Last week, newly sworn-in US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib made headlines for her tweet accusing opponents of the proposed federal anti-BDS bill, of "forgetting what country they represent." Whether intended to be antisemitic or not, Tlaib's comments reflect and empower a culture that is aroused by hate speech – especially online.
Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American female member of the US Congress, has been embroiled in controversy before, stating she was for a one-state solution, aligning herself with extremists with antisemitic alliances like Linda Sarsour and supporting the BDS movement. It doesn't come as any surprise, therefore, to see Tlaib's most recent comments carelessly regurgitating antisemitic canards about "dual loyalties." These comments were widely condemned by Jewish organizations on the left and right as well as by other public officials such as Senator Marco Rubio.
Interestingly enough, Tlaib herself has questionable "loyalties." Upon her electoral victory, she was filmed celebrating draped in a Palestinian flag. She also told the Huffington Post in an interview that she was proud to be in Congress for Palestinians in the West Bank, and stated, "I'm going to be a voice to them." Can you imagine the uproar if a Jewish member of Congress celebrated electoral victory by draping themselves in an Israeli flag and told the press that they were in Congress to "be a voice of the Israeli people?"
These double standards did not go unnoticed. Organizations like American Jewish Congress, ADL and StandWithUs, called out Tlaib on Twitter for her hypocrisy. AJC shared a photo of Tlaib in a Palestinian flag at her election party and wrote, "Tell us more about dual loyalty." Similarly, StandWithUs tweeted in response to Tlaib's claims, "Says the woman who stated explicitly she's in Congress to 'be the voice of Palestinians in the West Bank.'"
But "dual loyalties" aside, Tlaib has campaigned as a young, fresh, and "woke" face of the new members of Congress. Yet repeating antisemitic canards, even accidentally, is the polar opposite of "woke." Just as we see with the rampant antisemitism and subsequent division in the women's march and their leaders, she is either being utterly dishonest, or she has a blind spot when it comes to even being aware of what antisemitism looks like. Both are disturbing.
After immense criticism, Tlaib shot back, claiming that she was referring to US Senate opponents of the bill, "not Jews" – but whether that is true or not, the damage is already done. We are living in an era where words matter. US President Donald Trump is rightly criticized for his brazen insults – in fact that is a campaign message that Tlaib used to get into office. Standing against what Trump stands for. Why then, is she carelessly and hypocritically employing the same tactics to promote her own extremist agenda? The effects of spreading hate speech, knowingly or unknowingly are toxic in American (and global) society today. If she was aware of the implications of her tweet, she should not have shared it, and if she was not aware, she is unacceptably naive to the very dangerous antisemitism thriving in our culture today. This is intolerable from a member of Congress.
Congresswoman Tlaib, how can you claim to be on the side of the victim, but then become the oppressor in how you speak about other oppressed minority groups?
This is not the first time Tlaib has taken the side of the oppressors against Jews. She also defended Marc Lamont Hill when he called for the destruction of Israel, and was in fact fired from CNN for his statements implying endorsement of genocide. Hill has also repeated antisemitic blood libels, such as that Israel "poisons water" of Palestinians. At her swearing-in ceremony, she was accompanied by none other than Palestinian-American Linda Sarsour, who is known for minimizing antisemitism and had been blasted for associations with antisemitic leaders like Louis Farrakhan. Also in attendance was comedian Amer Zahr, who wrote "Palestine" on a sticky note and stuck it on Tlaib's world map in her congressional office, directed at the space where Israel is located.
Last but not least, supporter of Hezbollah, and founder of the "Al Awda Right of Return Movement," Abbas Hamideh, also attended and posted a photo with her. Hamideh has repeatedly shared his support for Hezbollah on social media. He has also made antisemitic "jokes" about how Jews should "stay in Brooklyn."
While Tlaib isn't responsible for the statements of others, she is responsible for her own. Her comments are dangerous, careless and unbecoming of a representative of Congress. As a woman, and as a religious minority in the United States, she should know better than anyone the importance of words.
The writer is a freelance writer and the digital director at Israel education organization StandWithUs.