Major Israel Donor Smears and Obama Lobbying Led to Ellison’s Defeat for DNC Chair

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Nina Turner tells Paul Jay that anti-Muslim attacks led by some big donors to the DNC, along with active lobbying by Obama, defeated the progressive wing’s candidate for the chair of the DNC

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

Last Saturday when Tom Perez won the election for chair of the DNC over Keith Ellison, a lot of people were saying, I don’t think there’s much question about it, that there was a smear campaign against Ellison. That he was somehow anti-Israel. The fact that he’s Muslim was not perhaps articulated openly as the issue to go after him for, but certainly there was an undertone of it. A lot of the attacks on him were led by Haim Saban a major donor to the Democratic Party who’s also very close to the Netanyahu government in Israel and a very active member of AIPAC, the lobbying organization that argues for very pro right wing Israeli policy in the American government, American Congress. And there are a lot of, apparently, donors who are aligned with Haim Saban that were threatening not to continue their funding in the Democratic Party if Ellison won the vote. Apparently, President Obama and Hillary Clinton were actively trying to push for Perez’s victory over the phone, working the phones, pushing delegates.

Now joining us to talk about this piece of Saturday’s events is Nina Turner. She’s a former Ohio Senator, she’s a college professor, a public speaker, a frequent media commentator and was a national surrogate for Senator Bernie Sanders during the 2016 campaign.

Thanks for joining us again, Senator Turner.

NINA TURNER: Thanks, Paul.

PAUL JAY: So how big a factor was this issue of Haim Saban and others, this anti-Israel label that was pinned on Ellison?

NINA TURNER: It was a very big deal. And that should upset everybody that a man who has worked his entire life for equality and justice, especially in his public capacity, as an elected official, Congressman Keith Ellison, who had people who are Jewish supporting him. But to have that smear and to have people like Allan Dershowitz who wrote several articles, who was on national TV really repeating over and over and over again that Congressman Ellison was an enemy to the people of Israel and also the Jewish people, in general, was disheartening, it was disappointing and it was terrible. You know, in this business when people run for anything, when they’re running for office or running to be the Chairman of the DNC, but when you’re fighting for something, I really do believe that you need to be soft on people and hard on the issues. And when you start to malign somebody’s credibility and their integrity you’re going too far. I also believe that you should do everything to try to win, but not anything to try to win. And that is what Congressman Keith Ellison was up against, even though he had Senator Chuck Schumer’s support, he had Randi Weingarten, you know, The National Teacher’s Union in this country who supported him, who also gave one of his nominating speeches, but none of that was good enough. And I’m told by sources, by a chairman and other members of the DNC that calls were being made, not only by the President and other folks to continue to push for win the votes, if you will. But that also, key donors called and threatened that if Congressman was elected, that they would cut off funding and talking —

PAUL JAY: When you say “key donors” you mean key high net worth Jewish donors who are aligned with the kind of politics of Haim Saban.

NINA TURNER: Well, I would assume that is the case, you know. Again, I did not get a chance to know the names of these high-level donors, but absolutely, that is absolutely what was inferred to me by the people who were telling me about these calls. And also, just every day, the DNC member from the different states that this is the biggest deal in their lives, to be able to be a part of the Democratic Party, to do what they think is best, being told that they would be stripped or they would not be reappointed if they did not vote a certain way, I just think is absolutely terrible. Especially in our country where we pride ourselves on the fact that people have choice in this country. But politics can be and often is a very dirty, high-stakes game and some people will absolutely do anything it takes to win. And we saw a lot of that happening on Saturday. You know, Congressman Ellison was in good spirits. He is a gentleman, he is a diplomat in every single way, but I really felt, you know, people who were supporting him, our hearts were very heavy. And my heart continues to be heavy because someone of his integrity did not deserve what happened to him. And I want to be very clear, this is not about him losing necessarily, this, for me and other people, is about how the other side operated to try to defeat him. And it is wrong. And so every time we talk about love Trump’s hate, I’m not so sure.

PAUL JAY: Now, Chuck Schumer normally is aligned with the kinds of Democratic Party officialdom and such, that supported Perez. He’s usually aligned with AIPAC people like Haim Saban, but in this time he actually endorsed Ellison. Now what did you make of that?

NINA TURNER: He did. I was happy and proud that the senator did that. He did the right thing in endorsing him and so did people like Congressman John Lewis. I wish Senator Schumer and also Congressman John Lewis could have been in the space, they may have been able to turn the tide for the congressman–

PAUL JAY: Been there on Saturday actually fighting for this.

NINA TURNER: Yes. The congressman certainly had Mayor de Blasio from New York, he was there, which was beautiful. He had Lee Saunders, who is a prominent labor leader who was there the entire time really trying to help and push. And the … that’s normal, that’s a normal process, there’s nothing wrong with that. So I want to be clear about that. Each side is going to try to win, but I do want the American people to care about the how. Again, do everything to win not anything to win. And what happened to Congressman Keith Ellison he did not deserve that. And unless we, the people, no matter whether we supported or not, we have to make a decision about how we want people in the political sphere to operate and we have to speak loudly against anything that tears down the individual or smears their reputation. And that is exactly what happened to Congressman Ellison. If you look at some of the popular, non-scientific polling, but if you just kind of look at where the energy was, beyond the 447 people or 443 people who were actually in that room, you see that all of the energy really was from the grassroots, was with Congressman Ellison. So, at some point, the DNC members have to ask the question about who do they represent. We are not there just to represent the people in that room, but we are there to represent the masses of people who are depending on the Democratic Party to get it right, to be the party that stands up for the people, the everyday people in this country and not the money interests. And that just did not happen on Saturday.

PAUL JAY: All right. Thanks for joining us again, Senator Turner.

NINA TURNER: My pleasure.

PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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