Tlaib responds to charges of ‘anti-Semitism’

By: - January 15, 2019 9:11 pm

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), who has come under fire after calling for President Donald Trump’s impeachment using profanity and is the subject of a White House petition to expel her, is now facing blowback for her position on Israel.

Rashida Tlaib | Ken Coleman

Tlaib is the first Palestinian-American to be elected to the U.S. House and wore a traditional Palestinian dress at her inauguration. In her first week in Congress, she criticized a measure that would penalize companies boycotting Israel.

The firestorm has lasted for over a week. Now a Florida elected official is on record saying Tlaib could try to “become a martyr and blow up Capitol Hill.”

A Jan. 6 Tlaib tweet started the most recent imbroglio. A U.S. Senate Republican package currently stalled by Democrats includes a bill from Rubio called the “Combating BDS Act.” It’s meant to counter the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement regarding Israel’s West Bank settlements and conduct toward Palestinians. The first-year member of Congress responded.

“They forgot what country they represent,” Tlaib said in a tweet. “This is the U.S. where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality. Maybe a refresher on our U.S. Constitution is in order, then get back to opening up our government instead of taking our rights away.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and major U.S. Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, have called her recent comment “deeply problematic.” Rubio tweeted that Tlaib used an “anti-Semitic” trope.

Tlaib described criticism and comments portraying her as anti-Semitic “false accusations” and says she opposes “hate in all forms” in a statement to the Advance.

“Conservatives have made false accusations about me for attention and to distract from their disastrous government shutdown, but as national commentators like Michelle Goldberg and Peter Beinart have reiterated in recent weeks, advocating for peace and critiquing the right-wing Israeli government is not anti-Semitic,” Tlaib said. “I oppose hate in all forms and will continue to work for peace. If groups disagree with me, I encourage them to contact my office.”

Tlaib also responded on Twitter that “it’s clear my earlier tweet was critical of U.S. Senators like yourself, who are seeking to strip Americans of their Constitutional right to free speech.”

This is not the first time that Tlaib has been criticized over Israel. Before the Aug. 7 Democratic congressional primary, she said that she supported a two-state solution and continued U.S. aid for Israel. However, after her victory, Tlaib endorsed a one-state solution, which the Israeli paper Haaretz described as “radically shifting positions.” The left-wing group J Street withdrew its endorsement, as a result.

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement last week that Tlaib’s recent tweet regarding the U.S. Senate package “has been interpreted by some as suggesting that Jews or Members of Congress, such as the sponsors of the bill, are more loyal to Israel than to their own country.”

Greenblatt called the language “deeply problematic” because allegations of mixed or dual loyalty have been used “as a smear against many kinds of Americans – including against Americans of Japanese descent during World War II.”

He went on to say that the bill was sponsored by four non-Jewish senators and that in “an environment of rising anti-Semitism,” Tlaib’s comments relate to “a long-standing anti-Semitic trope connected to the idea that Jews are more loyal to Israel than their own country, or that U.S. legislators — for some conspiratorial reason — are more concerned about issues related to Israel than U.S. national interest.”

The Jewish Democratic Council of America also criticized Tlaib in a statement:

“We oppose your charge of dual loyalty. It’s wrong, dangerous, and hurts the cause of peace. Whether one supports a particular bill or not, it’s offensive to insinuate that senators would be driven by anything other than the best interests of the U.S.”

The American Council for Judaism more controversially said in a tweet to Tlaib, “Tell us more about dual loyalty,” which included a picture of Tlaib hugging a woman draped in a Palestinian flag.

The issue has made waves in the Jewish world. It has been picked up by major Jewish newspapers, including the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Times of Israel, the Jewish Telegraph Agency, the Forward , Tablet Magazine and by major U.S. media.

On Monday, the right-wing Washington Examiner piggybacked on the controversy with a story on a pro-Hezbollah activist posing for a picture with Tlaib at her inauguration. The activist, Abbas Hamideh, has called for “Zionist terrorist” Jews to return to Poland, the site of many Holocaust death camps.

Annabelle Lima-Taub, a Hallandale Beach commissioner in Florida who is Jewish, signed an online petition for Tlaib’s removal and has accused the Democrat of of being a “Hamas-loving anti-Semite” who could “become a martyr and blow up Capitol Hill.”

Tlaib responded on Twitter on Tuesday by bringing the issue back to Trump, saying that “hateful anti-Muslim rhetoric doesn’t happen in a vacuum” and Trump has embraced it.

Meanwhile, a hoax has been circulating in right-wing media that Tlaib tweeted on Jan. 4: “Americans have spent decades raping and pillaging my people. What goes around comes around.” Politifact has debunked it, giving the lie a “Pants on Fire” rating.

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Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.