Hasbara failure: How we empowered Rashida Tlaib

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 3, 2019, US House Representative Rashida Tlaib participates in a ceremonial swearing-in at the start of the 116th Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. - Tlaib kicked off her term with an expletive-laced vow to impeach President Donald Trump, triggering Republican outrage and testing party discipline barely a day after Democrats regained the House. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)
(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 3, 2019, US House Representative Rashida Tlaib participates in a ceremonial swearing-in at the start of the 116th Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. - Tlaib kicked off her term with an expletive-laced vow to impeach President Donald Trump, triggering Republican outrage and testing party discipline barely a day after Democrats regained the House. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

New member of the U.S. House of Representative, Rashida Tlaib, an American of Palestinian origin, was interviewed earlier this week, and the following is a transcript of the video, as prepared by Andrew Silow-Carroll:

Interviewer: “Congresswoman, you’ve created something of a stir by coming out in favor of a one-state solution, Israel and Palestine, and I think you may be the only Democrat who’s publicly supported a one-state solution. So what is your vision for a one-state solution that meets both Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish national aspirations?”

Tlaib: “Absolutely. Let me tell you — I mean, for me, I think two weeks ago we celebrated, or took a moment I think in our country to remember, the Holocaust. And there’s a kind of a calming feeling, I always tell folks, when I think of the Holocaust and the tragedy of the Holocaust in the fact that it was my ancestors — Palestinians — who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity, their existence in many ways had been wiped out, and some people’s passports — I mean, just all of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post-the Holocaust, post-the tragedy and the horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time. And I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, right?, in many ways. But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away, right, and it was forced on them.”

Advocates for Israel saw quickly and correctly that this interview was an opportunity to discredit Tlaib who is probably the harshest opponent of Israel in Congress.

In this response, Tlaib showed that despite her political success in the most powerful nation on earth, her version of history does not go further than the false narrative that has been fed to Palestinians for the past seven decades. She proved herself to be a lightweight who cannot articulate a credible policy statement and cannot be trusted to even pretend to be fair and unbiased when it comes to the Middle East.

After conveniently ignoring the interviewer’s question, she equally conveniently ignored the fact that not a single Palestinian would have lost life, livelihood, or human dignity if they had accepted self-determination together with Jewish self-determination as laid out in the 1947 UN Partition Plan and had not, together with their Arab allies, attacked the Jews in an attempt to rob them of their lives, their livelihood, and their human dignity. Instead, she portrayed Palestinians as the victims of Holocaust survivors.

However, instead of concentrating on Tlaib’s real failures and instead of using them to damage her credibility, her critics twisted her words.

Liz Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, tweeted, “Rashida Tlaib says thinking of the Holocaust provides her a ‘calming feeling’”, when a much more natural interpretation of what she said is that her “calming” feeling came from her fabricated claim that Palestinians were “trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post-the Holocaust”. U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that Tlaib made “horrible and highly insensitive statement on the Holocaust”, when in reality she described the Holocaust as “the tragedy and the horrific persecution of Jews across the world”.

As a consequence of these and other unsubstantiated attacks against Tlaib, high-ranking Democrats, including pro-Israel Democrats, came to her defense and demanded apologies from her critics.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has a strong pro-Israel record and has in the past warned against empowering new anti-Israel members of congress, tweeted, “Republicans’ desperate attempts to smear @RepRashida & misrepresent her comments are outrageous. President @realDonaldTrump & House GOP should apologize to Rep. Tlaib & the American people for their gross misrepresentations.” Steny Hoyer, leader of the pro-Israel faction in the Democratic Party, and someone who in the past has vilified Tlaib over her anti-Israel positions, tweeted, “If you read Rep. @RashidaTlaib’s comments, it is clear that President Trump and Congressional Republicans are taking them out of context. They must stop, and they owe her an apology.”

Instead of recognizing the inane responses, mostly by Republicans, to Tlaib’s interview, pro-Israel advocates blamed the Democrats for letting Tlaib off the hook on her historical revisionism. The painful reality, however, is that the Democrats did not even get a chance to challenge Tlaib because she was attacked unfairly by high-ranking Republicans, and since she is a member of the Democratic caucus, Democrats had no choice but to defend her.

We all know that sooner or later, Democrats will be back in power; therefore, a key objective of pro-Israel advocates should be to limit the potential damage by bringing more Democrats to the pro-Israel side, and by sidelining anti-Israel Democrats. But with the amateurish reaction to Tlaib’s interview, we achieved the opposite: we increased Tlaib’s credibility, and we got the most pro-Israel Democrats to defend her.

Tlaib responded to the attacks by saying, “All of you who are trying to silence me will fail miserably. I will never allow you to take my words out of context to push your racist and hateful agenda. The truth will always win.”

Well, clearly the truth about the history of Israel-Arab conflict will not win if Tlaib has her way, but as long as her critics continue to behave as ineptly as they have done in this case, Tlaib herself will win, and she will continue to deliver a false narrative with impunity.

About the Author
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. Fred supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, and he supports a liberal and democratic Middle East where all religions and nationalities, including Palestinians, can co-exist in peace with each other and with Israel, and where human rights are respected. Fred is an atheist, a social liberal, and an advocate of equal rights for LGBT people everywhere. Fred Maroun writes for Gatestone Institute.
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