Democrats abandon Rashida Tlaib to racist onslaught

Woman at microphones with two people behind her

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan faced vicious and false attacks on the House floor after she accused Israel of practicing apartheid.

Michael Brochstein Polaris

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.”

Tlaib cited both the findings of Human Rights Watch and Israeli human rights group B’Tselem regarding Israel’s practice of apartheid. 

The import of the day, however, isn’t that over 400 members of Congress voted to provide $1 billion so that Israel can replenish Iron Dome. That was easily anticipated from the moment Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro introduced the standalone appropriations 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.

Mob mentality 

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.




The vicious attacks on Rashida Tlaib, that no other Democrat, even from her sisters on The Squad stepped up to challebge, and the sad fact that Alexandria Octavio Cortez, who had led the fight against Iron Dome funding being added to the government funding bill, had to tearfully apologize for changing her vote from No to Present underscores a crucial, undeniable fact of US political life, that Congress is Israeli Occupied Territory and, arguably, it's most important one.

This fact, I would point out, is one that has been consistently and inexcusably denied or ignored by those individuals, organizations and publications that purport to speak for and represent the Palestine solidarity movement who insist that the US support for Israel does not stem from the power of the Israel Lobby, whose influence they are quick to minimize, but because Israel is viewed as a strategic asset by the US government and its State and Defense Departments.

Consequently, there has never been a concerted effort, or any effort of any kind, in the fifty years I have been working and writing on this issue, to challenge the power of that Lobby through launching campaigns to pressure liberal members of Congress who are PEPs (Progressive Except for Palestine). This has resulted in next to no pressure being exerted on those members of Congress to resist the demands of AIPAC, the lobby's key enforcing instrument. And on the floor of Congress, as this article describes, we have seen the result in one of its ugliest ever manifestations,


I think there's now a huge fear in most left-wing politicians of having what happened to Jeremy Corbyn happen to them. I think that explains if not excuses this. It is political poison to be perceived as anti-Semitic and sadly, it seems hard to counter that & many Israeli sources are (of course) saying its right that Tlaib was called out here and making a case for that whether we accept their hypocritical claims or not. Especially galling given the regressive rightwing side of politics has outright racists like the Trump & Quanon cults plus literal White Supremacist nazis.

We need to all be extra careful to condemn tropes and phrases and things can be seen as anti-Semitism and separate criticism of Israeli policies and their govt from anything like that because as a silencing tactic - and political career ending one its pretty powerful.

How do we fight that? By being very clear and careful and precise in our words and maybe also challenging and calling out anti-Semitism in our ranks if we see it I guess?


I followed the wave of attacks on Jeremy Corbyn very closely and I came away with quite a different opinion. Instead of going immediately on the defensive, as he did, most shamelessly submitting to a hostile, insulting interrogation by a “reporter” a third his age from the Jewish Chronicle, without walking out, exemplified his entire campaign which, predictably, ended in a massive failure.

What Corbyn should have done was point out that among the entire British population of 69 million, there are less than 300 ,000 Jews, not all of whom are supporters of Israel while others are open in support of Palestinian rights. He should have politely told the Jewish Board of Deputies that he was running for prime minister to represent all of Britain’s 69 million and that it was presumptuous to suggest that whatever his position was on the Israel-Palestine conflict, it paled in importance to other more pressing issues that impact the lives of the citizens of Britain. If he had said that, would the Board of Deputies or the pro-Israel columnists in the British press have dared to challenge that statement and thus reveal where the true loyalties lie? I very much doubt it.

How Corbyn responded to the person attacks was what most politicians in the US have tended to do, instead of reminding their constituents and the public that Israel is a foreign country the behavior of which has been widely condemned in every international forum and while Americans have every right to support Israel, they have no right to demand loyalty to that foreign country from any other US citizen and most certainly not from its politicians who have been elected to serve their constituents who live within our borders. That the Palestinian solidarity movement, such as it is, has not made that point clear and has shied away from challenging the power of the Israel Lobby accounts for the sad situation that continues to exist within the American body politic on this issue.

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Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune,, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.