Congresswoman Rashida Talib has been in the news as a result of a Yahoo News podcast in which she participated. The podcast, titled “Skullduggery,” is an anti-Trump hatefest. This episode began with the hosts discussing the desirability of impeaching President Trump. Then they welcomed Tlaib as a guest, and talked about impeachment some more. (Tlaib is an enthusiastic advocate.) Next they turned to foreign policy, specifically the Middle East.
This is where the interview turned controversial. Numerous Republicans, including President Trump, have denounced Tlaib’s comments, some because they interpreted them as anti-Semitic. The majority view, however, is the one expressed by Paul, who termed Tlaib’s musings on the Middle East “not anti-Semitic” but “blatantly false.” At risk of being wrong–one disagrees with Paul at one’s peril–my view of Tlaib’s comments is exactly the opposite. I don’t think she made the historical blunder with which she has been charged, the absurd view that Arabs welcomed Jews to the region to give them a haven following the Holocaust. But I do think that what she said is consistent with a deep anti-Semitism.
To get more insight into the Tlaib controversy, I performed a sacrifice–I listened to the entire podcast, and transcribed the relevant portion. Part of the problem with interpreting Tlaib’s statements is that she is not very coherent. She portrays herself as a sort of flower child, which is why the podcast hosts titled this episode “From Rashida With Love.” What follows is the transcript, with my observations interspersed. I have punctuated Tlaib’s stream of consciousness as best I could.
Q.: You are the first Palestinian-American woman to serve in Congress, and you are organizing a trip to the West Bank during the Summer recess. First of all, how many members do you have who have agreed to go, and what do you want to show them? Your grandmother lives in the West Bank.
Tlaib: Yeah. Humpty Dumpty Institute is organizing the trip. I am going to be on the trip. I am eager to be part of the trip and being able to engage Palestinians, what I call community members without titles. I am hoping that we engage also Israelis, again not government officials, not appointees, but actual people that live day to day with increasing inequality…
Q.: You wouldn’t meet with any Israeli government officials?
Tlaib: Palestinian or Israeli, I think we want to actually look at the human impact. When I think about a town hall, you know, you don’t get government officials, you want to talk to the people. And that’s what I’m hoping, this trip is a massive town hall. Where we talk to a woman who is working on integration of schools and I want to talk to the other organization literally is about entrepreneurship but between Israelis and Palestinians. I grew up in a city that is, you know, the most beautiful black city in the country, in the city of Detroit, and in every corner is a reminder of the Civil Rights movement.
Tlaib was born in 1976 and grew up in the post-Civil Rights era. She turned 16 during the Clinton administration.
I saw what oppression and inequality looks like. I saw how separate and equal worked. And so for me, I want my colleagues to see a side that they can relate to, that they can see that this is not about choosing sides but choosing values. So with that, then you might actually be able to look at this in a lens that is really, truly fair.
Tlaib’s recurrent theme is that the situation in Israel parallels the pre-Civil Rights era in the U.S. Tlaib says that Israel is a “separate but equal” society like that which prevailed in some parts of the U.S. prior to the 1960s. I would add that anyone who talks about looking at things through a “lens” is far gone in leftist jargon.
The comments that became controversial follow.
Q.: So Congresswoman, you created something of a stir by coming out in favor of a one-state solution for Israel and Palestine, and I think you may be the only Democrat who has publicly supported a one-state solution. So what is your vision for a one-state solution that meets both Palestinian and Israeli Jewish national aspirations?
Tlaib: Absolutely. And let me tell you, I mean for me, just a few, I think two weeks ago or so, we celebrated, or took a moment I think in our country to remember the Holocaust. And there’s, you know, kind of a calming feeling I always tell folks, when I think of the Holocaust and the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the fact that it was my ancestors, Palestinians, who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, the human dignity, their existence in many ways had been wiped out on some people’s passport. I mean just, all of it, was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews post-the Holocaust, post the tragedy of horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time. And I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, right? In many ways. But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away, right? And it was forced on them. And so when I think about one state, I think about the fact that, why can’t we do it in a better way, where…and I don’t want people to do it in the name of Judaism, just like I don’t want people to use Islam in that way. It has to be done in a way of values around equality and around the fact that you shouldn’t oppress others so you can feel free and safe. Why can’t we all be free and safe together?
