Rashida Tlaib in 2018. Credit: Stephanie Kenner/Shutterstock.
by Jonathan Tobin
(JNS) — It appears that Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) may have finally gone a bit too far even for some of her left-wing Jewish allies and apologists. Speaking at an online conference of kindred spirits from the Democratic Socialists of America, the first Palestinian American to sit in the House decided to go one step further in her ongoing campaign of demonization of Israel and Jews.
Drawing a straight line between what she falsely characterized as oppression of Palestinians by Israel and the treatment of African-Americans in the United States, the Michigan Democrat invoked a shadowy, villainous conspiracy behind wrongdoing on two continents.
“They do it from Gaza to Detroit. The structure we’ve been living under right now is designed by those who exploit the rest of us, for their own profit. If you open the curtain and look behind the curtain, it’s the same people that make money — and yes, they do — off of racism.”
There wasn’t much doubt about who “they” are. This is the same woman who has previously trafficked in antisemitic stereotypes and just less than three months ago took part in a session of Israel-bashing on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, spouting lies about the Jewish state and rationalizations for Hamas terrorism. She’s also made it clear that she thinks the only just solution for the conflict in the Middle East is to erase the only Jewish state on the planet. But claiming that the same people who are preventing Palestinians from getting rid of the Jews are also exploiting “regular Americans” was tying it all up in a conspiratorial bow that fellow Michigan icon and anti-Semite Henry Ford would have happily endorsed.
The reaction from liberals who have been pretending that hate and antisemitism only come from the right ranged from anger to confusion. The Anti-Defamation League’s Jonathan Greenblatt has been operating from the partisan playbook of the party that he served in two administrations in recent years, though even he considered it “appalling.”
But Greenblatt’s instinct to somehow connect this to the people he really opposes — Republicans and former President Donald Trump — referred to it as only “anti-Semitic dog-whistling.” That’s a term that was repeatedly deployed against Trump in an effort to claim that he was somehow engaging in antisemitism even though he was not only the most pro-Israel president ever to sit in the White House, his friendship and close ties with Jews were not in question.
The same line was taken by The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, who has also been a consistent demonizer of Trump and has a hard time understanding why people whom he so desperately wants to think well of like Tlaib are antisemites. He ignored the fact that Tlaib’s beliefs exemplify a century-long tradition of Palestinian thinking, as well as the kind of conspiracy-mongering about Jewish power that has been employed by elements on the far-left going back to Karl Marx himself. Instead, he claimed that she was mimicking Trump, whom he said had unfairly criticized Tlaib and Omar for their antisemitism and willingness to denounce America’s role in international affairs as the main problem facing the international community.
The problem here isn’t how far liberal voices are going to condemn Tlaib. The real question is what her party is willing to do to establish that it won’t tolerate the kind of open Jew-hatred that she is spouting. And the answer to that question is “nothing.”
Let’s remember that among the first tasks taken up by the current Congress when it convened earlier this year was to punish Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-Ga.) for her past embrace of a variety of QAnon conspiracy theories. The most notorious of those — a Rothschild bank executive and space lasers. Democrats decided to make an example of her by denying Taylor-Greene the right to sit on House committees.
Leaving aside the fact that Taylor-Greene announced earlier this year that she has since renounced QAnon, the things she had said in the past were indefensible. Still, if you’re going to declare her ineligible for House privileges, how can House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer — both of whom continue to proclaim their friendship and support for Jews and Israel — let Tlaib off the hook?
The answer is the same they’ve given in the past for refusing to seriously discipline Tlaib’s “Squad” colleague Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). As “women of color,” they are given a standing free pass to engage in antisemitism.
In June, Omar made a specious and outrageous analogy between terrorist groups like Hamas and the Taliban and Israel and the United States, for which she gave one of her trademark “clarifications” that did not come close to a retraction or an apology.
Omar has previously accused American Jews of buying Congress with her notorious “it’s all about the Benjamins” line about the role played by the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby. That didn’t prevent her from being embraced by the House leadership, as well as being feted as a celebrity by the late-night television comedians whose shows constitute a daily in-kind contribution to the Democratic Party.
AIPAC castigated this as well as a comment by “Squad” star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in which she opposed aid to Israel and sought to reward Hamas for its terrorist attacks on the Jewish state. The response from leading Democrats and liberal Jewish groups wasn’t outrage at their targets but directed at the pro-Israel lobby for having the temerity to call them out for what they had said.
According to Omar and her defenders, telling the truth about her antisemitism and hatred for Israel was “putting her life at risk.” The left-wing J Street lobby claimed that in simply noting the facts, AIPAC was “declaring war on progressive Democrats” and making false accusations about “women of color.”
Sadly, Pelosi and Hoyer said that speaking out against the pair or Tlaib was “deeply cynical and inflammatory” and wouldn’t increase support for Israel.
The problem here is not just that members of the expanded 2021 version of “The Squad” have been lying about Israel and helping to incite antisemitic violence against Jews. It’s that their fellow Democrats are still more offended by attempts to hold these people accountable than they are by the kind of open antisemitism expressed by them.
Democrats respond to every query about this issue with talk of the far right’s antisemitism. But gaslighting the country with partisan talking points about Trump is no answer.
We know that Democratic Socialists and other members of the left-wing base of the party that currently controls both the White House and Congress are increasingly embracing anti-Zionist and antisemitic positions, making it politically dangerous for mainstream Democrats to confront them.
Even as it was engaging in disgraceful attacks on those who seek to point out the truth about “The Squad,” J Street did withdraw its endorsement from Tlaib for her open embrace of Israel’s elimination. But there is little difference between her stands and those of House members like Omar, Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) who also support the anti-Semitic BDS movement.
We’re now at the point where liberal Jewish groups — not to mention House Democratic leaders Pelosi and Hoyer — cannot be allowed to continue to get away with an effort to distance themselves from these haters while not actually condemning them or calling for their removal from Congress. The talk about defending “women of color” and other attempts at distracting us from the reality of what now amounts to an informal pro-antisemitism caucus in the House just won’t cut it anymore.
Simply put, if Rashida Tlaib isn’t given the same treatment dished out to Taylor-Greene, then there is no way to argue that the House Majority hasn’t established a standard that gives a permission slip to antisemitism from the left.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.