Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, one of only two Muslim-Americans in Congress, reacted Thursday to the controversy over his party's newly-updated platform that references Jerusalem as being the capital of Israel.
"I do not want to see this issue used as a cudgel to beat on the president with," Ellison said. "They're trying to use the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a way to divide people."
When pressed to explain who "they" are, Ellison said: "By 'they' I mean people who try to make the Israel-Palestinian conflict into a political football. And try then to out pro-Israel each other."
"That's an unfortunate circumstance. This is a serious conflict which requires real focus and the world needs a solution to it. It should not be reduced to whose platform is more pro-Israel. It's a game that we're playing. But we're playing a game with people's lives."
The Minnesota Democrat is influential among many American Muslims. He is the first Muslim ever elected to Congress and is politically active with Muslim groups.
His comments came at a meeting of the American Muslim Democratic Caucus in Charlotte. Many in the audience are attending the Democratic National Convention.
Ellison was asked about his party's updating of their platform with the Jerusalem reference. But the congressman said the focus on it was misplaced.
"This issue is a side issue, it's a distraction issue," Ellison said. "And I personally believe that the last thing we need to do is have a big fight about the emergence of this issue. Because at the end of the day, we need a president who will try to bring these people together. And it won't be easy."
Meanwhile, the president of a prominent Arab-American group blasted the process by which the updated language was adopted. Just after the DNC's Wednesday session was gaveled into order, the proposal was adopted. But only after three voice votes that, by some interpretations, were too close to call.
"The language of the platform, the additional language, [is] absolutely inconsequential," said Dr. James Zogby of the Arab American Institute. "Frankly, we can live with it."
Yet Zogby blasted the way the proposal was adopted.
"You do not try to ram down the throat of Democrats, language that they had no time to think about or talk about," Zogby said. "I think they're disappointed in the way this happened."
"This was a mistake. The fact is ... at the end of the day, you're not going to win five Jewish votes with what happened yesterday on the platform. But you may lose some Arab-American votes. That's a bad thing. This could've been handled in a way where the Jewish community felt empowered and the Arab-American community felt empowered. And everybody comes out a winner."