The next Senator Coleman from Minnesota

Julia Coleman hasn’t been involved in campus advocacy for a number of years now. But Coleman still carries many of the lessons she learned during her time working as a field representative for the Leadership Institute, a conservative youth organizing group, touring colleges in the mid-Atlantic region.

“One of our demonstrations was we would take a SodaStream and we would set up a little booth,” Coleman recalled in a recent interview with Jewish Insider, referring to the popular soda machine, which is headquartered in Israel and is a frequent target of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns. “While we’re showing them this amazing apparatus, we would talk about the innovations coming out of Israel and the importance of having a free, democratic state in the Middle East and protecting Israel. And it opened up a lot of students’ eyes.”

Such discussions were, incidentally, also good practice for Coleman in her personal and political future as a young Republican. She is now the daughter-in-law of Norm Coleman, the former Minnesota senator and current chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “You can’t be in my home and not have those conversations,” the former senator said matter-of-factly in a phone conversation with JI. 

Now that she is vying to represent Minnesota’s 47th district in the state Senate, Coleman — who currently serves as a city council member in Chanhassen, a suburb of Minneapolis — is acutely aware that some of the same issues she faced on campuses will also be present in higher office. Coleman defeated Victoria Mayor Tom Funk in the 47th district Republican primary in August.

She says she is ready for the challenge. “I would like to let the Jewish community in Minnesota know that they do have an ally in me,” she said.

Coleman, 28, says she entered the race to replace Scott Jensen, a Republican retiring at the end of his term, because she believes the state has been co-opted by progressives like Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), the freshman congresswoman who is highly critical of Israel and has been accused of antisemitism. “She definitely has yanked that entire party further left and has really created quite a radical base here in Minnesota,” Coleman declared weeks after Omar’s resounding primary victory over a more moderate challenger

Julia Coleman
Julia Coleman during her swearing-in ceremony.

“I will fight antisemitism, whether it’s coming from Ilhan or members of the state legislature or the public, whether it’s coming from movements like BDS,” promised Coleman, who characterizes herself as “a strong, Zionist, pro-Israel supporter.”

It may seem, at first glance, that a down-ballot candidate such as Coleman wouldn’t have much of an opportunity to effect change at the state level. But her father-in-law avers that it is just as important to have pro-Israel candidates locally as it is to have them in Congress. 

“To have somebody who, in their core, understands the importance of these issues, I think, really makes a difference because the battles are being fought on the local level,” he said. 

Dan Rosen, a lawyer in Minneapolis who is involved in pro-Israel causes at the state and national levels, agreed. “Even here in Minnesota, the Jewish community has to be on its guard,” he told JI. “Anti-Israel advocates are active at our capitol, where pro-Israel legislators have passed anti-BDS legislation and thwarted efforts to force divestment from Israel. Accordingly, we are grateful when legislative candidates, like Julia, are committed to fighting those that would single out Jewish and pro-Israel interests for attack.”

Coleman, who was raised Catholic, has developed a strong affinity for Judaism since she married Jacob Coleman — an account executive at a Minneapolis insurance company and a volunteer fireman in Chanhassen — in 2018. They have decided to raise their 10-month-old son, Adam, in both religious traditions, just as Jacob, whose mother is Catholic, grew up.

“We’ll do Christmas and Hanukkah, we’ll do Easter and Passover,” she said, “and it has helped me to not only appreciate the Jewish people and their faith, but also it has taught me so much about my own because we share that Old Testament. I think that it is so important for Christians to really get to know their Jewish brothers and sisters and their faith, because it helps us to understand our own even better.”

Julia Coleman
Coleman with her husband, Jacob, a volunteer fireman in Chanhassen.

Coleman said she has learned much about Judaism as well as the U.S.-Israel bond through her relationship with her father-in-law. “He did my first Seder,” she told JI, “and it was just such a beautifully eye-opening experience into the Jewish faith, as well as my own, because that’s part of our background.”

