Thursday, February 20, 2020 -
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When Congress became Chelm

A shadow of the mythical Jewish village of fools in Washington — but without the innocence

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Minn.) stated in an interview with a political podcast, Skulduggery, last weekend:

“There’s always kind of a calming feeling I tell folks when I think of the Holocaust, and the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the fact that it was my ancestors — Palestinians — who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity, their existence in many ways, have been wiped out, and some people’s passports. And just all of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post-the Holocaust, post-the tragedy and the horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time. And I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, right, in many ways. But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away and it was forced on them.”

This statement is riddled with factual errors — a distortion of history so gross that it must not be left unrefuted lest a massive disfiguration of Israel’s legitimacy take hold. If the matter were not so serious, one could only laugh.

“Post-the Holocaust.” 

Factually, the modern Jewish settlement in the land of Israel began well over a century before the Holocaust. Already by the middle of the 19th century, Jews were a majority in Jerusalem. Then, in 1881, political Zionism began. Then, in 1917, the right of the Jewish people to a homeland in Palestine was affirmed by the British. It is not just Rashida Tlaib who perpetuates the desiccated myth that Israel was founded strictly as a result of the Holocaust. President Barack Obama said this in, of all places, his speech to the Arab world in Cairo in 2009. As one commentator recently put it, Israel was not a consolation prize for the Jewish people after the Holocaust.

This is a dangerous myth. Its deleterious consequence for Israel is precisely the lie that Tlaib articulates: Zionism is a colonialist enterprise which could not have succeeded without the displacement of the local population. Factually, when political Zionism began in 1881 and after some 600,000 Holocaust survivors arrived in Palestine after WW II ended in 1945, the vast majority of the land in Palestine was uninhabited; and when the UN plan for partitioning Palestine into two states was set forth in 1947, the proposed Jewish state was considerably smaller than the proposed Arab state. It wasn’t a small, vastly outnumbered, out-armed Jewish army that “wiped out” anything, it was six Arab armies that invaded Palestine rather than accept the UN’s offer of a Palestinian state.

“In the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews.” 

Factually, the Palestinian leadership successfully encouraged violent attacks against the fledgling Jewish community in Palestine well before the Balfour Declaration; then, in riots in 1920 and 1929. Local Arabs waged a three-year war of terror against Jews in Palestine, 1936-1939; the Palestinian leadership collaborated with the Nazis during WW II, in the 1940s; and the surrounding Arab nations declared war against, and attacked, the Jewish community in Palestine even before it declared its independence in 1948. No Arab nation or entity tried to create a safe haven for Jews.

“And I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that.”

Factually, the safe haven was not “provided” by any Arabs, Palestinian or otherwise. They did not “do it.” Rather, the Jewish state was provided politically and practically by the British and by Jews themselves.

Politically, the safe haven was provided by the British Balfour Declaration in 1917; by the League of Nations’ sanctioned British Mandate for Palestine, which began in 1922 and concluded under the UN in 1948; and then by the UN vote in 1947 to establish an independent Jewish state in Palestine.

Practically, it was provided by the Jews’ willingness to fight against the invading Arab armies, 1947-1949; and long before the Holocaust it was provided by Jewish immigrants to Palestine who founded farms, drained swamps and established a civil society — a society which the local Palestinian population fought with all means at its disposal, such as refusing to sit with it in a common governing council under the British Mandate.

It is a dangerous myth to suggest that the safe haven for the Jews was intentionally (“in the name of”) provided by the local Arab population, because it means that the suffering of Palestinian Arabs during Israel’s War of Independence, 1947-1949, and thereafter, was heroic. Factually, local Arabs became refugees partially as a result of military defeat in  a war begun by six Arab nations, and partially as a result of heeding these nations’ call to flee, on the promise that in short order the Jewish community in Israel would be destroyed in war and they could return to a home free of Jews — not as a haven for Jews! Tlaib’s vaunted compassion for the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust is tantamount to blaming them for creating the Palestinian refugee problem.

From what pool of population did these refugees emerge? In part, from the influx of Arabs into Palestine as a result of the Zionist economic development of the land before WW II. Rather than displacing the local Arab population, Zionism increased it. Still, the Arab countries wanted to destroy Zionism — an irrational tactic against one’s self-interest that is still at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One would think that the inaccuracies in Tlaib’s statement were so blatant that they would be either refuted or laughed off. But no, not in this Congress. Like water, foolishness seeks it own level. Here is what Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo, the third-ranking Republican in the US House, had to say: “Rashida Tlaib says thinking of the Holocaust provides her a ‘calming feeling.’”  Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-NY, said: “@Rashida Tlaib says the Holocaust gives her a calming feeling.”

That is not what Tlaib said. A  basic parsing of her statement shows that she said it was her thoughts about her Palestinian ancestors that gave her a calming feeling. Cheney’s and Zeldin’s statements, albeit not aimed to damage Israel, are, in their own way, just as foolish.

But it doesn’t end there, not in this Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — the highest ranking Democrat in the House — tweeted: “Republicans’ desperate attempts to smear @RepRashida & misrepresent her comments are outrageous.” Yes, they were outrageous; but where is Pelosi’s outrage over Rashida’s comments? Does Pelosi not care about them? If Pelosi is going to enter the fray and comment on the controversy between Rashida and the Republicans, why is she silent on the gross factual errors in Rashida’s comments? Is Pelosi now to tolerate the same anti-Jewish ideas rampant in Britain’s Labour Party?

Bernie Sanders, a leading candidate in the Democratic presidential race of 2020, said of President Trump, who condemned Rashida: Trump should stop “dividing the American people up by their religion, their race or their country of origin — and stop your ugly attacks against Muslim women in Congress. You are taking Rep@Rashida Tlaib’s comments out of context and should apologize.” Sanders  ignores the context itself. On that, he is silent. According to Sanders, the Republican critics of Tlaib are to be condemned, but the far more dangerous foolishness of Rashida herself is allowed to fester and flourish. That is the tactic of Pelosi and Sanders.

The statement of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, though riddled with extreme language, did, appropriately, see two sides: Tlaib’s comments were taken out of context and, also, Tlaib’s comments were worthy of being called out asrevisionist history. Both.

Why is it so excruciatingly difficult for a growing number of members of Congress to engage in — we won’t even call it nuance; the denotation of Tlaib’s robustly inaccurate comments is obvious — to engage in a balanced response to controversy?

And why is it so excruciatingly difficult for Rashida Tlaib to articulate an accurate history? Why is it so irksome for Rashida to see and tell the truth?

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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