Tlaib’s account of the founding of Israel is wrong insofar as it begins with the Holocaust. Zionism long preceded Hitler. But it is common, and not unreasonable, to focus on the post-World War II global consensus that the Jews should have a homeland. As I read her rather weird comments, she “loves” the fact that her ancestors provided a “safe haven” for Jews, but she isn’t saying they did it on purpose. Rather, she acknowledges in one of her clearer sentences that “it was forced on them.” So I don’t think Tlaib is guilty of the historical fantasy with which some have charged her.
But look what follows: the question was about the fact that Tlaib favors a “one-state solution” to the Arab-Israeli conflict. What she presents as a kumbaya moment–“why can’t we all be free and safe together?”–is actually a rejection of the concept of a Jewish state of Israel. She wants one state, and that state won’t exist “in the name of Judaism.” Which raises obvious questions, one of which one of the podcast hosts asks.
Q.: But a one-state solution with the right of return, I mean just the math suggests that Jews would become a minority in that state.
Tlaib: But Dan, it isn’t up to us to decide what it looks like, right? Just like when I have my African-American teachers taught me about neighborhoods they couldn’t live in, taught me about places they couldn’t work. It’s important to understand that separate but equal didn’t work here, right? And we have to allow the self-determination to happen there. But for me, that’s the lens I bring to. But I’m not a leader there.
Now we are back to separate but equal! The “self-determination” that Tlaib refers to is evidently the “self-determination” that Arabs will exercise when, following a right of return and with the votes of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians added to those of Israeli Arabs and returnees, Arabs now decisively outnumber Jews and Israel ceases to exist as a Jewish state. The podcast hosts aren’t brave enough to go there, but they do push back a little.
Q.: But isn’t it giving up to say, we’re just going to, the idea of a two-state solution with two independent states that are sovereign and independent and free, aren’t you…
Tlaib: I didn’t give it up. Netanyahu and his party gave it up. The Israeli government gave it up.
Actually, Netanyahu and his party continue to favor a two-state arrangement. This is where Tlaib’s vicious hatred of Prime Minister Netanyahu begins to show through.
Q.: It’s not worth fighting for anymore?
Tlaib: It’s not for me to decide.
Q.: But just to be clear…
Tlaib: If Netanyahu got up yester…tomorrow morning and decides you know what, I’m going to take down the walls, I’m not gonna expand settlements, enough is enough, I really want to push toward a two-state solution, he has every power, every power to do that. And then people like myself and others who truly believe in that. But uprooting people all over again to say that that’s gonna happen…because you understand when you look at the landscape and just map it out, it is almost absolutely impossible with how he has proceeded to divide, how he has proceeded to dissect and segregate communities, that it is impossible for me to see a two-state solution without more people being hurt.
I can’t explain Tlaib’s use of the word “dissect.”
Q.: The Palestinian Authority itself still, at least rhetorically, supports a two-state solution, Hamas does not. How do you distinguish your position from Hamas?
Tlaib: I don’t come from a place of violence. I come from a place of love and equality and justice. You know, this is, for many of these organizations this is about power struggle. But that’s why it’s important in this trip that we talk to real people who are living it every day. Not people in power that obviously want to continue to fight. They may feel in their own right that it’s justified. You hear them and you can see the sincerity from those that have supported the kind of approach that Netanyahu has taken against Palestinians and vice versa.
But you know, I can hear this kind of tension, and the thing is, I am one person that grew up in a black community, that saw what inequality and oppression looks like. And to me, that’s how I was raised. And now I’m a Palestinian-American Congress member, and you’re telling me to wipe that out, and change it, and look at it from a different lens, and how can I do that? How can I say to my grandmother in her face that she doesn’t deserve human dignity, that she is less than, because she is not of Jewish faith?
