Rep. Rashida Tlaib, along with 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, have accused Republicans of taking Tlaib’s comments about the Holocaust “out of context.” The problem is, when you put Tlaib’s remarks in the proper context, they’re far worse.
The most generous possible reading of Tlaib is that, in a discussion about why she opposes a two-state solution, she was trying to credit Palestinians for providing Jews a “safe haven,” and saying she’s proud of that—not just proud, but that it gives her a “calming feeling,” because at least her Palestinian ancestors tried to help.
The problem with such a reading is that as matter of history, it’s simply untrue, even laughable, as the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein notes in a thorough fisking and my colleague David Harsanyi argues here. (The grand mufti of Jerusalem during World War II was a Nazi collaborator, for crying out loud.)
But no one really believes Tlaib was trying to argue that Palestinians gave Jews safe haven after the Holocaust. The Democratic congresswoman from Michigan can’t be wholly ignorant of the history of the modern Middle East, and especially the role Arabs played before, during, and after the Holocaust. So far from offering Jews a safe haven, Palestinian Arabs rejected the United Nation’s partition plan in 1947, surrounded Jewish villages, cut off their food and water, and started massacring them.
Like everyone else, Tlaib knows this. She also knows she can’t give her Palestinian forebears credit for helping the Jews while also casting them as victims of Jewish predation. By trying to have it both ways, Tlaib was actually doing something more subtle and insidious than historical revisionism with these remarks: she was mixing western and terrorist narratives about the creation of Israel.
Tlaib said, “I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that [a safe haven for the Jews]… But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away and it was forced on them.” The idea that the Jews took the “human dignity” of Palestinians, stole “their land,” and wiped out their “existence” is of course what Palestinian leaders like Yasser Arafat and terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah have always maintained. It is the controlling narrative of their cause.
It’s why Hamas calls for the destruction of Israel under its rallying cry, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” It’s why Hezbollah ambushes Israeli soldiers. It’s why Arafat walked away from Camp David in 2000 and launched the Second Intifada, which killed a thousand Israelis over the next three years.
Unlike Omar, Tlaib Knows Exactly What She’s Saying
This isn’t the first time Tlaib has adopted the terrorist narrative about Israel. When Hamas militants in Gaza launched hundreds of rockets and mortars into Israel earlier this month, and Israel responded with airstrikes, Tlaib accused Israel of targeting “Palestinian children and families.”
When will the world stop dehumanizing our Palestinian people who just want to be free? Headlines like this & framing it in this way just feeds into the continued lack of responsibility on Israel who unjustly oppress & target Palestinian children and families. #FreePalestine https://t.co/p3X3j8WtwM
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) May 5, 2019
Another way of putting it is that Tlaib thinks Israeli self-defense is terrorism, which has always been the justification for violence against Jews in the Middle East.
Her choice of words here isn’t accidental, just as her commentary on the Holocaust wasn’t as entirely as incoherent as it seemed (the fantastical version of history notwithstanding). The narrative that Israel is unjustly “occupying” Palestine and “oppressing” the Palestinians is commonplace on American college campuses no less than among the Justice Democrats in Congress. It’s the basis of the boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) movement that a number of left-wing Democrats, including Tlaib and Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, support.
One aspect of this narrative, best articulated in Columbia University historian Rashid Khalidi’s book, “Iron Cage,” is the notion that Palestinians were wrong to have accommodated Jews in the decades leading up to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War—what the Palestinians call al nakba, the “catastrophe”—and that they should have fought them instead. This is what Tlaib seems to be referring to when she says the Palestinians “lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity, their existence in many ways… all of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews.”
Much has been made of Omar’s anti-Semitic remarks that almost drew a formal censure from Democratic leaders in the House earlier this year. But Tlaib’s anti-Semitism is much more dangerous than Omar’s. Whereas Omar seems to be repeating left-wing shibboleths without fully understanding what she’s saying, resulting in her having to issue multiple apologies, Tlaib knows exactly what she’s saying.
That’s why she’s doubled down on her Holocaust comments instead of issuing an apology or trying to clarify what she means. In this case, a lack of clarity serves her purpose well. It allows her, no less than Democratic leaders, to deflect criticism by claiming her words are being taken “out of context” while couching her views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an incoherent historical commentary.
But the proper context for these remarks is only too obvious, and it leads to the equally obvious conclusion that Tlaib’s views on Israel more or less align with those of Hamas and Hezbollah, groups that also oppose a two-state solution.