Why does Rashida Tlaib support US military aid to Israel?

Rashida Tlaib (Rashida Tlaib for Congress)

There has been much euphoria over the Michigan primary win on Tuesday that sets up Palestinian American Rashida Tlaib to become the first Muslim woman to enter Congress if, as widely expected, she wins the general election in November.

“As the child of immigrants and an Arab, Tlaib is acutely aware of the issues that impact our community,” the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said in a message congratulating her. “In Congress, we know she will continue to be a strong advocate for the community, and we look forward to working with her.”

That has been a widely shared sentiment – backed by an assumption that because she is a Palestinian American, Tlaib can be counted on to be a strong voice for Palestinian rights.

But hard political experience tells us otherwise, and the time to look at Tlaib’s troubling relationship with a leading pro-Israel organization is now.

Raining on the parade

The euphoria over Tlaib reminds me of the ecstasy when Barack Obama was elected president.

People assumed that despite his cautious and even reactionary political positions, his identity as a Black man, the son of a Kenyan immigrant father, and his history as a community organizer in Chicago would somehow seep through into his policies.

Many expected that after the campaign was over, the real, progressive Obama – who was absent in the campaign – would emerge in the White House to fulfill all the fantasies of his supporters.

There’s no need to recount in detail here how Obama became “deporter-in-chief,” a friend of Wall Street, and, despite his Nobel Peace Prize, an avid militarist whose administration dropped more than 26,000 bombs on countries around the world in his last year in office alone.

When it came to Palestine, Obama was clear during the campaign: he was staunchly pro-Israel and that’s how he would govern.

He kept his promise – starting from his failure to condemn Israel’s Operation Cast Lead assault on Gaza just prior to his presidency, to his administration’s decision to resupply Israel with bombs during its summer 2014 slaughter in Gaza of more than one in every 1,000 of the territory’s residents.

And of course he ended his term by giving Israel a $38 billion military aid package, the largest in history.

I tried to warn people in my March 2007 article, “How Barack Obama learned to love Israel,” but my experience generally was that people didn’t want to hear it, and I was often accused of raining on the parade.

Though I risk hearing the same thing now, I am no more willing to overlook the disturbing political views of a candidate just because she is Palestinian American.

Endorsement by J Street

Rashida Tlaib is endorsed and supported by the liberal Zionist Israel lobby group J Street through its political action committee JStreetPAC.

JStreetPAC brags that during the 2016 election cycle it “distributed a record $3.6 million to its 124 endorsed candidates for Congress, making it the largest pro-Israel PAC for the fifth cycle running.”

On its page soliciting donations to support Tlaib’s campaign, JStreetPAC states: “When it comes to the peace process, she believes that the US should be directly involved with negotiations to reach a two-state solution.”

“Additionally, she supports all current aid to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, particularly to fund initiatives that ‘foster peace, as well as economic and humanitarian services,’” JStreetPAC notes.

This means that notwithstanding her emphasis on “humanitarian” aid, Tlaib supports all current US military aid to Israel, including Obama’s record-breaking giveaway.

It is this aid that perpetuates Israel’s military occupation and colonization and negates the prospects for any kind of peaceful and just outcome.

This means that Tlaib supports the US funding or supplying the bullets that Israel has been using to kill and maim thousands of Palestinians during the Great March of Return protests in Gaza.

This means Tlaib, in effect, supports the US supplying the warplanes and bombs Israel used Wednesday night when Inas Muhammad Khamash, a pregnant 23-year-old, was killed in an airstrike on central Gaza along with her young daughter Bayan.

Careful vetting

Some have understandably questioned whether J Street is accurately reflecting Tlaib’s views.

But unless the candidate clearly repudiates those positions we must accept that they are indeed hers.

J Street does not endorse candidates – much less give them money – without careful prior vetting.

