Double Standards, Historical Musings and Rashida Tlaib

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Let me mention one of the subthreads of this latest phony flare-up about Rashida Tlaib. I think this series of attacks from President Trump and top elected officials was so bogus on its face that it seems to be fading to a degree. But there’s another part of this drama that’s worth discussing, a point with a broader application that goes well beyond debates about anti-Semitism.

This blow up started with a willfully dishonest headline from The Washington Examiner claiming that Tlaib said she felt a “calming feeling” when she thinks about the Holocaust. That claim by Examiner executive editor Philip Klein was so transparently dishonest that criticisms quickly moved on to Rashida’s “ahistorical” argument.

The claim was that she said Palestinians had welcomed the Jews as refugees from the Holocaust when in fact that was obviously not the case. But she didn’t say that. She said she took solace from the fact that the dispossession of Palestinians had been in the service of providing a refuge for people escaping genocide. If you didn’t pay close attention you could maybe think she meant the former when she clearly said the latter. Then her office put out a statement which muddled it more, using language that was kind of ambiguous.

Then this morning I got this email from TPM Reader MB.

As a liberal Jew, I agree that some of the attacks are disproportionate. But not all of them and her comments are worthy of criticism. Representative Tlaib had reinforced the notion that Jews were just Johnny-come-latelies to Palestine. That is a common anti-Zionist trope. And while one can debate the right to Statehood (on either side), the narrative that Jews just arrived after the Holocaust to displace Palestinians is provocative and legitimately debatable. I know that she did not state that the Palestinians welcomed the Jews. But her tones attempted to soften the reality of the situation and that upset me.

I don’t think my critique is dishonest and disgraceful. I certainly don’t think that all of us who criticize her are worthy of that type of invective either.

Now, let me be clear. I’m not criticizing MB. And his response may be due to my being unclear in my post from yesterday. He heard me saying that anyone disagreeing with Tlaib about anything is disgraceful or beyond the pale. I’m not saying that.

But there’s a trajectory here that we should take note of.

Rashida Tlaib believes in a one-state solution. I disagree with that for both practical and ideological reasons. She’s a Palestinian nationalist. And I say that in a way that is entirely consistent with being a patriotic American. It’s no different from my being a Zionist. My point is that she clearly brings a very different set of assumptions to the question of Israel/Palestine than I do.

This doesn’t matter to me. Not only does she have a right to her own beliefs like everyone else. But I feel no need to litigate the history of the Jewish presence in Palestine over the last two thousand years. Can people criticize her over that? Sure. Hold a debate. But don’t combine it with what is still a series of attacks on her claiming she’s an anti-Semite.

There are two related problems here.

The first is we start with accusations of anti-Semitism which are rightly political kryptonite. But soon enough we’re down to quibbles about history. The problem is we’re still in that anti-Semitism accusation mode, with all the baggage that carries and intense and negative press scrutiny. Continuing in that mode about disagreements that have nothing to do with anti-Semitism or anything else that merits being driven from the public square really just perpetuates the smear, even if they may be legitimate debates in themselves. It becomes a kind of “but her emails!” of levantine historiography. Or she’s brought up on charges of murder and it’s knocked down to felony assault, only we’re talking about stuff that isn’t criminal at all. Once we’ve agreed that the whole smear was bogus somehow we’re still hyper-analyzing what she said with her legitimacy in the national political dialogue still somehow in question.

The second problem is that it sets a standard for Muslim women or Muslims in general in Congress that is wildly out of line with what we apply to anyone else. It’s not just “don’t be anti-Semitic, don’t traffic in anti-Semitic tropes” — both very reasonable standards. It’s “don’t talk about the history of Israel/Palestine or the Holocaust or anything related to either in a way that anyone anywhere can quibble with either in good faith or bad. Don’t say anything about either topic that might be a little muddled and vulnerable to having some sleazeball editor intentionally quote out of context.” Jews don’t need Muslims to validate the ideological premises of Zionism. Certainly it isn’t necessary that any discussion of 1948 include a laundry list of every act of violence or historical bad guy that ever existed on the Palestinian side of the conflict.

As Jews or frankly just as humans we should be sensitive to and vigilant about the reality of anti-Semitism (something that is still too little recognized even as GOP wilding against critics of the Israeli right is ubiquitous). Hyper-scrutinizing the historical musings of people who President Trump has designated as his enemies just does his work for him.

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