in his views and uncontrollable; and Carson was the “promising Muslim,” who was seen as more amenable to persuasion by Israeli officials.

In an email to Specktor, the director of the Minnesota JCRC confirms that “the JCRC communicates from time to time with the Consul General’s office in Chicago… Accordingly, the JCRC’s conversations with the Consul General’s office have included discussions about members of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation, including Representative Ellison.”

While it’s no surprise the Israeli government coordinates with Israel lobby and Jewish groups, the revelations published by Specktor are a glimpse into what exactly they coordinate about.

In his blog, Silverstein writes about what he sees as the problem with this type of coordination:

If you read between the lines of [director of the Minnesota JCRC] Steve Huneg’s [e-mail] statement above, you will find a confirmation of the monitoring the local Jewish community was offering as a service to the Israeli foreign ministry on behalf of Israeli interests. One has to ask, if this type of activity is standard for the Minneapolis JCRC and presumably others across the country, where do the interests of Israel and those of the U.S. diverge? Or do they at all? Is it the role of the official representatives of the American Jewish community to consult with Israeli government officials about local Representatives who Israel (and they) feel are “bad for Israel?” Is it right to peruse Congressmember’s travel schedules to inform the Israeli government when local Representatives may be taking trips deemed harmful to Israel’s interests?

[…]

We have to understand as American Jews that there are times when American interests are different from Israeli. When Israel asks us essentially to inform on our elected officials that’s not right and not in our interests as Americans.

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