“You learn simply by being around him,” Coleman added, noting that she attended the RJC convention at his behest in 2019. “That was such a great experience. I’ve always been pro-Israel, but to hear the president speak and to get to meet hundreds of people who are Jewish and Israel supporters, and to share why this issue matters to them on a personal level, and to hear Norm speak to them and hear their stories — you learn so much.”

Coleman — who has never been to Israel but wants to visit — was raised in Minnesota. Her father is a Ramsey County deputy sheriff, and her mother is an executive consultant. She graduated from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and was Miss Minneapolis in 2014. (Her platform, she said, was suicide prevention.) She “gave up” her “crown,” as she jokingly put it, to spend a year with the Leadership Institute, but returned to her home state to work for Charlie Kirk’s conservative nonprofit student organization, Turning Point USA.

“I got kicked off of college campuses more than I care to admit,” she said.

Soon after, she was hired as a reporter and anchor for Alpha News, a partisan media startup in the Gopher State. But Coleman found that being in front of a camera was unfulfilling, so she moved on to a new position as a public relations manager at Medical Alley Association, a trade group advocating on behalf of Minnesota’s health technology community. 

She currently holds that job while serving on the Chanhassen City Council, a position she has occupied since 2018, the same year she married her husband — who five years ago ran for the Senate seat she is gunning for, but lost the Republican endorsement to Jensen.

“My dad was thrilled when I married Norm’s son, because Norm brought the Wild to Minnesota, and my dad is a die-hard Wild fan,” said Coleman, alluding to Minnesota’s professional hockey team. “I don’t think my husband had to put up too hard of a fight to ask for permission, although my dad was on duty and armed when Jake asked for permission, so, brave guy.”

Julia Coleman speaks with sheriff
Coleman sits with her father, a Ramsey County deputy sheriff.

Though Coleman is only two years into her term as a city council member, she believes that she is ready for a promotion to the State Senate. 

“I felt compelled to run in order to preserve the freedoms that I got to grow up with and the opportunities I had,” she said, emphasizing that she takes Omar’s statements personally in large part because of her son.

“My son has Jewish heritage,” she told JI. “I’m just blown away by Ilhan Omar’s rhetoric, and when people think of a female politician from Minnesota, I want them to think about someone who’s pro-Israel and supportive of the Jewish community.”

Support for BDS, Coleman added, has become commonplace among left-leaning politicians in Minnesota, a development she regards as troubling. “It is just antisemitism at its finest,” she told JI.

Coleman, who is all but assured a seat in the solidly conservative district as she goes up against Democrat Addie Miller in November, swats away questions about her ambitions beyond state office. 

“I always say the same thing when I was on council,” she said. “I have to prove I can do a good job here before I’ll even think that far ahead.”

In the meantime, she is looking forward to taking on more substantive issues assuming she is elected to the State Senate — a return of sorts to her days advocating for conservative causes on campuses in her early 20s.

“You really don’t talk about hot button issues on council,” Coleman told JI. “You talk about zoning, you talk about the local levy, the fire department. In the State Senate, issues like BDS will come before me. Issues like abortion and the Second Amendment will come before me. Issues that are going to affect every single Minnesotan will be discussed and debated. And so I do believe that, if elected in November, I will be incredibly blessed to fight for the people of Minnesota and, hopefully, leave behind a state that is better than the one I grew up in for the next generation of Minnesotans.”

Jeremiah Ellison is more artist than politician

Before he was elected to the Minneapolis City Council in 2017, Jeremiah Ellison had carved out a niche for himself as a freelance muralist and aspiring comic book artist for schools and businesses in the city. The last mural he painted — a job overlapping with the tail end of a grueling campaign — was for a pediatric dental practice called Camp Smile, which, to Ellison, evoked “the name of a dentist-themed horror movie.” 

Because he was so short on time, Ellison showed up to the gig without having planned out what he would draw and rendered a series of creepy vignettes, scattering a few anthropomorphic electric toothbrushes with arms, legs and wings around a giant toothpaste tube unfurling a colorful striped ribbon. “It came out really weird,” Ellison, 30, recalled in a series of interviews with Jewish Insider this summer. “I knew the client didn’t like it.”

