Rashida Tlaib, the Democratic candidate for Michigan’s 13th Congressional District, supports positions that are becoming familiar for candidates from the Bernie Sanders wing of the party: Medicare for all, the abolishment of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and free college education, among her domestic policies. But Tlaib, an attorney and former state representative who is expected to be elected to fill the seat vacated by civil rights icon Rep. John Conyers, has offered a flurry of conflicting statements on Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians that are worrying.
Tlaib is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants and, with no Republican opposition, will likely become the first female Muslim member of Congress. The 13th District, which includes much of southwest Detroit, is among the bluest in the nation. As a state representative, she built a record of shrewdly representing her constituents against wealthy interests.
In her majority-minority district, voters may be able to identify with Tlaib’s comparison of discrimination faced by civil rights-era African-Americans with the conditions of Palestinian life under Israeli control, no matter how much we may disagree with that characterization. And that’s the comparison Tlaib has been making in pushing for a one-state solution to the conflict.
“I absolutely believe ‘separate but equal’ doesn’t work,” she said on “Democracy Now!” in reference to the Jim Crow-era laws ensuring unjust treatment of blacks. “That’s something that I believe. … But I can tell you, if it was something of possibility for a two-state solution, absolutely. Do I think it may work? … I don’t know, because I’ve seen that, you know, South versus North didn’t work for us.”
While her analogy is fuzzy, what’s clear is her desire to have the United States punish Israel for what she perceives as wrongdoings by the Jewish state. Indeed, she is ready to push for a cutoff of U.S. aid to Israel “if it has something to do with inequality and not access to people having justice,” she told Britain’s Channel 4. “For me, U.S. aid should be leverage.”
Interestingly, these weren’t quite her positions before the primary. J Street PAC contributed to her campaign on the basis of her support of a two-state solution and U.S. aid, and opposition to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. (She had endorsed the legality of BDS without saying that she supports it.) Late last week, however, J Street, after “closely consulting” with Tlaib’s campaign, took the unprecedented step of rescinding its endorsement of her.
The J Street post-primary move is essentially meaningless, given that the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization helped her win a primary in a race with no Republican opposition come November. But it does mean that Tlaib is now further to the left than even J Street, which sees itself more as a critic of the current Israeli government than a friend. That Tlaib will likely be sworn in as a U.S. congresswoman should give us all pause.