Anti-Palestinian bigotry and Islamophobia on the rise in American politics—especially in attacking The Squad
By: John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer
Dana Milbank’s recent op-ed goes after Rashida Tlaib for her linking of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians and the oppression of Black Americans and he conflates this with what he describes as her anti-semitism. Related is AIPAC’s campaign to incite Islamophobia and endangering the lives of “women of color” in Congress—namely the Squad. Apropos to which is another op-ed, by an Egyptian American woman, Dalia Azim, who has never considered herself White, even though the latest U.S. Census Bureau form allows her to choose the “White” box.
Policing voices of The Squad—a case of bigotry
A recent op-ed in the Washington Post was especially egregious in selecting a prominent Palestinian American for venting the critic’s anger. Dana Milbank, a usually level-headed opinion writer for the Post, was particularly venomous in his tone in attacking a recent stance of Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) on Palestine and the Black Lives Matter movement. Just the title of Milbank’s piece, “Rashida Tlaib’s bigotry comes from the MAGA handbook,” was offensive. His lead sentence is a dead giveaway of his message: “It’s a classic Trump move: Blame a minority group for a sinister conspiracy, then deny responsibility when your supporters act on your baseless claim. Work ’em into a lather, rinse and repeat.”
Milbank correctly notes that Tlaib is herself a victim, along with the rest of the Squad, of Trump’s taunts to send them back to “help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.” But then the critic accuses her of using Trump’s playbook on others, the main offense being Tlaib’s equation of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories with the treatment of Black Americans. The example that most infuriate Milbank is Tlaib’s comparison of Israel’s cutting off Gaza from water and mistreatment of Blacks in Detroit. Milbank conflates her use of the term “Israelis” exploiting Palestinians with an assumption that she means that Jews of America are exploiting Blacks.
Tlaib, in her Gaza-Detroit example, is basically saying that exploitation, whether of Palestinians or Blacks of Detroit, involves making money off of racism. Milbank explains, “A vague “they” conspiring to “exploit the rest of us for their own profit” from “behind the curtain”: These antisemitic tropes have been used against the Jews for generations. If that weren’t clear enough, Tlaib let it be known that “they” operate both in Gaza and Detroit, and only Jews meet that description. Tlaib went on to say the exploiters “made record profit” during the pandemic — an antisemitic conspiracy theory popular on the Web.” It’s not clear whether this is pure speculation or just some other misinformation.
The Anti-Defamation League chimed in, noting, “We’ve heard this kind of ugly antisemitic dog-whistling before, but it’s appalling when it comes from a member of Congress.” While Milbank reports that other members of the Squad have apparently moderated their remarks that smacked of antisemitism, Tlaib has so far not made any apologies for her remarks. Tlaib’s office responded, quoting her as saying, “people who support oppression try to police my words” and that “bringing our movements together scares those who support the status quo.” Milbank suggests that it’s words such as Tlaib’s that have contributed to growing acts of antisemitism. Tlaib continues to insist that Israel’s policies are racist and create conditions of apartheid.
This is an argument that neither Milbank nor Tlaib is destined to win—at least until they can agree on what the overriding moral and ethical issues are.
American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) preaching Islamophobia and attacking the Squad
It appears that AIPAC is on a campaign to incite Islamophobia while at the same time endangering the lives of “women of color” in Congress—namely the Squad. The main venue of AIPAC’s initiative is a series of paid advertisements on Facebook. It accuses Congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, and Rashida Tlaib of “lying about Israel by using the words “apartheid,” “act of terrorism,” and “ethnic cleansing.” The Team Rashida website notes that AIPAC attacked Ilhan Omar by baselessly linking her, a Muslim American, to terrorism, calling it “textbook Islamophobia.”
Tlaib accuses AIPAC of putting their, the Squad’s lives at risk. Other non-Squad members of Congress, including Mark Pocan and Betty McCollum, are actively countering AIPAC in proposing the conditioning aid to Israel due to Israel’s abuse of Palestinian children. Pocan has stated that he and McCollum “are not so viciously attacked because they are white while Tlaib, Omar AOC, and Bush are women of color.”
Team Rashida’s website goes on to say, “Right-wing outlets and Islamophobes are twisting and manipulating Rashida’s words in a disgusting new attack. This is an attempt to silence Palestinian voices and distract the Israeli government’s ongoing human rights abuses.” In the context of the earlier Milbank op-ed, Tlaib countered in her message to her followers, “From water as a human right to raising the minimum wage to the fight for Palestinian liberation, these issues are all interconnected to the fight against racism.”
Policing Tlaib’s words is in one sense itself a form of oppression. It’s an attempt to oppress and delegitimize her, her ideas, and her Palestinian identity.
Speaking of race and racism—does being Middle Eastern mean being White?
One writer, Egyptian American Dalia Azim, has never considered herself White. The issue came to a head as she filled out the official 2020 U.S. Census form, which didn’t give her the option of choosing “Middle Eastern or North African” or MENA. At the same time, Ms. Azim had the option to also select “Other” and “White.” Since she had never considered herself White or been seen by others as White, she felt, according to her Washington Post op-ed, “misleading and dishonest to check the [White] box.”
Ms. Azim believes there are many Arab Americans who would prefer to see themselves as White since it provided “an effective way to access power and privilege, an adaptation that lighter-skinned minorities have long practiced.” To this day, as a well-educated person holding a prestigious job, Azim says her “dominant experience in this world has been as a person of color navigating majority-white spaces, usually keenly aware of my status as an outsider.” As a youth, she says she was teased because of her darker skin.
Azim notes that since MENA people’s role in contributing to diversity is not tracked by state or federal governments, there is no benefit, for example, in getting jobs or student slots at university. She calls the MENA identity an “invisible minority, like your diversity, doesn’t add value to the cultural table.” She feels that locating MENA people in the White category “falsely inflates the statistical edge of the alleged majority group.”
Azim ends by noting “People who identify as White still constitute a majority of the U.S. population, according to the Census Bureau. But, then again, I’m identified as White on the latest census, and I’m not White. There may very well be a robust MENA population in Austin, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the numbers. We’re here. Hiding in plain sight.”
This remarkably frank message only complicates the condition of racism in the U.S. As we’ve seen in the earlier accounts of racism practiced against the Squad, race can be played several different ways—differentiating people from one another for pernicious purposes or accepting them into the ever-diminishing category of Whites for the purpose of retaining an elusive majority.
“Rashida Tlaib’s bigotry comes from the MAGA handbook,” Dana Milbank, Washington Post Opinion, 8/9/2021
Message from Team Rashida, “Stop silencing Palestinian voices,” 8/13/2021
“I am Middle Eastern, Not White” Dalia Azim, Washington Post Opinion, 8/13/2021
John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He did fieldwork in an east Libyan Saharan oasis and has taught at the University of Libya-Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo. John served with the United Nations as an advisor in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID, the UN, and the World Bank in 65 countries.
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