Still, Ellison found the experience of unloading his ideas directly onto the final surface to be a refreshing change from the usual process of coming up with a design beforehand and then getting it approved. “It always feels really dynamic on the page,” he mused, “and then it loses something in translation when you get it up onto the wall.”

In a way, Ellison could also have been talking about his time as a city councilman representing Minneapolis’s Fifth Ward, where he was born and raised. The activist-turned-politician came to prominence as a public figure five years ago, when he appeared in a viral photo while protesting the police killing of a young, unarmed Black man, Jamar Clark. Though Ellison once defiantly addressed city councilmembers with his back to them, he has taken a somewhat more measured approach since joining their ranks in 2018.

Not that Ellison is new to politics by any means. As the son of Keith Ellison — Minnesota’s attorney general and a former congressman — he is attuned to the vicissitudes of governance. But it is one thing to watch from afar and quite another to do it day in and day out. When he was elected, Ellison hoped to focus on housing equality and economic development at the hyperlocal level. “That’s sort of where I really wanted to stake my claim,” he said. 

But he has shifted his priorities as the pandemic has taken its toll — his grandmother died from the coronavirus — and as mass protests against George Floyd’s murder have set off a national reckoning over the role of the police. In Minneapolis, Ellison has led the charge to introduce a charter amendment that would replace the city’s police department with a new public safety system, but those plans were put on hold when the city’s charter commission blocked the proposal from appearing on the ballot until next year.

His activism notwithstanding, Ellison rejects the notion that he is seeking to eradicate the police. “Abolishing the police department is certainly the goal of activists in the community,” he said. “Not that I’m against that concept. I just don’t think it’s what the council is doing at the moment. I don’t even think it’s anywhere close to that.” 

Ellison describes the effort in different terms. “We are looking to reimagine how public safety happens in our city,” he said. “But the simple fact is law enforcement, at least for the foreseeable future, is still going to be, probably, a significant part of that.”

Jeremiah Ellison speaks during the North Minneapolis City Council Candidate Forum on February 16, 2017. (Tony Webster)

Ellison talks about this issue with a fluency that suggests he was made to address the policing crisis. But in conversation with JI, he also appeared to be exasperated by some of the structural challenges ahead of him, such as qualified immunity and arbitration statutes that have protected police officers from wrongdoing.

“These are things that will drive you to a point of frustration pretty quickly when you’re realizing that you can’t hold people accountable in the way that they deserve to be held accountable,” Ellison said with a sigh, lamenting the lack of control he once possessed with a paintbrush. “I don’t necessarily feel made for this moment in any kind of way. But I do feel like it’s important that I answer the call when I’m being asked to keep my community as safe as possible.”

Despite that goal, Ellison also expressed a strong and persistent desire to give it all up and return to his old vocation, even if he is the scion of one of the most powerful politicians in Minnesota politics. In the art world, at least, his ideas would be unadulterated by the vexing challenge of legislation. “Certainly, when I’ve wrapped here, my plan, my hope,” he said matter-of-factly, “is that I can go back to drawing comics.”

***

Ellison has always defined himself as an artist, which his parents encouraged from a young age. “When he was a little kid, he used to paint and draw on the walls,” Keith Ellison told JI in a phone conversation. “We had to tape paper up on the walls so he would write on the paper and not the walls. This was when he was a tiny little boy, like two or three years old. He just kept doing it, and so we put him in an arts class.”

The class was with Juxtaposition Arts, a prominent non-profit visual arts organization in North Minneapolis. “He was our youngest student,” said Roger Cummings, a co-founder of Juxtaposition, adding that Ellison, who joined at age six, learned to develop his analytical faculties by critiquing and interpreting his classmates’ works before he had reached adolescence. 

