For months, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has been dragged through hell for her criticisms of Israel and its US lobby, posited by her opponents as incontrovertible proof of antisemitism. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), whose parents were born in Palestine and whose extended family still lives there, had Omar’s back from the beginning.
“I am so honored to serve with [Omar], an incredible courageous woman,” Tlaib tweeted in March, “Every time I worry about her and the ugly attacks, I remember what she said to me two months ago: ‘I survived war, I can survive this.’”
When House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), called for Omar to be boxed out of intelligence briefings, Tlaib tweeted, “Hard to watch Rep. Scalise demand that [Omar] be removed from House Foreign Affairs w/o wondering if it’s steeped in Islamophobia.”
Tlaib’s full-throated defense of Omar put a target on her back. Republicans have been waiting for the moment they could pin antisemitism allegations on Tlaib in a shameless attempt to silence critiques of Israel and the broader critiques of American inequality and imperialism that Tlaib has leveled. That moment has arrived.
On the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery,” Tlaib said the following:
There’s always kind of a calming feeling, I tell folks, when I think of the Holocaust, and the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the fact that it was my ancestors — Palestinians — who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity, their existence in many ways, have been wiped out, and some people’s passports, and, just all of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post-the Holocaust, post-the tragedy and the horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time, and I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, right, in many ways, but they did it in a way that took their human dignity away and it was forced on them.
It’s obvious from reading the comment in full that the “calming feeling” Tlaib was referring to is the knowledge that Palestine served as a “safe haven” for Jews after World War II. She does not feel calm about the Holocaust or the “horrific persecution of Jews,” just as she doesn’t feel calm about the dispossession and oppression of Palestinians that has occurred in Israel ever since.
But Republicans wasted no time jumping to the ugliest possible interpretation to wield as a cudgel against Tlaib. You could almost hear Scalise licking his lips when said in a statement, “There is no justification for the twisted and disgusting comments made by Rashida Tlaib just days after the annual Day of Holocaust Remembrance. More than six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust; there is nothing ‘calming’ about that fact.”
Donald Trump — who called antisemitic neo-Nazis chanting “Jews will not replace us” “very fine people” after the Charlottesville protests — leapt at the opportunity to condemn Tlaib’s “horrible and highly insensitive statement on the Holocaust.” Tlaib “obviously has tremendous hatred of Israel and the Jewish people,” he added.
We should see this phenomenon for what it is: a cynical strategy to discredit anyone who criticizes Israel and its fiercest advocates in the United States government, coming from people who don’t give a rat’s ass about bigotry against Jews or any other religious or ethnic minority.
Steve Scalise is a perfect example. He once spoke at a rally for a fascist group called the European-American Unity and Rights Organization where, according to the Jew-hating white supremacist website Stormfront, he lamented government assistance for non-whites. Before becoming president, Donald Trump ran a real-estate empire that routinely and intentionally discriminated against black people. Trump’s Muslim ban literally targets a group of people for discrimination based on ethnicity and religion.
These Republicans don’t care about social justice. They have no problem with prejudice. They’re opportunists looking to smear their political opponents, because those opponents are against unconditional US support for Israel as it murders Palestinian civilians.
Democrats too have spent decades rolling out the red carpet for Israel with little concern for Palestinian rights. Accordingly, they attempted to censure Omar for her comments, out of a supposed concern for antisemitism. We shouldn’t expect any different from a party establishment that believes, as top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi put it last year, that “there is no greater political accomplishment in the twentieth century than the establishment of the State of Israel.”
We should, however, expect better from the Democratic Party’s liberal base. Liberals are by and large opposed to prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination, and have made a good habit of opposing intolerance wherever it manifests. But now that opposition to bigotry is a majority position in the US — something that wasn’t true half a century ago — liberals need to learn a new habit. They need to learn how to discern when somebody is manipulating their earnest desire for social equality in order to score points and take down a political adversary.
Recognizing the manufactured blowback to Tlaib’s comments as insincere and devious politicking is a good place to start.