There is plenty of political excitement going on here in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still could not muster a majority government as of early this week, and Madonna used a Palestinian flag to promote a political message on stage at Eurovision.
But I cannot seem to get my mind off of U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the Democratic congresswoman from Michigan. That’s because everything she says lately seems to reverberate here.
Her latest statements deal with the Palestinians, Israel and the Holocaust.
And a little bit of knee-jerkiness.
That’s because in an interview on the “Skullduggery” podcast earlier this month, Tlaib was asked about her support for a one-state solution – one state for Jews and Palestinians – and in her answer she played fast and loose with the history of Israel, but she was accused of anti-Semitism.
Here’s what she said: “Two weeks ago we celebrated, or took a moment I think in our country to remember, the Holocaust. And there’s a kind of a calming feeling, I always tell folks, when I think of the Holocaust and the tragedy of the Holocaust in 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 had been wiped out, and some people’s passports – I mean, 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, right, and it was forced on them.”
To paraphrase: Her Palestinian ancestors were pushed off of their land in Israel by Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and Israel was born out of the tragedy of the Holocaust.
But what she was accused of by many as saying was the Holocaust gives her a “calming feeling” and it was her ancestors that created the safe haven for the Jewish Holocaust survivors.
Let’s be clear. Tlaib is a first-generation Palestinian-American. Her mother is from a West Bank village near Ramallah and her father was from eastern Jerusalem. She frequently talks about her grandmother, her mother’s mother, or sity (Arabic for grandmother) who still lives in the same West Bank village, as do dozens of aunts, uncles and cousins.
Just as many of us Jews have heard practically since birth that Israel was given to us first biblically by God and then in the modern era by the Balfour Declaration, Partition Plan and the War for Independence, Tlaib has been fed from birth stories about Palestinian claims to the same land. She may or may not be familiar with the history of the region, but she is proud of her Palestinian identity and she will defend its narrative. I don’t think that makes her an anti-Semite.
She is, however, very smart. Because if she offers the narrative of a state of Israel born out of the ashes of the Holocaust enough times, the Jews who live on the land will be seen by the rest of the world as transplants who have no real connection, except the need to find a safe haven.
To be honest, I do not think for a second she stays up at night thinking about how nice it is the Jews were able to find safe haven in pre-state Israel and she comforts herself with her peoples’ real suffering by recalling that fact.
One could argue it was a passing comment in an extensive interview. But I disagree. Nothing Tlaib says is a passing comment, she is too smart and too good of a politician for that. And federal lawmakers should know better than to misspeak about the history of a major world conflict.
There were Jews living in Mandatory Palestine long before the start of
World War II and many more Jews would have joined them there but for the quotas placed on Jewish immigration by the British and by the bitter complaints of the Arabs living there. And the Jews that arrived in Palestine after the Holocaust did not find a safe haven, they found Arabs waiting to kill them and finish the job Hitler started. Then a war – for survival – was thrust upon them by the surrounding Arab countries. A war that against all odds the nascent state of Israel won.
If Tlaib were really honest, she also would acknowledge the times Israeli leaders have offered the Palestinians a state on most of the land they claim was taken from them since the British left, peace offers that were rebuffed by Palestinian leaders, including Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas.
Her desire for a so-called one-state solution is simply fulfilling the Palestinian narrative of “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will soon be free.” Which she has probably heard from birth. Which is fine for a regular Palestinian activist. But Tlaib is no ordinary activist. She is a U.S. congresswoman.
Marcy Oster is a former Clevelander who covers the Middle East for the Cleveland Jewish News from Karnei Shomron, West Bank.