Rashida Tlaib at 2010 Rally (DSC_1751e) by Ben Seese [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via Flickr
Rashida Tlaib’s Democratic primary victory in Detroit’s 13th Congressional district is daunting for Israel supporters in the US and abroad. In a matter of months when the staunchly Democratic district votes, Tlaib will have sizable influence to effect change on an issue central to her heritage as a “Palestinian-American”, namely the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with a voice infallibly slated against Israel.
Following her primary victory and while piquing national and international attention, Tlaib has regularly lambasted Israel on a slew of topics. In the past few weeks alone, she’s called for U.S. aid to Israel to be cut, expressed support for BDS, and endorsed a one-state solution.
I spoke with Tlaib’s campaign manager Steve Tobocman ahead of the primary, and he asserted that Tlaib supports a two-state solution — which she has since contradicted. He also stated that Tlaib supported a foreign aid budget to Israel, another position she changed after the election. Tobocman did not immediately respond to my request for clarification on Tlaib’s policies.
Yet Tlaib’s recent rhetoric and past actions are indicative of her genuine beliefs on the conflict.
Tlaib was a keynote speaker at one of Detroit’s largest BDS rallies in 2014, long before her Congressional bid. The rally drew tens of thousands chanting “Free Palestine!” while touting Palestinian flags. Also speaking at the event was Dawud Walid, who heads up the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and publicly discusses his woes with Jews and Zionists.
“Who are those that incur the wrath of Allah? They are the Jews, they are the Jews,” Walid said in a 2012 sermon, one of the many anti-Semitic comments he’s made in the past.
Tlaib is also well acquainted with Linda Sarsour, notoriously recognized by the pro-Israel lobby for her contempt of Israel and her role as a supporter of anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan. During the campaign, Sarsour spoke at a Tlaib campaign endorsing her candidacy. The relationship between Tlaib and Sarsour dates back years, to such a point that Sarsour described Tlaib as a mentor and role model — a disconcerting sign given Sarsour’s track record on Israel.
When I asked Tobocman about Tlaib’s relationship with Sarsour, he shifted the subject of the conversation, and soon ended the interview completely.
Tlaib has also expressed sympathy for terrorist and murderer Rasmea Odeh on Twitter. This is the quality of character chosen by Michiganders to represent them. Tlaib is a candidate with a vengeance against the state of Israel, who stands by such people as Odeh, and who reverses her position on numerous critical policies following primary elections.
So why has Tlaib garnered so much support despite her evident character flaws and poor choice in associates?
The answer largely has to do with a race to achieve diversity for the sake of diversity, to the point where politicians are elected largely on the basis of their racial and ethnic group. Whether intentionally or not, Tlaib banked on being the first Muslim woman to reach Congress in order to grab voter attention.
And Tlaib had significant help from media outlets covering the primaries. It is an unfortunate fact that the vast majority of headlines about Tlaib read along the lines of "First Muslim-American Woman Makes Run for Congress," entirely ignoring her policies, her questionable friends, and her character as a person, and focusing on her religious affiliation and gender. Voters love the symbol of a pioneer and that is precisely how Tlaib has been presented and that is precisely what she represents to them.
This is not true diversity, and this is not the diversity needed in today’s world. Instead, it is putting the faith of candidates before the quality of their ideas, a phenomenon which is discriminatory in and of itself. Diversity is to be supported for example when initiatives for diversity in institutions have the potential to bring inclusivity and tolerance that have been so plainly lacking in recent years. But when diversity is misconstrued in such a way that a Tlaib is acclaimed in spite of her demagoguery towards Israel, its purpose is entirely defeated.
As a result of this pseudo-diversity, Tlaib’s dangerous associations with anti-Semites and Israel-haters, as well as her unconscionable rhetoric are overshadowed by her pioneer-status as a Muslim-American woman.
In this regard, Tlaib resembles another starlet of the 2018 primaries: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, another harsh critic of Israel, who spoke at a campaign event promoting Tlaib. Ocasio-Cortez fired up the crowd when she exclaimed that “2018 isn’t the year that we get our first Muslim woman to Congress — it’s the year that we get our first class of Muslim women to Congress.”
Ocasio-Cortez would better serve the country if instead of placing the religion of Islam on a pedestal, she examined the policies of Tlaib and other Muslim candidates, which is what the voters truly deserve.
As usual, Israel is caught directly in the cross-hairs of the pseudo-diversity phenomenon. The blatant distaste for Israel presented by Tlaib, as well as Ocasio-Cortez and others, is reprehensible to say the least. Yet we see weak secular media coverage of this and no voter outcry condemning Tlaib's unconscionable beliefs and actions.
This is not a denigration of Islam, or any other minority group for that matter, but a critique of how politicians are evaluated today first and foremost based on their race, ethnicity, gender, and religion — all before being assessed as future lawmakers and leaders of society.
Noah Phillips writes with an especial interest in Jewish and Israeli affairs. He is the founder of The Jewish Examiner, an online Jewish news source. Noah writes a weekly column entitled Rising Up, which is syndicated to various international publications. This piece, reprinted with permission of the author, appeared previously on the author’s blog. Follow Noah on Twitter @noahaphilli