(CNN)Prominent Democratic donor Haim Saban on Friday described Rep. Keith Ellison, who is running to head the Democratic National Committee, as an “anti-Semite.”
Saban, who gave millions to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, spoke about Ellison at the Brooking Institution’s Saban Forum, an annual gathering between American and Israeli political leaders, during a question-and-answer portion of a conversation with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and moderated by CNN’s Jake Tapper.
“If you go back to his positions, his papers, his speeches, the way he has voted, he is clearly an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual,” the Israeli-American said Friday about the Minnesota lawmaker. “Words matter and actions matter more. Keith Ellison would be a disaster for the relationship between the Jewish community and the Democratic Party.”
Saban’s comment came unprompted and he did not ask a question.
Ellison’s past association with the Nation of Islam, including his defense of the group’s leader Louis Farrakhan — who has made anti-Semitic remarks — has increasingly come under scrutiny during his bid to be the next DNC leader.
A CNN KFile review of Ellison’s past writings and public statements this week reveal his repeated defense of Farrakhan and other black leaders against accusations of anti-Semitism in columns and statements to the press. But none of the records showed examples of Ellison making any anti-Semitic comments himself.
CNN has reached out to Ellison for response to Saban’s comments and not yet gotten a response.
Rep. Keith Ellison faces renewed scrutiny over past ties to Nation of Islam, defense of anti-Semitic figures
Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, renounced his association with the religious group in 2006 during his congressional run after local Republican bloggers began publishing information about his connection to the organization.
“I have long since distanced myself from and rejected the Nation of Islam due to its propagation of bigoted and anti-Semitic ideas and statements, as well as other issues,” Ellison wrote at the time.
A spokesperson for Ellison recently told CNN that Ellison “rejects all forms of anti-Semitism” and said “the right wing has been pushing these stories for years to drive a wedge between Congressman Ellison and the Jewish community.”
After Ellison expressed interest in being the DNC chair, Jewish organizations including the Anti-Defamation League and J-Street have come to Ellison’s defense on his past writings.
However, the ADL this week criticized 2010 comments Ellison made, which the group described as implying US policy in the region favored Israel at the expense of Muslim-majority countries, remarks ADL’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt described as “deeply disturbing and disqualifying.”
Ellison responded with an open letter Thursday, saying his remarks were “selectively edited and taken out of context by an individual the Southern Poverty Law Center has called an ‘anti-Muslim extremist,'” and that his point was simply to motivate people to “get involved.”
“My record proves my deep and long-lasting support for Israel, and I have always fought anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, and homophobia – the same values embodied by the Anti-Defamation League,” Ellison wrote.
Saban’s comments Friday came at the start of the question-and-answer portion of the discussion and came after Tapper asked Lieberman about Ellison’s 2010 remarks.