When I updated a pro-Israel academic about Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s recent remarks, she just burst out laughing. She wasn’t even upset. Tlaib’s statement about Palestinians providing a “safe haven” for Jewish refugees of the Holocaust is, for anyone who knows the basics of history, simply preposterous.
You can bet that the Jewish community knows this history. Not just professors and historians, all of us. It’s part of our story, part of our education. It’s a story of rebirth from exile that many of our very own grandparents lived through. We are still living with a generation of Holocaust survivors among us, though their numbers are sadly dwindling. It is not a matter for history books, but a living testimony.
Tlaib’s ahistoric statement, trying to paint the Palestinian Arabs of British Mandate Palestine as noble, was at best incoherent, vague and clumsy. At worst, it was malevolent.
Even if one is to cut a rookie congresswoman some slack, is it too much to expect of a member of the United States Congress to know the history of an event she consistently expresses strong opinions about?
In Tlaib’s defense, some are trotting out the anti-Muslim card, which in this case is silly. Just because a Muslim congresswoman said something does not make it wrong, but neither does it make it right. Critics are responding to the erroneous content and substance of Tlaib’s remarks.
We all were raised on the stories of those rare righteous souls who risked everything to provide a safe haven for Jews during the Holocaust. We know who they are. We were taught to have gratitude to the nations that helped Jews elude the Nazis, as well as to those individuals upon whom we have bestowed the title “righteous among the nations.”
While I can appreciate Tlaib’s motivation to speak about her ancestors’ plight, the invention of a nonexistent narrative is a slap in the face given the suffering and slaughter inflicted upon Jews in Mandatory Palestine by local Arabs.
Shanghai. The Philippines. Albania. Zakynthos, Greece. Denmark. Ethiopia. These are examples of nations providing a safe haven for Jews during the Holocaust.
To try to put Palestinians of the 1930s and 40s in a positive light vis-à-vis the local Jewish community, and then the Holocaust refugees, is to rewrite history. Sadly, the facts tell the opposite story. The leader of the Arabs in Palestine, Haj Amin al-Husseini, collaborated enthusiastically with Adolf Hitler, ensuring more bloodshed of Jews both in Europe and in Palestine. Far from providing a safe haven in Palestine, local Arabs violently attacked Jews there.
Every Israel Memorial Day in Israel, there is special attention given to a group who suffered a double tragedy, known as the netzer acharon, the Final Branch. This refers to family trees that have been forever cut off. People visit their marked graves because there is no family to do so. These people sacrificed everything to secure an Israel for others. The netzer acharon were Holocaust refugees who were sole survivors of families left behind as ashes; survivors who made it to then-Palestine, only to either be slaughtered by local Arabs or by the Arab armies who attacked the fledgling state.
Another unique group honored on Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day is Haparim Brigade. These are Jews who, in the 1930s and 1940s, were already living in the relative safety of British Mandatory Palestine, yet elected to join the fight against the Nazis. Donning British uniforms, they joined the military. Many fell and suffered at the hands of the Nazis as POWs along with their British comrades.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Arabs and Arabs from other Muslim lands were encouraged by Haj Amin al-Husseini to ally with Hitler.
Above all, though, the inaccuracy in Tlaib’s remarks is that Zionism predates World War II and the Holocaust. Zionism’s genesis has no connection to World War II. Much of the infrastructure for a modern Jewish state that Theodor Herzl inspired was in place by the termination of World War II. The only thing missing were the millions of Jews who were no longer living, no longer able to return to their long-desired land.
While I can appreciate Tlaib’s desire to voice an idea on behalf of her ancestors, this should not be confused or conflated with the unequaled plight of Holocaust refugees.
With Tlaib’s remarks, it’s almost as if nothing has changed since the 1940s. When a Jewish state was in the offing, Arab Palestinian leaders cultivated fantasy and directed their Arab Palestinian people to abandon ship. This triggered a mass exodus from then-Palestine. Not over their dead bodies would they share land with the Jews. The Palestinian Arabs left in droves, their leaders choosing denial and rejection of the new, formal, UN- declared Jewish reality. Instead they falsely promised the Palestinian Arabs they would be back in the land, in their homes, in no time, once the massacred Jews were gone — to borrow a Holocaust term, once the land was Judenrein.
In Palestinian culture, this is what is known as nakba, the catastrophe — the mass exodus of Arab Palestinians, and their inability to return to the homes that their own leaders instructed them to leave. Today it is known as the Palestinian refugee problem (due to UNWRA’s unique definition of a Palestinian refugee, but that’s a story for another time).
The fates of our peoples — the Jews, and the Palestinian Arabs — are historically intertwined. But to link them in ways that are untrue is regrettable. The stark reality is that Palestinian Arab leadership was on the wrong side of history in choosing to reject Israel, and was on the wrong side of history during the Holocaust. The Palestinian leadership was on the wrong side of history during the Cold War, when it aligned with the USSR, and the current version of the PA and Hamas places it on the wrong side of history again.
The casualties of this poor leadership — of the pervasive glorification of violence and hatred — is no doubt the Palestinian people. None of that, however, justifies rewriting history.
Because as laughable as basic ignorance might be, it isn’t funny at all. It is painful for the American Jewish community to hear such remarks from a member of the United States Congress.
Copyright Intermountain Jewish News