Democratic Party leaders have spent recent months doing their best to assert that their support for Israel is still solid. But their job just got a lot harder. With so many Democrats rushing to the defense of Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) after she sparked outrage with comments in which she engaged in Holocaust revisionism on a Yahoo News podcast, the question now stands as to whether there is anything one of the party’s young left-wing rock stars can do or say that will cause its leaders to condemn them.
The comments from Tlaib were not the first time she has earned notoriety by offending Jews and supporters of Israel. Earlier in the year, both the Palestinian-American congresswoman and her colleague, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), tweeted about Jews buying Congress, and promoted the notion that supporters of Israel were guilty of dual loyalty. Yet when push came to shove, their party wasn’t prepared to punish either of them, despite the fact that the Republicans had set a precedent in January by censuring Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) for years of extremist remarks.
When faced with the choice between a similar reprimand for Omar (who had just been appointed to the House Foreign Relations Committee) or letting her off the hook for anti-Semitism, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer chose the latter. Omar and Tlaib were simply too popular among Democrats—and their cheerleaders in the mainstream media and the entertainment world—to be called to account. The fact that both were targets of U.S. President Donald Trump was enough to convince many liberals that they should be regarded as victims of Islamophobia, even if both were on record as supporters of the anti-Semitic BDS movement.
That’s the best explanation for the knee-jerk reaction of most Democrats to the criticisms of Tlaib after she told Yahoo News that the Holocaust gave her a “calming feeling” and “humbled” her because it reminded her that the suffering of the Palestinians had “provided” a safe haven to the Jews. Tlaib went on to assert that the Palestinians were innocent victims who had paid the price for European anti-Semitism.
There’s a lot that was wrong with what Tlaib said, but unfortunately, most of the focus was on her strange wording about a “calming feeling” rather than the substance. Even if you are willing to accept that Tlaib didn’t mean that the murder of 6 million Jews gave her a “calming feeling,” her remarks were deeply offensive.
Yet while many Republicans, including the president, blasted her comments, Democrats responded by claiming that Tlaib had been taken out of context.
Tlaib’s point was to argue that while what happened to the Jews of Europe was wrong, the subsequent creation of Israel was a Nazi-like crime against the Palestinian Arabs. The Palestinian Arabs did suffer cruelly as a result of their opposition to a two-state solution and starting a war to wipe out Israel. But Tlaib didn’t merely ignore the right of the Jews and their ties to their historic homeland; she also sought to ignore the fact that the plight of the Arabs was the fault of their own leaders, who had chosen to refuse every offer of compromise because they would not accept a Jewish state anywhere in the country. That was not only true before 1948, but continues to this day.
Just as infuriating is Tlaib’s whitewash of the complicity of Palestinian Arabs in the fate of the Jews. The Arabs did everything they could to close the gates of Palestine—where Britain had promised to provide a national home for the Jews—at a time when millions were seeking a place to escape from Nazi murderers. Their success in pressuring Britain to close off that escape route cost the lives of countless Jews who might have found the “safe haven” that Tlaib boasts her ancestors’ suffering had created.
Tlaib also ignored the fact that the popular leader of the Palestinian national movement—the Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini—was an active supporter of Adolf Hitler who publicly supported Nazi genocide.
But in Tlaib’s account, it was the Jews who were the real Nazis—a classic sleight-of-hand maneuver that seeks to delegitimize Israel. This fits in nicely with her current position opposing Israel’s existence, a point she also made in the Yahoo podcast.
All of this, as well as her bizarre words about a “calming feeling,” ought to have sparked just as much outrage among Democrats as it did in the GOP. But it didn’t. Both Pelosi and Hoyer, who will lead Democrats on an annual trip to Israel this summer while Tlaib leads a rival junket that will focus on the Palestinians, said that Trump and the GOP were taking her words out of context. Hoyer even said that Republicans owed Tlaib an apology.
Trump was right when he tweeted that Democrats would have treated the same remarks as Tlaib’s as proof of his anti-Semitism had he said them. But as far as Democrats are concerned, Tlaib’s and Omar’s status as minorities and heroines of the anti-Trump resistance gives them impunity to smear Jews. Pelosi and Hoyer know all too well that the pair is too popular among their party’s base to criticize them, let alone to actually punish them.
It was a disgrace for Democrats to fail to officially condemn Omar for her anti-Semitism earlier in the year. But the willingness of the party to close ranks and now attack Republicans for calling Tlaib out for her Holocaust revisionism is far worse.
Most Democrats don’t share Tlaib’s support for BDS and her opposition to Israel’s existence. Still, their decision to stand behind her and Omar, even when they are guilty of trying to manipulate the memory of the Shoah to justify the delegitimization of Israel, is as ominous as it is outrageous. Tlaib’s ability to get support for Holocaust revisionism is one more piece of evidence that the Democrats are abandoning what’s left of what was once a bipartisan pro-Israel consensus.
By Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.