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August 15, 2018 4:28 pm

Jewish Democrats Seek to ‘Engage’ Michigan Congressional Candidate Opposed to US Military Aid to Israel

avatar by Ben Cohen

Democratic candidate Rashida Tlaib is poised to become the first Muslim woman to serve in the US Congress. Photo: Screenshot.

Jewish Democrats want to meet with Michigan Democratic congressional candidate Rashida Tlaib after she told an interviewer that she would “absolutely” support cutting US military aid to Israel.

In a statement reacting to Tlaib’s remarks during an extensive interview she gave to a British television station on Monday, the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) said it “disagrees with Michigan House candidate Rashida Tlaib’s comments suggesting that she would oppose US military aid to Israel if elected to Congress.”

The JDCA stated that it “believes that threatening to cut military assistance to Israel is inconsistent with the values of the Democratic Party and the American people.” The statement added that in the “coming days and months, we hope to learn more about Ms. Tlaib’s views, engage with her on these issues, and discuss with her why we believe US military aid to Israel is a national security priority.”

Asked by a presenter on Britain’s Channel 4 News whether she would “vote against US military aid for Israel,” Tlaib responded affirmatively.

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“Absolutely, if it has something to do with inequality and people not having access to justice,” she answered.

Tlaib went on to argue that Israel practices discrimination based on “faith” as well as “skin color,” claiming that “Israelis with darker skin” were “not being treated equally.”

A long-serving community activist and local politician, Detroit native Tlaib is running unopposed in Michigan’s 13th congressional district in November’s midterm elections. Being elected to the House of Representatives would make her the first Muslim and Palestinian-American woman to serve in the US Congress.

On Thursday, Tlaib expanded on her views concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an interview with the US socialist periodical In These Times.

“My social justice and passion for human rights was birthed in Palestine,” she said. Referring to her visits to Israel to visit family — many of whom live in the West Bank village of Beit Our al-Foqa — she said that she had seen “unequal treatment in Israel, in the different colored license plates for Palestinians and even in the ocean.” She claimed that during one visit to a beach in Israel with her family, “some of them had head scarves on, we all jumped in the water and the Israelis jumped out as if my cousins were diseased.”

“That reminded me what I learned about the African-American struggle,” Tlaib continued. “That’s the lens I bring to Congress.”

Asked whether she supported the Palestinian “right of return” — widely regarded as code for the elimination of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state — Tlaib offered her warm endorsement. In elaborating, however, she did not mention the Arab refugees of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence — for whom the “right of return” is claimed, along with their descendants — but spoke instead of her “family that left [Palestine] in [the war of] 1967…They thought they could come back, and they’ve never been back. ”

Tlaib was notably cautious, as she has been in the past, when asked if she supported the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel. “I‘m an ACLU card member,” she said. “I stand by the rights of people who support BDS.” But she refrained from an explicit endorsement of the BDS campaign, which has been the key rallying point for Palestinian solidarity activists for nearly twenty years.

That equivocation over BDS resulted in a harsh attack on Tlaib from Ali Abunimah, a hardline anti-Zionist and prominent activist in pro-Palestinian circles. Writing for the US-based Electronic Intifada website on Tuesday, Abunimah accused Tlaib of jettisoning the BDS campaign in order to secure the support of J-Street — a liberal Jewish group that advocates for US government pressure on Israel to make unilateral concessions to the Palestinians.

“To concede any ground to a racist (sic) organization like J Street would allow Tlaib or others who follow in her footsteps to be trotted out by Zionists and Israel apologists as examples of ‘good Palestinians’ versus the ‘bad Palestinians’ who support BDS as a tactic to achieve full Palestinian rights,” Abunimah argued.

Update Aug 16: In a follow-up article on Wednesday, Abunimah pronounced himself satisfied that Tlaib had “repudiated key positions of the Israel lobby group J Street,” adding that her position on BDS “may not go as far as some would like, however this addresses what her role would be as a lawmaker, which is to protect against unconstitutional efforts to curb free speech rights.” 

Tlaib pushed back against these criticisms in her In These Times interview.

“Palestinians are attacking me now, but I am not going to dehumanize Israelis,” she said. “I won’t do that. Just like people do not accept [President Donald] Trump, I hope they don’t reflect that on me.”

Tlaib was nonetheless reluctant to extend her recognition of the humanity of Israelis as individuals to the legitimacy of their state.

“One state. It has to be one state,” Tlaib said emphatically, when asked if she supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “I’m only 42 years old but my teachers were of that generation that marched with Martin Luther King. This whole idea of a two-state solution, it doesn’t work. Even though we continue the struggle in the United States, we have a better chance to integrate.”

Asked why J Street had supported her, Tlaib said that the group had “liked my personal story I shared with them.”

“I knew we weren’t going to agree on a number of stances,” she said. “They didn’t ask me to waver once.”

J Street did not respond by press time to a request from The Algemeiner for a response to Tlaib’s comments.

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