Would-be Democratic National Committee Chairman U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison has been catching hell from conservatives and enemies within his own party for his past ties to South Side firebrand Louis Farrakhan.

Now the Nation of Islam itself is piling on, accusing Ellison of being a “hypocrite” and seeking to embarrass him for what it called his “cowardly and baseless repudiation” of the controversial South Side-based religious leader he once supported, and who once infamously called Judaism a “gutter religion.”

The first Muslim elected to Congress, Ellison, who hails from Minnesota, was an early supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and one of the first senior Democrats to take Donald Trump’s candidacy seriously — qualifications cited by supporters in the Democratic Party who would like to install him as their leader.

But Ellison’s status as the front-runner last week came under threat after CNN revived articles Ellison wrote in praise of Farrakhan while Ellison was a grad student — 20 years ago — and found footage of him appearing to criticize Israel. That prompted Hillary Clinton’s biggest donor, Haim Saban, to on Friday call Ellison an “anti-Semite.”

And on Wednesday, an editorial published in the Nation of Islam’s house organ, The Final Call quotes at length from articles Ellison wrote in the 1990s in which he praised Farrakhan as “a sincere, tireless and uncompromising advocate of the Black community and other oppressed peoples in America and around the world” and wrote that Farrakhan “is not an anti-Semite.”

Illustrated with a photo of what the Final Call says is Ellison hawking copies of the Nation’s paper while at the University of Minnesota, the editorial by editor Richard B. Muhammad noted that Ellison went by the last name Ellison-Muhammad at the time and had helped organize a Minnesota delegation to Farrakhan’s Million Man March.

“If Mr. Ellison once believed those things about the Minister and changed his mind, that’s his business,” Muhammad wrote. “We will leave Allah (God) to judge and handle the hypocrites.”

Ellison, who repudiated Farrakhan as an anti-Semite when he ran for Congress in 2006, did not comment Wednesday, but last week wrote that he was a supporter of Israel who was coming under attack from “right-wing interests” who were trying to “drive a wedge between long-standing allies in the fight for equal rights.”

Beyond retweeting the Final Call editorial, Farrakhan has so far stayed above the fray, speaking instead in recent days about his push for shoppers to boycott Christmas and praising the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro as “a deeply committed spiritual man.”

(c)2016 the Chicago Tribune

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