Ellison was also taught that making a mural was as much an artistic statement as it was an exercise in community engagement. “What we try to do is give different levels of responsibility to young people,” Cummings explained, mentioning such extra-artistic tasks as securing the wall, talking to the business owner and creating a design that takes into account those who live and work in the area.

Even with that civic-minded training, Ellison was not immediately moved to go into public service. “When we were younger — 16, 17 — he was really adamant that he did not want to go into politics,” said Michael Lee, who is one of Ellison’s best friends from high school, noting that Ellison’s father had been elected to Congress the year after they got to know each other. Still, Lee added that Ellison had changed his mind when they spoke years later. “His understanding of public service and politics comes out of his orientation toward art and storytelling.”

Ellison, who dropped out of college after about one semester, has brought that sensibility to the city council. “He’s not locked into convention,” his father told JI. His mother, Kim Ellison, who chairs the Minneapolis Board of Education, agreed. “If he didn’t have blank paper and pencil in front of him, he wasn’t focused — that was part of everything he did or any space he was in,” she told JI. “Even now, in his office or in his house, he’ll have a whiteboard. He’s got to write down his thoughts and be able to see them.”

Lisa Goodman, a city councilmember who sits next to Ellison on the dais whenever the council meets in person — which isn’t often these days — described Ellison as a “creative, nervous doodler” who could often be seen scribbling away on a piece of paper during council presentations. “He lets out his anxiety and energy through art,” she said. 

Though Ellison and Goodman disagree on several policy issues — including the police — Goodman said that she has managed to find common ground with her young colleague despite their differences. 

Jeremiah Ellison speaks with constituents in Minneapolis. (Courtesy)

In the fall of 2019, Goodman, who is Jewish, invited Ellison, a Muslim, to a Friday night service at Temple Israel, a Reform synagogue she regularly attends in Minneapolis. “In Minnesota, Jews and Muslims are not the predominant religion, and so I found commonality with him in that, and I was really honored that he agreed to come with me to synagogue,” she told JI. “He immediately accepted my invitation, showed up on time and sat with me and prayed.”

Ellison, who serves a section of Minneapolis that was once home to a sizable Jewish population, recalled the service with a sense of appreciation. “It was very social justice–centered, and there was this strong sense of solidarity that I felt, especially sitting next to Lisa Goodman, who I had been told would be an intense political enemy.”

Ellison believes Judaism and Islam are “incredibly compatible,” given, for one, that they are both Abrahamic religions. “I also think that, politically, the two religions sort of exist under a certain level of threat in America,” he said. “It can be difficult to recognize that when you have prominent sort of, quote unquote, Islamic figures who are openly antisemitic.”

He was referring, in large part, to the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who is widely viewed as an antisemite. But Ellison’s appraisal is complicated by the fact that his father once supported Farrakhan and defended him in law school newspaper columns. 

Though Keith Ellison — who was the first Muslim to serve in Congress in 2007 — has since renounced Farrakhan, his affiliation with the controversial leader, as well as some of his past statements on Israel, have come back to haunt him, particularly when, in 2016, he ran for chair of the Democratic National Committee. While Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) endorsed Ellison, Haim Saban, the powerful Democratic donor, refused to get behind him, characterizing Ellison as “an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual.”

***

Ellison is, of course, aware of his father’s uneasy relationship with some high-profile members of the Jewish community, but he doesn’t feel constrained by it. “I think, personality-wise, my dad is a bit extroverted,” he said. “I’m more introverted, which is probably the only reason that I don’t have a bunch of controversial things that people know I said when I was in my early 20s.”

“I don’t feel any pressure because of my relationship with my dad,” he added. “I have a level of urgency to remember that I don’t know everything. At 21, I probably would have very decidedly spoken about my support for Palestine, which I still hold, without much regard for any understanding of antisemitism. Now, I’m building relationships with people in my community. I’m building relationships with my colleagues who are helping me consider things that I just quite honestly hadn’t considered before.”

