Israel lobby renews smear campaign against Rashida Tlaib

Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib is the target of a renewed smear campaign coordinated by the Israel lobby.

“I want you all to know that among progressives it has become clear that you cannot claim to hold progressive values yet back Israel’s apartheid government,” the Palestinian American from Michigan told Americans for Justice in Palestine Action during an online event on Tuesday.

“We will continue to push back and not accept this idea that you are progressive except for Falastin any longer,” Tlaib added, using the Arabic name for Palestine.

Tlaib’s comment can be heard in the video at the top of the article.

Her commonsense address was quickly misrepresented by Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt and a growing number of Democrats in the House of Representatives, as part of a disturbing campaign against their Democratic colleague, the sole Palestinian American woman ever elected to the US House of Representatives.

“In one sentence, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib simultaneously tells American Jews that they need to pass an anti-Zionist litmus test to participate in progressive spaces even as she doubles down on her anti-Semitism by slandering Israel as an apartheid state,” Greenblatt tweeted.

He added, “It’s absolutely reprehensible and does nothing to advance the cause of peace. We call on people of good will and leaders across the political spectrum to make clear that such anti-Semitism will not be tolerated.”

But there’s absolutely zero mention from Tlaib anywhere in her short speech of “an anti-Zionist litmus test.” Greenblatt simply made that up along with his suggestion that Tlaib was singling out American Jews.

Greenblatt’s organization, the ADL, has a long history of smearing supporters of Palestinian rights. Masquerading as defenders of civil rights, the Israel lobby group habitually attacks Black campaigners for racial justice in the United States, one of the reasons dozens of anti-racist groups have urged people not to work with the ADL.

All Tlaib did was make clear that progressives ought to oppose racism and discrimination, including that practiced by Israel. There shouldn’t be a carve-out where it’s acceptable to permit Israeli apartheid and discrimination or, for that matter, settler-colonialism.

Perhaps one day the Congressional Progressive Caucus will say that all its members must reject Israeli occupation and apartheid, but that wasn’t said by Tlaib and it certainly wasn’t a message addressed to American Jews as Greenblatt indicated.

In fact, it is Greenblatt who makes out the Jewish community to be monolithic in support of Israel and its actions.

His position is tremendously unfair to the many American Jews who reject the Israeli apartheid noted by Palestinians and Palestinian organizations for years and more recently by B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

It is moreover anti-Semitic – according to the standards espoused by the ADL itself – to equate being Jewish with loyalty to Israel or its anti-Palestinian official ideology, Zionism.

Unsurprisingly, Greenblatt goes so far as to declare the simple recognition of the on-the-ground apartheid reality to be anti-Semitism. This is not much different from declaring that recognition of the Israeli occupation is anti-Semitism. Or that a rejection of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights and Jerusalem is anti-Semitism.

It would appear that the ADL is growing increasingly desperate to shut down such obvious criticisms of Israel’s myriad violations of international law and fundamental human rights by applying the “anti-Semitism” label ever more widely.

In agreement with Greenblatt, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz also claimed that progressive opposition to anti-Palestinian racism is anti-Semitic.

She prefers that Palestinians stay silent and regards their speaking out for Palestinian rights as “divisive.”

She would do well to re-read Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” regarding the “white moderate.” She wants a negative peace on her own terms far more than any manifestation of justice.

All the talk at the Americans for Justice in Palestine Action virtual conference regarding the rights of Palestinians is distilled by the anti-Palestinian bigots in Congress – of whom there are many – into soundbites claiming anti-Semitism.

Wasserman Schultz, it should be recalled, had to resign as chair of the Democratic National Committee in 2016, after it was revealed that the Democratic Party governing body had conspired to sabotage that year’s primary against Senator Bernie Sanders to ensure that Hillary Clinton would become the party’s presidential nominee.

This disturbing conflation of equal rights with anti-Semitism is a form of modern-day McCarthyism intended to intimidate and silence those who might otherwise speak out against Israel’s longstanding discrimination against Palestinians. Israel’s foundational act, of course, was the ethnic cleansing of some 800,000 Palestinians. They and their descendants have been denied the right to return home ever since.

Dozens of laws discriminated against Palestinians within Israel even before Israel passed its racist nation-state law in 2018.

Even Greenblatt expressed concern about the nation-state law when it was passed by Israel’s parliament.