Indeed, J Street explains:

“To be eligible for JStreetPAC endorsement, a political candidate must demonstrate that they support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, active US leadership to help end the conflict, the special relationship between the US and Israel, continued aid to the Palestinian Authority and opposition to the boycott, divestment [and] sanctions movement.”

“In evaluating candidates for endorsement, we interview both the candidates and their opponents about their views on issues related to American policy toward Israel and the Middle East,” the Israel lobby group adds.

Interestingly, JStreetPAC doesn’t seem to require that candidates explicitly support “all current aid to Israel” – which suggests Tlaib is taking a more pro-Israel position than is asked of her.

In her victory speech, Tlaib vowed to “fight back against every single oppressive, racist structure that needs to be dismantled.” Given her endorsement by J Street, it is fair to ask if that includes Israel’s racist, oppressive structures sustained by American aid.

Against Palestinian rights

According to a 15 July filing with the Federal Election Commission, the Rashida Tlaib for Congress committee had received $3,000 this cycle from JStreetPAC.

True, that is a small portion of the more than $1 million she has raised, but it’s also a low price to tie yourself to an organization with clear anti-Palestinian views. It is perhaps only a downpayment.

A key tenet of J Street’s position is rejecting the right of return for Palestinian refugees solely because they are not Jewish and therefore constitute a “demographic threat” to Israel.

J Street even panders to the odious racist claim that Palestinians “would flood Israel with refugees and undermine it as a homeland for the Jewish people.”

Tlaib has not said much about Palestine during the campaign, but when she has spoken it has not been comforting.

“We need to be honest about the dehumanization on both sides, frankly,” Tlaib told The Washington Post. “And more importantly, we need to be not choosing a side.”

Is Tlaib serious that we should be neutral and not “choose a side” when it comes to Israel’s brutal military occupation, colonization and apartheid in her parents’ homeland?

If she is taking the liberal Zionist “both sides” line now, falsely equating a colonial occupier with its victims, does anyone expect her to be more courageous when she is in Congress and raising money for reelection?

DSA

It is striking that Tlaib, a Palestinian American, by accepting J Street’s endorsement, policies and money, is staking out an even more cautious position than progressive flag-bearer Senator Bernie Sanders.

Sanders, despite his long record of support for Israel, has repeatedly advocated cutting military aid to Israel.

It is moreover notable that Tlaib, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is a member of DSA – the Democratic Socialists of America.

DSA has endorsed the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

Yet DSA, as an organization, has not demanded any sort of discipline on such a fundamental issue from the candidates its members are putting time and effort into supporting.

Ocasio-Cortez caused her share of euphoria when she defeated the incumbent to win the Democratic nomination for a US congressional seat in New York City last month.

Like Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez is expected to win the general election.

What made Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory even more extraordinary is that it came after she harshly criticized Israel’s “massacre” of Palestinians in Gaza.

But since her win, Ocasio-Cortez has backed away from supporting Palestinians.

Now, DSA members and chapters are asking Ocasio-Cortez and the DSA National Electoral Committee in an open letter to fully support Palestinian rights, in line with the organization’s resolution.

“The occupation of Palestine is in many ways a complex issue,” the letter states. “However, some things are black-and-white: Always side with the oppressed. Always oppose settler-colonialism. Never split hairs or play devil’s advocate for apartheid.”

They are right to hold her accountable. It is naive to believe that just because a candidate “comes from our community” or “looks like us” that they will necessarily “stand up for us.”

The base of the Democratic Party is changing – and becoming decisively supportive of Palestinian rights, thanks to the grassroots work of many of those who are now celebrating Tlaib’s win.

But if people don’t demand that politicians clearly reflect those changes in their policies and actions now, then when will it happen? In 10, 20, 50 years? What will be left of Palestine by then?

The Israel lobby group J Street isn’t acting on faith. It did the hard work of securing firm political commitments from Rashida Tlaib in exchange for its support: a clear political transaction.

