September 25, 2022
On Thursday, September 22, the Israeli Newspaper Haaretz’s English edition ran a story headlined “Democrats Slam Rashida Tlaib for Saying Israel Supporters Can’t Be Progressive.” It covered the outrage of her Democratic colleagues over comments she made to a recent meeting of Americans for Justice in Palestine Action.
For telling her audience of pro-Palestinian activists that “It’s become clear that you cannot claim to hold progressive values yet back Israel’s apartheid government. And we will continue to push back and not accept that you are progressive except for Palestine…. Americans are increasingly questioning how we can stand for liberty and justice while bankrolling the Israeli military’s war crimes and human rights abuses to the tune of several billion dollars each year. As a member of the United States Congress, I see the tide is turning in our favor every single day,” Tlaib has been viciously attacked and othered.
What is her “sin”?
She dared to recognize the drastic conditions that Palestinians suffer every day as at best second-class citizens and, for most, as people living without rights, under the thumb of Israeli police and military authorities. She darted to recognize conditions that in any other part of the world would find her “progressive” critics praising her, tweeting their own condemnations.
She dared to recognize what, on the same day, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy recognized in a column he published in Haaretz his observations of the current reality of Israel/Palestine.
“What Israel has been doing for the past few months is a one-way ticket to a popular uprising, even if it fails like its two predecessors. The largest number of Palestinian fatalities and detentions without trialin seven years and the largest number of violent incidents by settlers – possibly more than ever. What did you expect? Collective punishment without shame, family punishment without hesitation – so what did you expect? What do you expect from an army whose commander boasts about how lethal it is, and whose soldiers know that anything goes?
“It’s hard to decide where to begin – with the daily apartheid, from the Palestinian farmer who tried to protect himself and his property from settler thugs and now his hands are crushed, and he’s been detained for two weeks while the settler who hurt him walks free? With the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, followed by the IDF’s lying attemptsto shirk all responsibility for the despicable crime and to back the soldiers who shot her when they saw that she was a journalist?
“With the unbelievable lightness with which soldiers kill unarmed protesters, nearly every day, and the unbelievable public indifference with which this wholesale killing is received? With the sanctifying of the army of the occupation? With the sickening way the army is worshiped in the media, a trend that lately has once more swelled to frightening proportions. Not a day goes by without fawning coverage of an exemplary soldier or military unit.
“What did you expect from Israel’s crushing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas? From Prime Minister Yair Lapid meeting with King Abdullah at the UNand completely disregarding Abbas, as if we’ve somehow returned to the days of Shimon Peres’s “Jordanian option”? From the army and the settlers’ growing intoxication with power? Where to begin?”
For the Government of Israel and its supporters, Tlaib’s boldness in speaking of this truth and urging supporters of Palestinian lives and rights to continue to press their case in the halls of Congress and other venues of power is an act to crushed.
ADL’s CEO, Jonathon Greenblatt tweeted “ In one sentence, @RepRashida simultaneously tells American Jews that they need to pass an anti-Zionist litmus test to participate in progressive spaces even as she doubles down on her #antisemitism by slandering Israel as an apartheid state. It’s absolutely reprehensible and does nothing to advance the cause of peace. We call on people of good will and leaders across the political spectrum to make clear that such #antisemitism will not be tolerated.”
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, a former chair of the Democratic National Committee, went even further when she tweeted “The outrageous progressive litmus test on Israel by @RashidaTlaib is nothing short of antisemitic. Proud progressives do support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state. Suggesting otherwise is shameful and dangerous. Divisive rhetoric does not lead to peace.”
These “progressive” voices have been captured by a decades-long effort, catalogued in great detail by Antony Lerman in his recently published book ( Whatever Happened to Antisemitism?: Redefinition and the Myth of the ‘Collective Jew’) to transform questioning, challenging, opposing Israel’s policies and actions, Israel’s repression of another people into “antisemitism.” They have worked long and hard to make a people’s quest for freedom and self-determination equivalent to the hatred that sits at the core of the Holocaust.
Joshua Leifer, an editor at Dissent magazine, spotlighted what these efforts have been able to accomplish: The Israeli government long ago adjusted its public relations strategy for the post-two-state reality … so that today, the Israeli hasbara apparatus’s most active front is the attempted redefinition of anti-Zionism as antisemitism, with the goal of rendering any opposition to the occupation [or] Zionism—or even simply Israeli policies themselves—beyond the pale of mainstream acceptability.”
Just days after watching Ken Burns’ recent PBS Documentary (Th U.S. and the Holocaust”) it is chilling to see how those who claim to see the lessons humanity was forced to learn at a terrible human cost are ignored. For me, as a Jew, it is horrific to watch Israeli brutality justified because they claim, they are preventing another holocaust.
Just days from now, I will join Jews from all denominations and from no denomination in marking Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), a day on which we are asked to confront our own failures and inadequacies. We will read several times these words “We have caused others to sin; We have caused others to commit sins…” As a new year begins it is my hope that those who have damned Representative Tlaib, have damned others who have raised their voices in protest, and have damned the Palestinian people for their desire to have the same human rights that Jewish Israelis’ claim as theirs, see the error of their ways.
It is long past time that anyone who claims to be progressive, to be a defender of human rights, confronts the reality, a very difficult reality indeed, that is Israel/Palestine. When the answer is conceived as only a zero-sum game, with a winner and a loser, humanity will always be the loser.
If you claim to be a progressive, then you can only choose humanity and struggle for the difficult answers that respect Jewish Israelis and Palestinians, not answers that chose one over the other.