Human rights for Palestinians got a thrashing on Thursday in Washington.
A delighted AIPAC claimed victory with a pinned tweet hailing the 420-9 vote in the US House of Representatives providing $1 billion for Israel to replenish its Iron Dome rocket interceptors.
It was all entirely predictable.
What was not predictable was the one-sided viciousness of the debate preceding the vote.
One member of the US Congress, just one – Rashida Tlaib – had the nerve to stand up during the debate on Iron Dome and call Israel what it is: “an apartheid regime.”bill after progressives briefly maneuvered to stop new Iron Dome funding on Tuesday.
The US government, after all, has stood almost without exception with Israel and against Palestinians for 73 years. There was no reason to expect members of Congress to start suddenly voting with Palestinian rights foremost in their minds.
Abandoned to racists
No, the unexpected grotesqueness of the moment came when the Democratic Party abandoned Tlaib and let the anti-Palestinian racists in their midst – from both parties – attack her without defense.
In the most personalized case of anti-Palestinian racism ever to take place on the House floor, not a single Democrat stepped forward to identify the bigoted moment for what it was. Not one Democrat spoke in defense of Tlaib following her advocacy for Palestinians who have been bombarded and killed for decades by the American-funded Israeli military.
They walked away because anti-Palestinian racism still doesn’t register properly.
For all the talk of anti-racism within the party’s ranks, there was a sickening silence after Republican Congressman Chuck Fleischmann and Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch refused to engage with the substance of Tlaib’s apartheid assertion and moved directly to condemning her for alleged “anti-Semitism.”Fleischmann could scarcely contain himself, eagerly lambasting this outsider, this Palestinian who somehow had made it into his club.
Arm gesticulating wildly, Fleischmann inveighed: “You just saw something on this floor I thought I would never see, not only as a member of this House, but as an American!” The comment, particularly the “American” reference, was the epitome of arrogance and entitlement, a prime example of white supremacy and a certitude that dispenses with any need to listen and perhaps even learn from new voices at the table.
The country is changing and Fleischmann’s insulated worldview is facing an unexpected challenge from someone who has lived a very different reality than he has in his conservative congressional district in Tennessee. That’s democracy in a country that no longer has Jim Crow segregation.
Black Americans and allies ended that Jim Crow in the state Fleischmann today represents. Eventually, Palestinians and allies will end apartheid in Israel and in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Order or justice?
A day like Thursday, however, makes that day seem very far off. But Washington, as it demonstrated with apartheid South Africa, is always among the last to grasp such matters.
Fleischmann continued, “Let us stand with Israel, let’s combat anti-Semitism wherever it is in the world.” Later in the day, he was joined by Republican Congressman Barry Loudermilk of Georgia who absurdly claimed that “a Democrat made anti-Semitic remarks on the House floor by referring to Israel as an apartheid government.”But there was no anti-Semitism on the House floor from Tlaib. Pointing out the apartheid reality – the absence of freedom and equal rights for Palestinians – should not be conflated with anti-Semitism.
Furthermore, how is it not anti-Palestinian racism to call to fund rocket defense for Israeli civilians, but not for Palestinian civilians facing much greater Israeli – and American – weaponry in Gaza?
The US not funding Iron Dome doesn’t mean Israel can’t have it. Israeli politicians just need to fund it themselves, as they can, which perhaps would make more of them reconsider the wisdom of abusing Palestinian rights and employing routine military firepower against more than two million Palestinians in Gaza, over 70 percent of whom are dispossessed from homes and lands just a short distance away.(Anshel Pfeffer, a journalist with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, made his tweet on Israel paying for Iron Dome after progressives initially blocked the funding, but before Thursday’s vote in favor.)
The attack on Tlaib quickly continued from Congressman Ted Deutch who next had the floor and abandoned a prepared speech in order to vilify the congresswoman from Michigan. Deutch was upset that his colleague had “besmirched our ally” Israel.
“I cannot allow one of my colleagues to stand on the floor of the House of Representatives and label the Jewish democratic state of Israel an apartheid state. I reject it.” But a “Jewish democratic state” is every bit as problematic as a “white Christian democratic state” in the one-time Jim Crow segregationist state of Florida that Deutch now represents.
