(May 15, 2019 / Jewish Journal) It’s a sign of how bitter our partisanship has become that even strong Israel supporters like House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer feel obligated to defend fellow Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s gross distortions of the Holocaust.
This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but one of historical truth. By perpetuating a false Palestinian narrative around the Holocaust, Tlaib hurts her own cause by reinforcing the pathologies that have poisoned all efforts at peace with the Jewish state.
Let’s review what she said in her now-infamous podcast interview:
“And there’s a kind of a calming feeling, I always tell folks, when I think of the Holocaust and the tragedy of the Holocaust in 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 had been wiped out, and some people’s passports—I mean, 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, right, and it was forced on them.”
Many critics have focused on the phrase “a calming feeling” in connection with the Holocaust. But as wrong and awkward as that was, the more serious offense is with history. As historian Benny Morris writes in The Atlantic, Tlaib “deployed deliberately imprecise language, misleading her listeners about the early history of the conflict in Palestine and misrepresenting its present and possible future.”
Perhaps the most insidious misrepresentation is the claim that Palestinians were somewhat accommodating or helpful towards the Jews around the time of the Holocaust. The truth is the opposite.
“After Hitler’s accession to power in Germany in 1933,” Morris writes, “German and then Eastern European Jews sought escape and safe havens. … Palestine emerged as the only potential safe haven.”
Unfortunately, he adds, “from 1933 onward, Palestine’s Arabs—led by the cleric Muhammad Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem—mounted a strident campaign to pressure the British, who governed Palestine, to bar all Jews from entering the country. To press home their demand, in 1936 they launched an anti-British and anti-Zionist rebellion that lasted three years. Apart from throwing out the British, the rebellion’s aim was to coerce London into halting all Jewish entry into Palestine.”
In other words, Palestinian Arabs were intent on repelling rather than providing a “safe haven” for Jews.
Tlaib’s distortion of that truth is dangerous enough on its own. It’s neither necessary nor helpful to accuse her of anti-Semitism because that distracts from the very real perils of rewriting history.
As Michael Oren tweeted, “Tlaib’s comment was not anti-Semitic but ahistorical. The Palestinians massacred Jews, violently opposed their search for shelter, and collaborated with the Nazis.”
This truth, needless to say, is highly inconvenient to Palestinian activists like Tlaib because it forces them to confront their own people’s responsibility for the miserable predicament that has marked their history.
If Tlaib were interested in helping her cause, she would have the courage to tell her people the truth. First, that their Jewish neighbors have a 3,000-year connection to the land; that Jews started building Israel decades before Hitler and the Holocaust; that the Arab world rejected all offers of a Palestinian state in favor of scapegoating and attacking the Jewish state; and that it is in the Palestinian interest to cooperate with Israel to build their own state and a better future for everyone.
Instead, she has echoed the distorted, false and chronic Palestinian victimhood narrative that has frozen any hope for progress in the lives of her own people.
Her colleagues in Congress would be wise to call her on it, even if it probably won’t give her a calming feeling.
David Suissa is editor-in-chief and publisher of Tribe Media Corp and Jewish Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column first appeared on the Jewish Journal website.