Ellison: Israel Has Used Our Democratic System "To Advance Their Policy Views"

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Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), candidate for DNC chairman, talks to CNN's Chris Cuomo about Israel and the Jewish community "using our democratic system to advance their policy views."

"I was talking to a group of people who asked me how they could look at the Jewish community as a model for political empowerment," Ellison said.

"There's nothing wrong with any group of Americans using our democratic system in order to advance their policy views. And if some groups like, you know -- there's various groups that are effective. I mean, this is something that this is a skill that should be developed, and strengthened, and people who are more successful should be looked to -- towards as models," Ellison said Wednesday morning on CNN.

Transcript, via CNN:

CHRIS CUOMO: All right. Let's talk about you for a second, and whether or not you'll be the next head of the DNC. You have said, yeah, if I got that job, I would step down from Congress, it's a full-time job. You were deliberating about that.

The main knock that I hear most often about you is questions about your political ideology when it doesn't -- not that you are Muslim, it's about the anti-Semitism isn't because you're a Muslim. As far as I can glean your opinion is wanted on that, of course.

But you gave a speech in 2010 where you said that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what's good or bad for a country of 7 million people which people take to mean Israel. And that this was seen as you having a hostility toward the U.S. relationship with Israel, and that you were turning a blind eye to the value of that relationship, and you were favoring the Arabs essentially over the Jews.

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D-MN), CANDIDATE FOR DNC CHAIR: No, absolutely not. As a matter of fact, I was talking to a group of people who asked me how they could look at the Jewish community as a model for political empowerment. In fact, I've been to Israel seven times, voted for bilateral aid to Israel to the tune of $27 billion. And I have supported Israel's U.S. joint defense pact over time.

But I'll tell you this, there's a lot of people around the world and around our country who look to the Jewish community as a community that has used this democratic system order to offer its policy ideas, and that's the question that was posed to me. But --

CUOMO: What does that mean? Because who doesn't use the system to advance its own agenda? That's what people do, that's what constituencies are.

ELLISON: Well, Chris, of course. But, some people in our country, they might be immigrant groups, they might be new Americans, they don't know how to use the system as well and want to learn how to use it. Want to learn how to be effective in lobbying, and in working with our U.S. system.

There's nothing wrong with any group of Americans using our democratic system in order to advance their policy views. And if some groups like, you know -- there's various groups that are effective. I mean, this is something that this is a skill that should be developed, and strengthened, and people who are more successful should be looked to -- towards as models.

This, this statement that I made had absolutely nothing to do with what you're suggesting. Actually it was more about saying, how do people who want to know, how to work with Congress, how to work with members of Congress, how do they learn to do that better. That's what that was all about.

CUOMO: The criticism is out there. I'm giving you the opportunity to respond to it. That's the job and I appreciate you taking the opportunity to do so, Congressman Ellison.

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