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Rep. Tlaib’s Remarks on ‘Apartheid’ Israel Misinterpreted as Anti-Semitic

posted on: Sep 28, 2022

Palestinian American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib — Photo

By: John Mason / Arab America Contributing Writer

Some Democrats Overlook Israel’s Dehumanization of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories

Congresswoman and Palestinian American Rashida Tlaib’s comments generated quite the controversy. They were over her statement about “Apartheid Israel” and Progressive politicians. The subject was part of a broader panel discussion about the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh. Akleh was a Palestinian-American journalist for Al-Jazeera shot and killed in May. Most sources reported that the bullet came from an Israeli soldier’s gun. Akleh had been reporting on an Israeli raid in the West Bank. Rashida’s discussion was about her unnecessary death.

A group of Democratic lawmakers has since called for a fuller probe of Akleh’s death. Forbes news reported that most sources say an investigation supported by the U.S. “hardly constitutes an independent investigation.” In this context, some House Democrats blasted Rep. Tlaib for “Anti-Semitic” remarks aimed at Israel.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz–confuses Tlaib’s comment on ‘Apartheid Israel’ with antisemitism — Photo TheBlaze

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), The Hill reported, “on Wednesday, Wasserman Schultz “slammed Rep. Rashida Tlaib for claiming that individuals cannot be considered progressive if they support Israel.” The direct cause of the Florida Rep.’s angst was Tlaib’s statement that when someone speaks out against the “apartheid government of Israel” they can’t possibly be both “progressive and pro-Israel.”

Wasserman Schultz, per The Hill newspaper, “denounced Tlaib’s comments, labeling them ‘antisemitic’ and arguing that progressivism and support for Israel are not mutually exclusive.” She vehemently objected to Rashida’s comments. One, in particular, bothered her. That was: “I want you all to know that among progressives it has 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 this idea that you are progressive except for Palestine any longer,” Tlaib said.

The Florida Rep. overlooked the fact that Israel, as a state, also includes its occupation of Palestinians, seized during the 1967 Arab-Israel war. In that context, Rep. Tlaib considers Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as unacceptable. Israeli oppression of Palestinians underlies the reasoning for why Tlaib refers to Israel as an ‘apartheid state.’

And that is why Wasserman Schultz unleashes her venom. In a tweet reported by The Hill, she avers: “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.”

Not an Issue of Antisemitism—But a Clash over How to Resolve the Military Occupation of Palestine

The question of how to resolve the issue of Israel’s military occupation of West Bank Palestinians is perennial. As The Hill noted, “It’s been a smoldering question for decades. The question of Israel has been a non-starter for decades. Israel would just like to wish the problem away. But simultaneously, it has eaten away Palestinian lands, chopping the land into Swiss-cheese slices.”

How can there be a two-state solution with Palestine “chopped into Swiss-cheese slices?

Tlaib’s perspective on a solution is a ‘one-state solution.’ This places her at odds with many of her Democratic colleagues. They suggest that a “two-state solution” is the conflict’s best way out. Forbes has noted, “While representatives are increasingly more supportive of Palestinians, Tlaib’s criticism of the Israeli state tends to go a step further than many of her contemporaries. She has also touted the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement to slash money from the Israeli economy, modeled after the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.”

In support of the two-state solution, Israel has begun to formalize its preference. At the United Nations General Assembly last Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid announced that a large majority of Israelis support the vision of such a solution. Polls, however, suggest otherwise. Only Israeli Arab citizens favor the one-state solution as a majority. The argument against the two-state solution is that West Bank Jewish settlements make it impracticable if not impossible. In a single, binational state, Palestinians would be the majority group. That compromises the idea of a Jewish state.

Semantics lie at the heart of the differences in Israel espoused by Democrats. To call Tlaib antisemitic because she objects to Israel’s exploitation of the Palestinians is wrong. She is basically against an Israeli state that reduces the Palestinian community to a number of enclaves on the West Bank. That does not make her antisemitic.

One way of defining the issue of how pro-Palestinian and Pro-Israel is expressed in the phrase, “Progressive except for Palestine (PEP).” This has been captured in a piece in the Cleveland Jewish News: “known as PEP in political shorthand, has for years been a critique that pro-Palestinian progressives have aimed at pro-Israel progressives, and support for Palestinians and criticism of Israel has increased among progressives in recent years, although a substantial number in Congress remain aligned with the mainstream pro-Israel community.”

Palestinian families homeless as Israeli military demolishes West Bank homes–an example of Israeli military oppressive practices — Photo

In this formula, it seems it is impossible to be both pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, and ‘progressive.’ We see from earlier statements, then, that one can’t be Zionist and supportive of Palestinians. But is it ‘antisemitic’ to criticize Israel for its treatment of Palestinians of being an ‘apartheid state? This question, among others, has too much baggage attached to it to settle here. Much of the issue is tied up in semantics and identity issues. Nevertheless, Rashida Tlaib has every right to be against Israel’s awful treatment of her people and yet not be accused of antisemitism.


“House Democrat slams Tlaib for ‘antisemitic’ remarks on Israel,” The Hill, 9/21/2022

“Former DNC Chair Schultz Calls Democrat Tlaib ‘Antisemitic’ Over Remarks On Israel,” Forbes, 9/21/2002

“Rashida Tlaib says progressives cannot be pro-Israel, sparking sharp criticism from fellow Democrats,” Cleveland Jewish News, 9/21/2022

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 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 in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries.

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