Then, clearly speaking of Tlaib, he claimed: “To falsely characterize the state of Israel is consistent with those who advocate for the dismantling of the one Jewish state in the world.” He added: “When there is no place on the map for one Jewish state, that’s anti-Semitism, and I reject that.”So, in Deutch’s view, Tlaib’s honestly noting Israel’s apartheid status is consistent with “anti-Semitism.” Claiming support for equal rights is “anti-Semitism” is a disturbing diminishment of the term.
Deutch is like the white moderate that Martin Luther King, Jr. excoriated for being “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.” Much as with Fleischmann’s take, Tlaib’s very presence disrupts the routine “order” of the day.
And then not one Democrat stood up to defend Tlaib. In fact, Congresswoman Kathy Manning, a Democrat from North Carolina, told Marc Rod from Jewish Insider that she wanted to associate herself with Deutch’s comment accusing Tlaib of anti-Semitism.Beth Miller, senior government affairs manager with Jewish Voice for Peace Action which released a powerful statement about the day’s developments, told The Electronic Intifada that “the attacks on Representative Tlaib from Representatives Fleischmann and Deutch were a despicable and horrifying display of the deep-seated anti-Palestinian racism that runs rampant in Congress.”
Miller added, “It is hard to imagine how horrible it must have been for her to see her colleagues cheer on smears and attacks against her, solely because she dared to speak the truth.”
Ahmad Abuznaid, executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, denounced the “ridiculous attacks” by the congressmen and noted their failure to address “the substance of her [Tlaib’s] arguments.”
Tellingly, there was no public solidarity, there was no outrage voiced on the floor at Tlaib’s treatment by Deutch and Fleischmann, just business as usual as Democrats and Republicans walked over yet another Palestinian. This one was not thousands of miles away and eviscerated by American weaponry, but there as a convenient stand-in to be torn down by false words, cruel rhetoric and a mob mentality turned loose on the first Palestinian Muslim woman elected to Congress.
Yes, seven other Democrats joined Tlaib in the vote – as did Republican Congressman Thomas Massie who opposes all foreign aid – but the failure to stand up to the racist screeds voiced by Fleischmann and Deutch is what will remain with me and many others from this day.We knew such sentiments lurked within both parties, but to watch it explode on the House floor and for no one to have Tlaib’s back was a disturbing moment that should lead to considerable soul-searching within the Democratic Party and particularly among its progressive members.
Leaders need to react in real time when racists show themselves on the House floor.
They failed, all of them.
On Thursday, the Democratic Party showed that a reckoning is needed within party ranks regarding congressional members’ anti-Palestinian racism. This is not simply a Republican problem.
Even Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is challenging overall US military spending, merely voted present after initially voting no. Howard Zinn’s admonishment that “you can’t be neutral on a moving train” comes to mind.
Pro-Israel conservatives accused Ocasio-Cortez of “crocodile tears” in the aftermath of the vote and viciously attacked her and her motives. Anyone who intends to stand for Palestinian rights must be well prepared in advance that the attacks on them will be like on no other issue.
The harsh criticism is intended to be brutal and silencing or even lead to a change in position and greater deference to the preferred positions of the Israel lobby. But support for equal rights is not anti-Semitism, no matter what anti-Palestinian racists like Fleischmann and Deutch claim.
Progressives should learn lessons from the onslaught against their colleague. If they’re serious about anti-racism then they should fight back against the anti-Palestinian racists in Congress who have funded Israel’s oppression of Palestinians for decades.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for her part, should let Deutch know in no uncertain terms that Tlaib’s advocacy of equal rights for Palestinians is not to be conflated with anti-Semitism and that anti-Palestinian racism of the sort he displayed in conjunction with Fleischmann will not be tolerated. Pelosi, however, has stood with Israel for decades as it occupied and dispossessed Palestinians.
Consequently, no such response can be expected from her. Anti-Palestinian racism within the Democratic Party will remain the norm on Pelosi’s watch.
- Rashida Tlaib
- Iron Dome
- Human Rights Watch
- Rosa DeLauro
- Democratic Party
- Chuck Fleischmann
- Ted Deutch
- Jim Crow
- Barry Loudermilk
- Martin Luther King
- Kathy Manning
- Marc Rod
- Beth Miller
- Jewish Voice for Peace Action
- Ahmad Abuznaid
- US Campaign for Palestinian Rights
- Thomas Massie
- Republican Party
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez