NOTE: I have published two reports at Middle East Eye on the campaign waged against Jeremy Corbyn claiming he is anti-Israel and anti-Semitic; or that the Labour Party he leads is guilty of these charges. My latest piece was published earlier today there. Please read and promote on social media.
Last week’s national elections brought victory to two candidates who represent a radical break with politics-as-usual. Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American woman, won the Detroit seat vacated by long-time African-American leader, John Conyers. Ilhan Omar a Somali-American woman won the seat vacated by Keith Ellison, who also won his primary race for state attorney general. They are both Muslim and women of color. I can’t emphasize enough how radical this development is. Their victories come on the heels of the earlier surprise defeat of Democratic Congressional leader, Joe Crowley by Alexandria Cortez-Otavio. Though they feel varying degrees of allegiance to Bernie Sanders, there is no doubt that they would not be where they are now without him pioneering a path through his own presidential primary campaign. Beyond this they of course owe nothing to him and will pursue their own paths.
Tlaib and Ohan have shaken the Israel Lobby and pro-Israel media which are reporting ominously that the latter called Israel an apartheid state. The word apartheid appears to be as freighted for the Lobby as the N-word is for the African-American community. Note, I said for the Israel Lobby, but not for Jews. Most American Jews, if they don’t believe Israel is an apartheid state, understand the concept and feel it is one that deserves debate and consideration, rather than obloquy.
In 2012, during Operation Pillar of Defense, during which hundreds of Gazans were killed by Israeli forces, Ilhan tweeted the following:
Drawing attention to the apartheid Israeli regime is far from hating Jews. You are a hateful sad man, I pray to Allah you get the help you need and find happiness. https://t.co/SvEXjlxlEN
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) May 31, 2018
During the invasion she called it Israel’s “evil doings” and more recently, in response to a right-wing troll she called Israel “an apartheid regime.” If we were to go by the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism (which we are not) she might be called anti-Semitic. But this is not anti-Semitism. Ilhan has no hatred for Jews. Her hatred is for the bloodshed and violence perpetrated by the Israeli regime. In this, she is joined by progressives (including Jews) in this country and Israel as well.
Tlaib presents an even more striking example, because she sought and received an endorsement from J Street’s political action committee, which donated an unspecified amount to her campaign. The J Street PAC website doesn’t list any donation to her. But it does, oddly, list a $2,000 donation for the 2018 cycle to John Conyers, whose seat she is taking. There is more detailed campaign finance information for her campaign listed here.
Though J Street claims Tlaib supports a two-state solution and continuation of all forms of U.S. aid to Israel, she has either renounced those views or never held them to begin with. In two interviews (one with Channel Four and the other with In These Times) she explicitly endorsed a one-state solution, the Palestinian Right of Return, curtailing U.S. aid to Israel unless it satisfies human rights conditions, and the rights of Americans to support BDS.
J Street appears to have a great deal of egg on its face. It says it’s trying to “clarify” this matter. But this doesn’t look good for the liberal Zionist group which is often denigrated as “Aipac-lite.” This is the first time it has ever endorsed a Palestinian-American, and a Muslim to boot. It has not gone well for them and they have only themselves to blame. Did they think that Tlaib would be a “good” Arab, a Muslim Zionist? One of those obedient poodles who would toe the Party line in order to feed at the money trough?
Tlaib’s are some of the most radical views on the Israel-Palestine conflict ever to grace the halls of Congress. These views and her espousing them in Washington DC are a direct offense to the Israel Lobby. This is something they cannot let stand. No doubt, a prominent Jewish donor in her district who is also an Aipac board member will meet with her and read her the riot act. They will warn her that if she does not tone down this rhetoric they will find a “moderate” Black or Muslim-American candidate who will toe the line and find themselves the recipient of unlimited campaign cash in the next election.
After watching her TV interview, I find Tlaib to be a rough-hewn candidate. She is not smoothly articulate as some are. She repeats herself often, her arguments are sometimes muddled, and when she doesn’t like a question she manages to evade answering or answering obliquely. Either she will mature as a candidate and speaker or over time she will follow the path of least resistance trodden by others who began as insurgents and ended as captives of the Party élite.
In other words, she has begun her Congressional career with a bang. She promises to offer new ideas, shocking ideas, to an institution which is bound hand and foot to, and by the Israel Lobby. If she maintains these views, she could augur a revolution in Israel-Palestine discourse in national politics.