Rashida Tlaib Plans to Lead Historic Delegation to Palestine, Supports BDS
By: Mohamed Mohamed/Arab America Contributing Writer
Rashida Tlaib, Democrat-elect to the US House of Representative from Michigan’s 13th Congressional district, recently made history when she became the first Palestinian-American woman to be elected to the US House of Representatives. She also made history being the first Muslim woman Representative-Elect along with Ilhan Omar, the Somali-American Democrat-elect from Minnesota’s 5th Congressional district.
From an identity standpoint, this is obviously a significant milestone. Even just a handful of years ago, the possibility of electing two Muslim-American women into Congress during the same election was probably seen as unlikely, to say the least.
But what is perhaps even more extraordinary is the fact that both representative-elects have been relatively outspoken about their support for Palestinian rights. This suggests that advocating for Palestinian rights and speaking out against Israeli human rights violations are no longer the political career-killers that they used to be. It seems that “daring to speak out” (to allude to former Rep. Paul Findley’s bestselling book) is now possible.
In an interview with The Intercept, Tlaib explicitly mentioned her support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is a peaceful, nonviolent campaign that aims to hold Israel accountable for its oppression of Palestinians. This abuse of Palestinians is not just a violation of basic human decency, but also of international humanitarian law.
Weeks before Rashida Tlaib’s statement, Ilhan Omar also expressed support for the BDS movement. Unsurprisingly, both Tlaib and Omar are the only members of Congress who have openly supported the movement. Obviously, out of a total of 535 members of Congress (including the Senate), two legislators will not be able to directly impact legislation or US policy concerning Israel.
But according to the report by The Intercept, Tlaib is planning on taking a delegation of Congressional members to the West Bank of Palestine, which has been under an illegal Israeli military occupation for more than 51 years, in direct violation of international law and UN resolutions.
This planned delegation is a response to the trips that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has sponsored for many years for incoming Congress members. In fact, AIPAC has spent almost $13 million to take at least 363 members of Congress and 657 of their staff members on trips to Israel. During these trips, AIPAC takes newly elected members on a highly skewed, pro-Israel tour that aims to influence their views in favor of Israel. These AIPAC-sponsored trips are not restricted to one party. Republican and Democrat leaders alike promote this pro-Israel fanfare.
But it is through such a counter-effort that one of the very few pro-Palestinian American politicians like Rashida Tlaib would be able to influence US policy on Israel. The AIPAC trips involve very little to no interaction with Palestinians, and when they do, it is usually with members of the Palestinian leadership. Delegations do not see the daily struggles that the average Palestinian must face under the harsh conditions of Israeli military occupation.
This is a major problem. If American lawmakers are not exposed to the experiences and severe obstacles that Palestinians endure on a daily basis, they will simply base their opinions on what AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups allow them to see.
In a talk at the Palestine Center, Israeli-American human rights activist, Miko Peled, provided an eye-opening anecdote that illustrates this point. Peled recalled how he met two retired members of Congress at a dinner, one Democrat and one Republican. Both were members for a very long time. He mentioned how they “suddenly discovered” Palestine when they went on a trip with their church, and how shocked they were at what was happening there to Palestinians.
Peled responded by pointing out that both voted in favor of massive amounts of foreign aid to Israel every single year, and he asked how they did not know what was happening. They told him that the pro-Israel people were in their congressional offices all the time, while the supporters of Palestinians were not there and did not talk to them.
Here lies an extremely important point. If members of Congress or Americans at large do not know what is really going on, if all they know is what is fed to them by pro-Israel propaganda, they will continue to accept falsehoods as truths. American lawmakers and Americans, in general, are not necessarily against the human rights of Palestinians, but they might not be exposed to the realities. This is not an excuse, especially for politicians who should be aware of the facts, but it emphasizes the importance of education and awareness.
This is why Rashida Tlaib’s planned delegation to the West Bank could be a vital tool to provide knowledge about Israeli oppression of Palestinians, and how it negatively impacts every aspect of their lives. If American lawmakers witness firsthand the roads that are segregated and intended only for Israelis, if they see the many Israeli checkpoints that choke Palestinian life, the apartheid separation wall, the poverty, and many of the other destructive elements of Israeli occupation, perhaps their attitudes and positions would change.
Mohamed Mohamed is the Executive Director of the Jerusalem Fund for Education and Community Development in Washington DC. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas, where he majored in Political Science and completed his senior thesis on statelessness and its practical implications on Palestinians living in the refugee camps of Lebanon. He also earned an M.A. in International Relations and an M.S. in International Political Economy from the University of Texas at Dallas. Views expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter at @mykm47