Was it an anti-Semitic belief of his that led him to say, “Now that this law has been passed by the Knesset, the State of Israel has an obligation to ensure that, in practice, this Basic Law is not used to discriminate against minorities, particularly its Arab citizens”?

Of course it wasn’t an expression of anti-Semitism from Greenblatt. It was his attempt to sidestep that the whole purpose of the legislation was to further enshrine discrimination in Israeli law, akin to a “white moderate” saying he hopes that new Jim Crow laws don’t discriminate against Black Americans.

That others have wrestled more deeply with these matters than Greenblatt – if he has at all – does not make them anti-Semites. It does suggest that Greenblatt has not himself grappled intensively with just how discriminatory Israel’s apartheid practices actually are, both in the occupied territories and Israel itself as Amnesty International makes clear.

This profound shortcoming in analysis is not surprising. Indeed, this may be too generous to say there’s merely a shortcoming in analysis when deep-seated anti-Palestinian racism seems a more likely explanation.

The ADL, deeply committed to superior rights for Israeli Jews, has long excoriated activists for daring to advocate for equal rights for Palestinians and Jews in one state.

It has also been willing to forge alliances with the most extreme anti-Muslim bigots, as long as they support Israel, only walking back its hateful positions when they threatened its bogus image as a group promoting interfaith “tolerance.”

The ADL has also tried to undermine the Black Lives Matter movement because of the widespread support for Palestinian rights among racial justice activists.

Many Palestinian rights advocates recall the ADL’s involvement in spying on anti-apartheid, left wing and Arab American activists during the 1980s and 1990s.

Nevertheless, the organization continues to be taken seriously in Washington and by the media, even as its leadership passed from Abraham Foxman to Greenblatt.

Although Foxman was less subtle about his bigotry than Greenblatt, both men have policed speech supportive of Palestinian rights.

They are so committed to Palestinian oppression that they cannot tolerate even nonviolent opposition to Israel’s crimes – such as boycott, divestment and sanctions for Palestinian rights.

Other Democrats pile on with hate

Spurred on by this fake civil rights group and its Israel lobby counterpart AIPAC, other members of Congress joined the hateful piling on against their Democratic colleague, including Donald McEachin, Ritchie Torres, Juan Vargas and Ted Deutch. The list goes on as AIPAC made sure to highlight with multiple retweets of members of Congress.

Democratic Majority for Israel, an Israel lobby group that can boast of its genocide-promoting board member Archie Gottesman – who called for all of Gaza to burn – also joined the fray.

DMFI faced no serious repercussions from Democrats for Gottesman’s vile words. Consequently, there’s little reason to expect pushback against a racist attack on Tlaib for raising concern about Israel’s apartheid government – whose prime minister has been living in a stolen Palestinian home.

The anti-Palestinian animus is so great from AIPAC-aligned Democrats that it signals a litmus test in favor of Israeli apartheid or at least denying it as a reality. It’s a bright warning to Palestinian Americans and allies that their equal rights views and presence in Washington aren’t welcome. And what must Congresswoman Tlaib think to be surrounded not just by anti-Palestinian Republicans but by members of her own party working diligently to create a hostile work environment?

Congressman Jerrold Nadler, a prominent New York Democrat who styles himself as a “staunch defender of civil rights and civil liberties,” tweeted, “I fundamentally reject the notion that one cannot support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state and be a progressive.”

Credible human rights groups recognize Israel as an apartheid state for a reason, much as they would if the US were still legally constructed as a white state – or as some Americans want as a white Christian state. Racism that Nadler opposes in the US is too frequently acceptable to him when practiced by Israel.

Nadler may be proud that he occasionally offers mild criticism of the Israeli government, but Tlaib has every right to say there’s nothing progressive about siding with Israeli apartheid.

While Tlaib has been targeted again and again in the latest campaign against her, supposedly progressive colleagues – including the Squad – have largely remained silent in her defense. Solidarity can be found online from concerned Americans, including Jewish Voice for Peace Action, but not on social media from most members of Congress.

Congresswoman Marie Newman – in her final months in office – did offer a defense, though she did not mention Israeli apartheid.

CNN’s Jake Tapper, meanwhile, compounded the negativity directed at Tlaib by running a highly biased segment on the matter, allowing all the misrepresentations to stand and failing to note the numerous human rights groups that have reported on Israel’s practice of apartheid.
Congressional Democrats have made crystal clear this week that anti-Palestinian racism has a prominent home in Washington.

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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, TheNation.com, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.