Steve Fletcher, another Jewish Minneapolis city councilmember who was elected the same year as Ellison, is one of those colleagues. He described Ellison as a strong ally who was capable of detecting instances of antisemitism when they entered the public discourse. 

“I’m an advocate for smart housing and density in the urban core, and every once in a while somebody who opposed adding more dense housing would say to me, ‘Go back to New York,’ and I’m not from New York,” Fletcher recalled. “It just felt a little coded. It was something that I noticed, and that Jeremiah noticed. He picked up on it right away.”

Still, Ellison acknowledged that he has approached the issue with a learning curve. “There have been points where elected leaders who I’m fond of, who I have a good relationship with, have said things that I didn’t understand to be antisemitic,” he said, “and it’s been through conversations with people like Lisa and Steve Fletcher, in particular, where I feel like I have come to understand antisemitism a lot better than I think I really did.”

“I’m Muslim, so solidarity with people in Palestine is something that has been a crucial part of my politics,” Ellison elaborated. “I think that understanding where that line is and when you do cross that line between being critical of the way a government functions versus assigning these characteristics, these caricatures, to a religion, a people, I think that I needed to grow in understanding what that line was myself. And I think that I have grown.”

Ellison declined to name names when asked which elected leaders he had in mind. But Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who inherited Keith Ellison’s seat in Minnesota’s 5th congressional district when he ran for attorney general, is a friend of the young city councilman and has been accused of making antisemitic remarks.

“Ilhan has had to learn the hard way what that line is between being, I think, appropriately critical of a government’s policies versus saying things that are antisemitic,” he said of the congresswoman, who endorsed Ellison during his run for City Council when she was a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives. “While I still unequivocally support Ilhan and her reelection, and want to support her in her growth as a young congressperson, I also think I understand that there’s probably still some learning and a little bit of remedy that needs to occur between her and a lot of folks of Jewish faith here in Minnesota.”

For his part, Ellison said he is still working out some of his beliefs when it comes to Israel. He declined to take a stand, for instance, regarding the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. 

“To be fully honest, I wouldn’t condemn the BDS movement just because I understand, I think, the impulses of a lot of the people I know who are participating in it and who do believe in it,” he said, adding, “I would want to make sure that I fully understand the ways in which that movement could be interpreted as antisemitic, whereas I gotta acknowledge right now, I don’t fully understand where that line is as it pertains to BDS.”

Still, he expressed a strong desire to visit Israel as well as the Palestinian territories, if given the chance to do so. “It’s just an important part of the world to engage with,” he said, “and I think it’s important to sort of be on the ground. I think that you always learn more on the ground.”

Jeremiah Ellison speaking
Jeremiah Ellison speaks in front of a mural at a Minneapolis skate park.

***

For the moment, though, Ellison appears intent on staying put in his home city, where, as a member of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, his first term ends in 2022. While his tone suggested that he would most likely run for a second term, he also indicated he would be happy to pass the mantle to another public servant when he felt the time was right. He certainly has no intention of running for higher office, he said. “I don’t want to be mayor.”

Though such statements should be taken with a grain of incredulity — he is a politician, after all — Ellison appeared genuinely intent on getting back in touch with his artistic side and abandoning politics altogether when the time is right. 

“Without putting a date on it, I think me deciding to wrap up this position will have less to do with whether or not I think I’m ready, and I think it’ll have more to do with how good of a job I do in fostering new political talent that centers the work more than the title, that centers the community more than their own advancement,” he said. “Those are the things I care about. I’m gonna be doing well either way. I made a living as a muralist.”

Ellison regards his muraling as separate from his political endeavors. He quotes a role model, the Chicago artist Theaster Gates, to bolster his point: “I would never make a mural to solve a social problem.” 

“I think muraling is really important, but I also think that there’s a real limitation to murals that doesn’t really dishonor them,” he said. “I still think that murals are really necessary, but the thing that I always found as a mural artist was that murals are often like pins on a map. I think the best murals maybe tell a story of a neighborhood — and certainly murals that ignite that activist sort of impulse tell a story and they point to an issue.”