Let’s pause here. Who, exactly, has said to Tlaib’s grandmother “in her face” that “she doesn’t deserve human dignity, that she is less than, because she is not of the Jewish faith”? The only answer I can come up with is Jews in general, and Prime Minister Netanyahu in particular.
And she was born a different ethnicity, a different faith, whatever it is that people want to label her as, and I keep saying to people, how is that not wrong? How is it that we’re not saying to ourselves, when are we gonna create a place that’s safe for everybody, the state of Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories? I just really think it’s important for people to understand that I can’t completely dissect, or take that lens off, and look at the two lines, and look at the different color license plates, and the fact that Palestinians can’t get on the same bus as Israelis, it’s ridiculous.
This is hard to interpret. Tlaib seems to think it is an injustice, like “separate but equal” in the pre-Civil Rights, Democrat-controlled South, that the West Bank and Israel are separate and, in many ways, different. The reasons for those differences are not hard to discern, but Tlaib’s advocacy of a one-state solution seems intended to bring the blessings of Israeli citizenship to Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza. Only, perhaps, without the Jewish Israelis. But Tlaib doesn’t say anything this clearly.
Q.: There are extremists on both sides who also are in favor of a one-state solution, which would be expelling the Arabs or expelling the Jews. Aren’t you playing with fire by supporting the one-state solution?
Tlaib: No, I’m coming from a place of love, for equality and justice. I truly am. I want a safe haven for Jews. Who doesn’t want to be safe? I am humbled by the fact that it was my ancestors that had to suffer for that to happen. But I will not turn my back and allow others to hijack it and say it’s an extremist approach, because they’re coming from a place of whatever it is, of division, inequality. You know, if you look at Netanyahu…
Here foreign and domestic policy come together in Tlaib’s catalog of hates.
…he is the first person to come out and support President Trump’s wall. That’s not the kind of leadership, when I look at people pushing back and saying what about this, until I actually see people moving toward that, moving toward desegregating, moving towards like this type of oppression and making people feel less than, then maybe they would have some sort of credibility with somebody like myself that grew up in Detroit, where we can smell it from far away, that no, you don’t want to look at my grandmother in the eye, Netanyahu, and say, you are equal to me, you are as human as I am to you, and yes, you deserve to die with human dignity.
I don’t think Rashida Tlaib has any illusions about what happened in the Middle East in the 1940s. I’m sure her grandmother could have explained it to her. Despite her self-description as a flower child devoted to love, Tlaib’s hatreds shine through. She obviously hates Benjamin Netanyahu, who represents the Jewish majority in Israel. She wants to bring about a single state of Arabs and Jews that encompasses Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, along with countless Arabs from surrounding countries who claim a “right of return.” The obvious intent behind that policy preference is to destroy Israel as a Jewish state. Tlaib doesn’t deny this, but assures us that she “comes from a place of love.” That can’t negate the fact that if her policy preferences were effectuated, the Jewish State of Israel would cease to exist. And, of course, her bete noir, Benjamin Netanyahu, would be long gone, if not murdered along with his fellow Israeli Jews.
That is why I think Rashida Tlaib is not as ignorant of history as some have suggested, while at the same time, is more hostile to Jews than others have claimed. There is one Jewish-majority country in the world, and Tlaib wants it to be submerged by an Islamic majority assembled from nearby territories. You can judge for yourself whether that constitutes anti-Semitism.
PAUL ADDS: As always, John’s analysis is excellent. That he finds Tlaib saying she takes comfort in her ancestors having their property taken against their will and in their indifference (at best) to the fate of Holocaust survivors is Tlaib’s fault, not John’s.
I’m not convinced this is what Tlaib was trying to say, but it’s a fair construction of her jumble of words.
This much is clear, though. Tlaib wasn’t saying she takes comfort from the Holocaust. Her most severe critics were wrong to accuse her of that.