But what commitments have all the Arab American, Muslim American and Palestinian American groups congratulating her received?

Surely opposing military aid to Israel and supporting the Palestinian people’s right to nonviolent struggle through BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – are minimum positions they should demand from candidates like Tlaib.

Those who want to break the cycle of euphoria and disappointment epitomized by Obama need to learn the lessons and hold their politicians accountable – before it is too late.

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Comments

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I think it is essential that Rashida be asked specific questions in writing about her stand on US military aid to Israel and on the Palestinian right of return before assuming that J Street's comments about her are accurate.

On the other hand, to learn that she, like Ocasio-Cortez, is a DSA member makes me, sadly, believe the statements by J Street are accurate. DSA has a sordid history on this issue, whatever its resolutions may state.

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If the DSA don't go beyond the tenets of their founder, Michael Harrington, they'll be found firmly ensconced within the Democratic Party. By which I mean they're an imperialist, anti-communist, and free market capitalist (with modest restrictions) faction. It sounds as if this new wave isn't so new after all. Harrington himself was described by no less a "leftist" than Ted Kennedy as having "delivered the Sermon on the Mount to America".

They appear have retained their immaculate status in certain media accounts. I don't know how you can pull off that trick except by lying to as many people as possible and pointing ceaselessly to the words you've chosen for the name of your organization. It thus comes as no surprise that they're running candidates who reverse their stated positions as they enter office. There isn't even a place in the Democratic Party for mild expressions of dissent. And the DSA know this.

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I will go to my grave saying that the true home of Palestinian Americans and all who seek justice in Palestine is the Libertarian Party. Individuals may have whatever idea they have about the source of the problem and how to solve it, but libertarians will cut off foreign aid to all states and entities. No, not threaten to reduce it unless, unless, unless, ... but to cut it off unconditionally, completely and unambiguously to all regimes and entities abroad. The Yankee dollar poisons everything it touches. The one country solution is brilliant and we must never beg the Washington regime to subsidize any "initiatives" towards that end. Cut off the welfare checks to Israel and the PA.

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I have to agree with you, Bill Kelsey. The Libertarian Party's stance on avoiding precisely the kind of entanglement that has mired the US in Zionist politics is something that is sorely needed. You are spot on in your statement that "the Yankee dollar poisons everything it touches." Libertarian Party policy would allow the US and the World and of course, Palestine, to detoxify from the malign influence of decades of American Imperial policy. Not only that, but also, the Libertarian Party's firm stance on respect for property rights means that the Palestinian Refugees' Right of Return and for their reclamation of their individual and collective property rights fits directly into long-established Libertarian principle. I'm not a fan of the Daily Kos site, but there is one gem that I have found posted there, and which gives a Libertarian assessment of the Question of Palestine. It makes for brilliant reading:
https://www.dailykos.com/stori...

Other recent and rather excellent Libertarian analyses of the Question of Palestine can be found, penned by Libertarian authors such as Sheldon Richman and Jeremy Hammond.

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Where are the journalists, in a public situation where these candidates are taking questions, who should be asking blunt questions and demanding clear answers and not letting candidates get away with sleazy answers such as the "there are two sides to every story" copout? Journalists like Ali Abunimah would ask such questions. Those who don't, write for the New York Times. I hope he makes sure R. Tlaib and A. Ocasio-Cortez receive a copy of this article.
Except in cases of physical threat, I've never understood cowardice. It is easy to stand up to TPTB.

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I generally appreciate Ali's written eloquence, but here, I am quite disappointed with what is the equivalent of political "hit job" on Rashida Tlaib.

Ali has the wherewithal to contact Rashida and ask for her views directly. However, he unfairly extrapolates the statement made by J Street about Rashida, while juxtaposing his views on the organization, to paint Rashida as a selfserving sellout. Ali, in a sense, has employed the same deceptive tactic that anti-Palestinian groups have used to assasinate the character of activists (like himself) who stand up for Palestine. That's not right.