In his time on the city council, Ellison has nevertheless made efforts to marry his past life as an artist with his current role as an elected official, but he hasn’t yet found a spare moment to do so effectively. “I will tell you, there have been times where I’ve tried to pick up a project,” he told JI. “I’ve thought about doing almost, like, a very relatable local government explainer via comic. It gets so hard to actually sit down and write and draw when you’re in the day-to-day of this job.”

For now, Ellison is focused on the day-to-day. “I just try to do my job,” he said. “My job is to keep people safe. The police murdered George Floyd and then the police also escalated tensions with protesters until things obviously got untenable. And so that’s my focus.”

Susan Segal, who was recently appointed chief judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals and who previously served as Minneapolis’s city attorney, told JI Ellison had been a thoughtful councilman during the brief time she worked with him. “He asked questions and wanted information, and he’s a good listener, so I really enjoyed my time working with him,” said Segal, who hosted Ellison and his father for a Passover Seder not too long ago. “He was a good client in the sense that he asked for legal advice and he followed it.”

But it remains to be seen how long being a public servant will be his focus. “A few years ago, he was happy painting, doing graphic novels, painting murals, part of the whole Minneapolis art scene,” Keith Ellison told JI. “He’s been painting murals since he was literally three years old. And it’s his passion. It’s what he really is here to do.” He added, “I think Jeremiah could do more things in politics. But the question is, does he want to? And so I think, at this point in his life, he’s happy to do public service, but I think his real heart is in the arts world.”

Ellison isn’t denying his father’s assessment. “I’ll tell you, as much as I am honored to do this job,” he said, “I do like painting murals more.”

Antone Melton-Meaux says George Floyd’s killing ‘has amplified’ his campaign message

The Democratic primary race to represent Minnesota’s 5th congressional district has shifted in tone since December, when Antone Melton-Meaux first announced his campaign against freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN).

Like many parts of the country, the Minneapolis district has grappled with the coronavirus over the last several months. But in recent weeks, the mood in the district has transformed from anxiety and grieving to anger over systemic racism and racial inequality after the killing of George Floyd and the aggressive police response to the nationwide protests that followed. 

Melton-Meaux, one of three Democrats challenging Omar in the August 11 primary, told Jewish Insider that although the incident served as a watershed moment in the district, his campaign strategy hasn’t changed. “We have spoken about the institutional systemic racial inequities from the beginning of our campaign,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons I decided to run for Congress. So the tragedy of George Floyd has amplified that component of our campaign, so that we can demonstrate the leadership that the people are hungry for.”

This week, Melton-Meaux’s campaign released two television ads highlighting his background as a mediator — a skill set, he says, he wants to bring to a divided Washington. “The political culture in Washington is toxic,” Melton-Meaux says in one of the ads. “We don’t need more dividers… I will bring people together and get things done for our community.” In the other ad, he discusses the hurdles he faced growing up and the current challenges of protecting his children from racial injustice. 

“I would say that the tragedy of George Floyd has made it clear that leadership matters, and how our elected officials serve their residents matters,” Melton-Meaux stressed in a recent interview with JI. “We can’t wait any longer. We need leaders who will take up the mantle and do the hard work with the people to make that change happen.” 

Campaign officials told JI that the campaign will launch an integrated marketing strategy in the coming weeks in an effort to deliver Melton-Meaux’s message to voters. 

Since Floyd’s murder, Melton-Meaux has participated in local protests and marches across the district, engaging with constituents about the need for police reform. At one gathering, he joined his 16-year-old daughter, Ava, and thousands of high school and college students at the Minnesota State Capitol for a moment of silence in Floyd’s memory. “It was a beautiful thing,” he said of the experience, which was dubbed as a “sit and breathe” protest. 

