Tlaib criticism of the anti-BDS legislation and the backlash it generated from rightwing groups hides the fact that Muslims and Jews are in danger in America.
New federal legislation intended to strip free speech rights from advocates for Palestinians got called out on Monday by both the independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan. The way Tlaib phrased her criticism of the lawmakers behind the bill earned Tlaib accusations of anti-Semitism.
“They forgot what country they represent,” Tlaib wrote. “This is the U.S. where boycotting is a right and part of our historical fight for freedom and equality. Maybe a refresher on our U.S. Constitution is in order, then get back to opening up our government instead of taking our rights away.”
She’s referring to a new law that could punish participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign if the measure passes the House and Senate. Such laws have come under legal challenge in states that have implemented them.
The law Tlaib was talking about was part of a larger bill related to Middle East aid and sanctions policy, a bill which the Senate declined to pass on Tuesday. In the middle of an ongoing government shutdown over Trump's demand for a wall along the US-Mexico border, senators decided to make reopening the government the priority for now. But since the anti-BDS provision has bipartisan support, it’s likely to come back up for a vote again.
The furor over Tlaib’s tweet distracts from the true threat both Jews and Muslims face in the United States: the increasing violence of anti-Semites and Islamophobes against everyone who isn’t them. The uproar also masks a more hopeful trend: Muslims and Jews working together against this common threat.
To some commentators, “They forgot what country they represent” sounds like she’s accusing Jewish lawmakers of having a bias towards Israel over the United States. Muslim lawmakers have themselves, including Tlaib and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, have endured racist accusations of “dual loyalty,” of being against the United States and in favor of Islamic law.
The accusation of anti-Semitism fails to take into account how many White Christians, especially Evangelical Christians, are supportive of anti-BDS laws nationwide. Indeed, the key lawmakers involved in the federal-level law aren’t Jewish.
Nevertheless, Tlaib faces accusations of spreading the anti-Semitic slander that Jews aren’t loyal Americans, or loyal to anywhere. It’s the kind of slander that has followed Jews throughout Europe, and the alleged “disloyalty” of Jews to German-inspired Nazi rhetoric. But Tlaib’s accusers are missing the real source of anti-Semitism in American life: white supremacists.
Palestinians did not join forces with the Alt-Right when these anti-Semitic white supremacists emerged from the fringe in concert with Trump three years ago. This faction in American politics wants the world to neatly organise ethnicities and religions along borders by any means necessary, and even sees Israel as a model for a macho ethno-state that white people can imitate. Their admiration for Israel is, however, a product of their racist hatred for Jewish people, whom they’d rather see living in Israel and nowhere else.
The Alt-Right have wormed into the president’s already addled mind. Tlaib is the one who wants to impeach Trump. They are not on the same side. It is counterproductive to confuse what Tlaib said with the powerful forces of anti-Semitism among white supremacists across a country of 320 million, which is 70 percent Christian. There are only about three million Muslims, and only a sliver of them Palestinian. There are about 4 million Jews.
As for the many white evangelical Christians who will vote for the anti-BDS bill, their motivations are far more deserving of suspicion. Some of America’s Evangelicals have developed a particularly disturbing affinity for Israel, based on an interpretation of the Bible that sees Jesus Christ returning to Israel during Armageddon as their salvation. But the holy land needs to be in Jewish hands for this scenario to play out, according to their interpretation of Biblical prophecy. In the process, all Jews will convert to Christianity.
Israel, betting against the return of the Christian Messiah, has welcomed the strident support of American Evangelicals. Both sides agree that Muslims, specifically Palestinians, are standing in the way of their goals. It’s a view that only sees Israel as a Jewish state as means to bring about End Times. In the Evangelical prophecy, Jews convert to Christianity, ending Judaism. It’s its own kind of anti-Semitism, just without swastikas.
The Alt-Right and Christian Evangelicals do not have kind feelings towards Muslim or Arab immigrants in the United States, and have joined forces under Trump to impose discriminatory laws against Muslims at home and abroad. The white supremacist charged with carrying out the gruesome attack on Jews last year in Pittsburgh, leaving 11 worshippers dead, hated Muslims, too.
The twisted words he wrote online, as reported by The New York Times, show his rage did not discriminate: “Open you Eyes! It’s the filthy EVIL jews Bringing the Filthy EVIL Muslims into the Country!!"
White supremacists and Evangelicals pose a far greater threat to the lives of Jewish Americans and Muslim Americans. Both groups want more Jews in Israel, but for entirely different reasons. Both boil down to anti-Semitism: Either seeing Jews through the lens of white supremacy or Judgement Day, as means to an end and not human beings themselves.
All the same time, Tlaib could have chosen different words that would have dodged accusations of anti-Semitism. The point of her tweet has gotten lost in the outcry over just a small part of it. Her words also brought out accusations from the American Jewish Committee that she, herself, was not loyal to the United States. As evidence, they a photo of her hugging a girl while wearing a Palestinian flag.
“Tell us more about dual loyalty,” read the caption to AJC’s tweet.
In a statement, the pro-Israel lobbying group continued, “The charge evokes classical anti-Semitic tropes about dual loyalty — in this case applied to some lawmakers who are not even Jewish — that have no place in our political discourse. Ironically, it was Representative Tlaib who took the unusual step of wrapping herself in a foreign flag upon winning election to Congress, and who said she would serve as ‘a voice for’ another nation in the House of Representatives.”
The irony here is that American Muslims have long faced the same kind of racist smears of dual loyalty, especially in the years after 9-11 when American Muslims had to endure discrimination and rising Islamophobia, culminating in Trump’s election. Islamophobes accusations of dual loyalty against Muslims fuel Islamophobia just as anti-Semites’ accusations of dual loyalty against Jews fuel anti-Semitism. Altogether, they make the world a worse off place.
But the reflexive outrage against Tlaib detracts attention from a newer, more optimistic trend: Progressive American Jews and Muslims are working together as activists and policymakers to push back against the racism and anti-Semitism that endanger them both.
Today, leftist Jewish groups march alongside Muslim activists against police brutality, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and Israeli Apartheid. But members of both communities are trying to find their place in a country where members of majority religion and culture are not always welcoming, and sometimes viciously hostile to their existence. For this and many other reasons, Jews and Muslims in America, and everywhere else, have plenty of work to do together to repair the world.
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