Lastly, even if those were Rashida's views, it would be better to engage her in a positive way rather than simply attack for not conforming to one's absoluist views.

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It’s absolutely undisputed that the positions on J Street’s website are the positions Tlaib gave to them as part of the endorsement process. Neither she nor her campaign have denied them. She accepted their endorsement and donations (repeatedly). Fact is that as part of the endorsement process, Tlaib told J Street that she supports all current aid to Israel. Moreover, J Street is very clear it only endorses candidates who affirm opposition to BDS. You can like those positions or you can not like them, but you cannot deny the facts. For all the complaints I’ve seen about my article no one has been able to point to any inaccuracies. Tlaib could clear all this up with a simple statement. She hasn’t done so; instead she’s simply said what amounts to “trust me, I’m Palestinian American.” I’ve written to her asking specifics; as yet no reply. 

She made a public commitment to J Street. I responded with an article showing why that is deeply harmful to Palestinian rights. It’s generated a huge discussion that probably would not have happened otherwise. Tlaib is scrambling to respond. That’s how accountability works.

When a politician can show they have base that won’t tolerate deviation from fundamental principles it strengthens them. Too many on left don’t get this and think people like Tlaib need to be coddled/protected while the right presses for and gets concessions. If you accept at the outset in the name of “pragmatism” endorsement from an anti-Palestinian group that rejects right of return on racial grounds and requires opposition to BDS – the most effective global Palestinian campaign – what won’t you accept later?

The rights of Palestinians are not bargaining chips to be given away for the sake of the advancement and “inclusion” of Palestinian Americans, Arab Americans and Muslims. Palestinians are dying at the Gaza fence for those rights. What does taking them seriously politically mean?

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I support her 110% I see that she is a true Palestine in fighter those who criticize her would be better off supporting the Israelis outright and design is she knows how to deal with people she's a Grassroots grown individual who was loved by her community the author of this article is a jerk I've had his articles throughout his life I agree with maybe 50% of them he's entitled to his comments but we will support Rasheeda

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Ali Abunimah never writes what he can't back up with facts. Just because you don't like what he says doesn't mean he hasn't written facts. Facts are truth. Wishful thinking isn't.

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On Friday night, Rashida was interviewed by MSNBC's Chris Hayes and the subject of the Israel-Palestine conflict was not raised. Not raised? At a time when the possibility of another Israeli bloody war on Gaza is in the news? Clearly, it was not raised by mutual agreement between Hayes and Tlaib since MSNBC is to the Democrat Party as Fox is to the Republicans.

Tlaib is between a rock and a hard place but she has evidently place her political career ahead of speaking for her people.Were it otherwise and had she challenged US support for Israel she would, very likely, not have received the endorsements she did and the money she did that enabled her to get elected. If anyone by now doesn't recoignize that the Democrat Party is a subsidiary of the Israel Lobby/ Liberal Jewish Establishment and dependent on it for most of its money, it means he or she hasn't been paying attention.

She will, no doubt, an effective voice for her district which is, after all, her primary responsibility. But please don't delude yourself in believing she will be a fighter for Palestine and please do not insult those who share that opinion.

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Sad that some people still choose to imbibe the political snake oil. Even in Eugene Debs day the so called "two party" flimflam was known as a fraud.

It is now several generations later and still some people gulp down their Republicrat brand cynanide laced Koolaid with great relish. Reasoning that it is better to seek accommodation with evil than to fight it.

It may be easier but it is not better.

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Thank you Ali Abunimah for exposing what many don't want to know or hear. Following false leaders who support Israel but try to hide it is important. The example of Obama is important. Many still revere him just because he looks elegant and speaks well--especially in contrast to the odious Trump. But he was a murdering capitalist president who rained bombs on the Middle East. If Tlaib doesn't stand behind Palestine now before she's elected she never will. Same for Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

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