“Residents of my district are tired and frustrated by the seemingly intractable problems we have with police violence, particularly how the police interact with people of color. The inequities that have fueled this moment have existed for decades,” Melton-Meaux said. He called Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey’s handling of the protests “imperfect,” pointing to the jeers Frey received during a rally last week after he refused to commit to defunding the city’s police department. “The crowd booing Mayor Frey’s answer is a clear expression of that anger and frustration,” he explained.

“After decades and centuries of abuse, people will no longer accept being told to be patient or accept incremental change,” he added. “As a black man, I truly understand those feelings. More of the same is not acceptable. It’s time for massive, systemic structural change in public safety. I not only support that, I’m also encouraged by the passion and calls for action in the community.”

In recent weeks, Melton-Meaux has managed to keep his momentum going as he seeks to raise his profile, according to political observers. Nonpartisan pro-Israel groups like NORPAC and Pro-Israel America have hosted virtual fundraisers for the candidate. 

“I am very pleased to have the support of the pro-Israel community, as well as many other communities that have seen the value of this campaign,” Melton-Meaux told JI. “We are doing well with our fundraising so that we can be competitive with the congresswoman [and] to make sure we’re getting our message out and connecting with residents for the upcoming primary.” 

Melton-Meaux refrained from directly attacking Omar, who recently lost her father due to COVID-19 complications. He suggested that voters in the district are looking for a representative who can build relationships with other lawmakers to deliver results. “We are making sure as a district that we are bringing people along so their voices are heard and that we are building bridges, not burning bridges,” he said, “to make sure that local, elected and federal officials are working together to bring the resources that people need to address these crises that we’re dealing with right now — both with COVID-19 and with the murder of George Floyd.” 

Read our previous feature of Melton-Meaux and his policy views here.

Klobuchar and Smith join growing list of Democrats cautioning against annexation

Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tina Smith (D-MN) have joined more than two dozen Senate Democrats publicly warning Israeli leaders of the implications of efforts to unilaterally annex portions of the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that the government could start annexing territory as early as July 1.

In individual letters sent last month and made public over the weekend, both senators — Klobuchar addressed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Smith wrote to Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz — posited that annexation would undermine efforts to attain a two-state solution.

Twenty-eight senators have so far spoken out against the annexation proposal.

Last month, 19 Democratic senators sent a letter to Netanyahu and Gantz urging the Israeli leaders not to move forward with the effort. That letter, which was updated several times before being sent, cautioned the new Israeli government that “unilateral annexation puts both Israel’s security and democracy at risk” and “would have a clear impact on Israel’s future and our vital bilateral and bipartisan relationship.” Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Bob Casey (D-PA) sent individual communiques to Netanyahu and Gantz, similarly opposing the move, and Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) addressed the matter in individual letters to Pompeo. 

In addition, Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) issued statements against annexation, and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) indicated to Jewish Currents that instead of signing or authoring a letter on annexation, he would “communicate directly with [Israeli] Ambassador [Ron] Dermer and Israeli officials to express his concerns.” 

On Monday, eight Senate candidates in battleground states are expected to join the list expressing their strong opposition to such a move. In statements provided to J Street and shared with Jewish Insider, the candidates — Cal Cunningham (North Carolina), Sara Gideon (Maine), Teresa Greenfield (Iowa), Al Gross (Alaska), Jaime Harrison (South Carolina), MJ Hegar (Texas), John Hickenlooper (Colorado), Amy McGrath (Kentucky) and Jon Ossoff (Georgia) — emphasized that annexation would put the future of a two-state solution at risk. 

Read their statements in full here.

Earlier this month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) warned that unilateral annexation “puts the future [of peace] at risk and undermines our national security interest and decades of bipartisan policy.” Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden also came out against annexation, saying it “will choke off any hope for peace.”

“From the presidential nominee to the speaker of the House and from the Senate to the senatorial campaign trail, Democratic leaders have now made absolutely clear that they do not and cannot support unilateral annexation in the West Bank,” J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami told JI. “For annexation to move forward in the face of this overwhelming opposition would be incredibly harmful to the future of Israelis and Palestinians and to the US-Israel relationship.”

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