Rashida Tlaib’s primary victory in Detroit’s 13th congressional district is daunting for Israel’s supporters in the United States and abroad. In a matter of months, Tlaib will be in a position to effect change on an issue central to her heritage: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Born and raised in Detroit, Tlaib is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants.
Following her primary victory and piquing national and international attention, Tlaib regularly lambasted Israel on a slew of topics. In the past few days alone, she’s called for U.S. aid to Israel to be cut, expressed support for BDS and endorsed a one-state solution.
I spoke with Tlaib’s campaign manager, Steve Tobocman, ahead of the primaries, and he asserted that the candidate supports a two-state solution, which she has since contradicted. He also stated that Tlaib supported foreign aid to Israel, another position she changed after the election. Tobocman did not immediately respond to my request for clarification.
Yet Tlaib’s recent rhetoric and past actions are indicative of her genuine beliefs on the conflict.
She was a keynote speaker at one of Detroit’s largest BDS rallies in 2014, long before her congressional bid. The rally drew tens of thousands chanting “Free Palestine!” while waving Palestinian flags. Also speaking at the event was Dawud Walid, the head of the Michigan chapter of CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who said in a 2012 sermon, “Who are those that incur the wrath of Allah? They are the Jews, they are the Jews.”
Tlaib also enjoys friendly relations with Linda Sarsour, notorious for her contempt of Israel and her support of Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam who for decades has espoused vitriol towards Israel and the Jews. At a campaign event, Sarsour endorsed Tlaib. Their relationship dates back years, with Sarsour describing Tlaib as a mentor and role model — a disconcerting sign, given Sarsour’s track record. When I asked Tobocman about their relationship, he shifted the subject of the conversation, which he soon ended.
Tlaib has also expressed sympathy for a notorious anti-Semite, terrorist and murderer, Rasmea Odeh.
So why has she garnered so much support?
Because of the phenomenon whereby politicians are elected largely on the basis of their racial and ethnic group, a.k.a. “identity politics.” Intentionally or not, Tlaib’s potential to be the first Muslim woman in Congress has grabbed voter attention. And Tlaib had significant help from media outlets covering the primaries. It’s unfortunate that the vast majority of headlines about her proclaimed “First Muslim-American Woman to Run for Congress,” ignoring her policies and her associates. But people love a pioneer — and that’s what Tlaib represents.
Diversity is an elusive concept, and inclusivity and tolerance have been lacking in recent years. But when Rashida Tlaib is acclaimed despite her demagoguery, diversity is subverted and her pioneer status as a Muslim-American woman overshadowed.
In this regard, Tlaib resembles another Democratic star of the 2018 primary campaign: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Also a harsh critic of Israel, Ocasio-Cortez fired up the crowd at a Tlaib rally when she exclaimed: “2018 isn’t the year that we get our first Muslim woman to Congress. It’s that we get our first class of Muslim women to Congress.”
Ocasio-Cortez would better serve the country if, instead of placing the emphasis on their religion, she spoke to the policies of Tlaib and other Muslim candidates, which voters need to hear.
As usual, Israel is caught in the crosshairs of the pseudo-diversity phenomenon. The contempt exhibited by Tlaib, as well as Ocasio-Cortez and others, is reprehensible. Yet media coverage of this aspect is weak, if mentioned at all.
This is not a denigration of Muslims, or any other minority group, but a lament that politicians nowadays are evaluated first and foremost by their race, ethnicity, gender or religion, before being assessed as future lawmakers and leaders of society.
Noah Phillips is a contributor to the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center.