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Tlaib at best, incoherent; at worst, malevolent

When I was updating a pro-Israel academic about Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s recent remarks, she just burst out laughing. She wasn’t even upset. Tlaib’s statement about Palestinians providing a “safe haven” for Jewish refugees of the Holocaust is, for anyone who knows the basics of history, simply preposterous.

You can bet that the Jewish community knows this history. Not just professors and historians. All of us. It’s part of our story, part of our education. It’s our story of rebirth from exile that many of our very own grandparents themselves lived through.

Remember, we are still living with the generation of Holocaust survivors among us, though they are sadly dwindling. So at this point, it’s not a matter only of history books. But living history and testimony.

Tlaib’s ahistoric statement, trying to paint the Palestinian Arabs of British Mandate Palestine as noble, was at best incoherent, vague, clumsy, and ultimately patently false. At worst, it was malevolent.

Even if one is to cut slack for a rookie congresswoman, is it too much to expect of a member of the United States Congress to know the straightforward history of an event she is preoccupied with and consistently expresses strong opinions about?

In her defense, some are trotting out the anti Muslim card, which in this case is silly. Just because a Muslim congresswoman said something does not make it wrong, but neither does it make it right. Critics are responding to the erroneous content and substance of Tlaib’s remarks.

We were raised on the stories of those rare, brave, righteous souls who did risk everything to try to provide a true safe haven for Jews during the Holocaust. We know who they are. Time and again, we are taught to have gratitude to these nations that helped Jews elude the Nazis, as well as to those individuals upon whom the community has bestowed the title, “one of the righteous among the nations.”

While I can appreciate that Tlaib would be motivated to speak on behalf of her ancestors’ plight, the invention of a non-existent narrative is actually a slap in the face of the reality of the suffering and slaughter inflicted upon Jews in Mandatory Palestine by local Arabs.

Shanghai. The Philippines. Albania. The Greek island of Zakynthos. Denmark. Ethiopia. These are examples of nations providing a safe haven for Jews during the Holocaust.

To try to put the Arabs of Palestine in the 1930s and ‘40s in a positive light vis-a-vis the local Jewish community, and then the Holocaust refugees who came to Israel, is to rewrite history. Sadly, the facts tell the opposite story. The chief leader of the Arabs in Palestine, Haj Amin al-Husseini, collaborated enthusiastically with Adolf Hitler, ensuring more bloodshed of Jews, both in Europe and in Palestine. Far from providing a safe haven in Palestine, local Arabs violently attacked Jews there.

Every Israel Memorial Day in Israel, there is special attention given to a group who suffered a double tragedy, known as the “Netzer Acharon,” “The Final Branch.” This refers to family trees that have been forever cut off.

People elect to visit their marked graves because there is no family to visit them. These people sacrificed all they had in the world for the purpose of securing an Israel for others. The Netzer Acharon were those Holocaust refugees who were sole survivors of their families, entire families left behind as ashes in Europe’s crematoria; survivors who made it to then-Palestine, only to either be slaughtered by local Palestinian Arabs or by the Arab armies who attacked the fledgling Jewish state.

Another unique group, honored on Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day, is “Haparim Brigade.” These are Jews who in the 1930s and 1940s were already living in the relative safety (compared to Europe’s Jews) of British Mandatory Palestine, yet they elected to join the fight against the Nazis. Donning British military uniforms, they joined the British military. Many fell and suffered at the hands of the Nazis as POWs along with their British comrades.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Arabs and Arabs from other Muslim lands were encouraged by Haj Amin al-Husseini to allay with Hitler.

Above all, though, the inaccuracy in Tlaib’s remarks is that they ignore the fact that Zionism predates WW II and the Holocaust. Zionism’s genesis has no connection to WW II. Much of the infrastructure for a modern state for the Jewish people that Theodor Herzl inspired was in place by the termination of WW II. Hauntingly, the only thing missing were the millions of Jews who were no longer living, no longer able to come and return to their long desired land, prepared for them with much blood, sweat and tears.

While I can appreciate that Tlaib wanted to voice an idea or sentiment on behalf of the plight of her ancestors, this should not be confused or conflated with the unequaled plight of Holocaust refugees.

With Tlaib’s remarks, it’s almost as if nothing has changed since the 1940s. When a Jewish state was in the offing, Arab Palestinian leaders cultivated fantasy and directed their Arab Palestinian people to abandon ship. This triggered a mass exodus from then-Palestine. Not over their dead bodies would they share land with the Jews. The Palestinian Arabs left in droves, their leaders choosing denial and rejection of the new, formal, UN- declared Jewish reality. Instead they falsely promised the Palestinian Arabs they would be back in the land, in their homes, in no time, once the massacred Jews were gone. To borrow a Holocaust term, once the land was Judenrein, Jew Free.

In Palestinian culture, this is what is known as nakba, the catastrophe — the mass exodus of the Arab Palestinians and their inability to return to their homes that their own leaders instructed them to leave. Today it is known as the Palestinian refugee problem (due to UNWRA’s unique definition of a Palestinian refugee, but that’s another story for another time).

The fates of our people, the Jewish people, and the Palestinian Arab people, are historically intertwined. But to link them in ways that are untrue is regrettable. The stark reality is that the Palestinian Arab leadership was on the wrong side of history by choosing to reject Israel, and was on the wrong side of history during the Holocaust when it supported Nazis. The Palestinian leadership was on the wrong side of history during the Cold War, when it aligned with the USSR. And the current version of the PA and Hamas places it on the wrong side of history again.

The casualties of this poor leadership — of the all too pervasive Palestinian glorification of violence and Jew hatred — is no doubt the Palestinian people. None of that, however, justifies this breach of rewriting history.

Because as laughable as basic ignorance might be, it really isn’t funny at all. In fact, it’s painful for the American Jewish community to hear such remarks from an American member of the United States Congress.

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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