Michael F. Brown
The Electronic Intifada / December 3, 2020
When Democratic Majority for Israel, a lobby group, is upset by a slogan supporting freedom and equal rights for Palestinians and Jews, they now have reason to hope Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib will cave to their pressure.
Tlaib had retweeted Democratic Party activist Rasha Mubarak’s 29 November call that “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
Mubarak’s tweet, accompanied by emojis of a Palestinian flag and a dove with an olive branch, marked the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
Tlaib, however, removed the retweet, apparently after it had come under attack from Democratic Majority for Israel. The lobby group claimed that by sharing Mubarak’s tweet, Tlaib was indicating that “she sees the entire State of Israel as illegitimate and wants it eliminated.”
“That’s an immoral and reprehensible position,” the group added.
Tlaib did not explain her reversal. Nor did she respond to The Electronic Intifada’s request for an explanation of why she backed down.
Tlaib left standing her own tweet from the same day, stating that she was thinking of her grandmother and family in Palestine.
“From Detroit to Gaza, we will always fight against oppression and inequality,” Tlaib’s tweet states.
That’s a fine sentiment that Democratic Majority for Israel didn’t challenge – perhaps because its lack of specificity doesn’t challenge Israel as culpable for the situation in Gaza or even mention the West Bank.
Tlaib’s removal of Mubarak’s tweet, however, is a cause for concern in a climate where groups measure their success by their ability to stifle speech supportive of Palestinian rights.
It sends a signal to the Israel lobby that Tlaib can be bullied.
The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah expressed dismay at Tlaib’s action, asserting that “appeasement never works and only invites more pressure.”
Former UK Labour MP Chris Williamson agreed with that statement, adding that “trying to appease the Israel lobby is doomed to disaster.”
Instead of backing down, Tlaib could have kept Mubarak’s tweet on her timeline and responded to Democratic Majority for Israel along these lines: “I support equal rights for Palestinians and Jews. The Israel lobby supports an apartheid state. Join me or at least stop standing in the way of freedom and equal rights for Palestinians.”
Tlaib, the sole Palestinian American Democrat in Congress, is likely to be the first censured if matters proceed in the US as they have in the UK – where a relentless political witch hunt instigated by the Israel lobby has driven supporters of Palestinian rights like Williamson out of the Labour Party using false accusations of anti-Semitism.
There have previously been calls for Tlaib’s censure from politicians who are only too happy to back Israel’s systematic abuses of Palestinian rights.
He pointed out that Tlaib supports a one-state solution with equal rights.
And Beinart wondered how Democratic Majority for Israel could consider that less moral than the present reality where “millions of Palestinians lack citizenship, due process, free movement and the right to vote for the government that controls their lives.”
Israel and its supporters routinely smear anybody – Palestinian, Jewish or any other equal rights advocate – who supports a single democratic state as wanting the “destruction” or “elimination” of Israel.
This inflammatory language is akin to claiming that Black Americans or Black South Africans who called for the end of Jim Crow or apartheid were demanding the “destruction of the United States,” or the “destruction of South Africa.”
Indeed, many racists made and still make such accusations.
This is not the first time that the expression has led to a political fight. Prominent Black scholar and CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill was fired by the news organization for using a similar phrase, while former US Senator Rick Santorum is employed by CNN despite having once said, “All the people that live in the West Bank are Israelis. They are not Palestinians. There is no Palestinian. This is Israeli land.”
Equal rights seen as a threat
“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is a catchy way of saying that the apartheid reality that exists there today will be replaced with equal rights for all.
That is precisely why Democratic Majority for Israel finds the slogan so threatening: They do not want the kind of change that happened in South Africa, where an apartheid regime was toppled and replaced with a state with equal rights for all.
A tweet may be a small thing, but Tlaib should not have been intimidated into removing it.
Doing so allows the enemies of Palestinian rights to define the terms of discussion and is a tacit admission that what she retweeted was somehow wrong.
Tlaib is going to be viciously attacked in the months and years ahead as a Palestinian American Democrat with a strong point of view supporting Palestinian rights and one state. When allies rally to her defense, however, that is not the time to stand down, but to reassert the moral power and vision of equal rights over Israeli apartheid.
Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist