The Bad Faith Smear Machine Is Coming for Rashida Tlaib

Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty

On Saturday, Rep. Rashida Tlaib appeared on the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast and spoke about her Palestinian ancestry and her support for a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Nothing she said was too controversial, and absolutely no part of it could be considered anti-Semitic. But that hasn’t stopped the same cursed machinery that painted Rep. Ilhan Omar as a bigot from revving up to smear its next target.

On the podcast, Tlaib discussed the pride she feels in knowing that Palestinians helped to provide a safe place for Jews to go after the horrors of the Holocaust, despite the suffering her people experienced as a result of the creation of Israel.

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“There’s, you know, there’s a kind of a calming feeling, I always 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, had been wiped out... 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,” Tlaib said.

“I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that [safe haven], in many ways,” Tlaib added. “But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away, right? And it was forced on them. And so, when I think about one-state, I think about the fact that, why couldn’t we do it in a better way?”

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What Tlaib is saying here is actually extremely generous. The fact that her ancestors were able to help the Jews at their time of need gives her solace, even as she grieves the Palestinians suffering and pushes for justice today. It’s a nuanced, compassionate way to think about a deeply personal and difficult topic.

So, of course, Republicans leapt to take the quotes out of context.

As Tlaib’s comments spread, Republican lawmakers tried to paint her mention of a “calming feeling” when she considers the sacrifices made by her ancestors as a comment about the Holocaust itself.

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“There is no justification for the twisted and disgusting comments made by Rashida Tlaib just days after the annual Day of Holocaust Remembrance,” Rep. Steve Scalise, the House minority whip, said in a statement. “More than six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust; there is nothing ‘calming’ about that fact.”

It should be noted that Scalise once spoke at a white nationalist conference. But he wasn’t the only one to take Tlaib to task for her imagined crime.

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“I call on Speaker Pelosi and Leader Hoyer to finally take action against Representative Tlaib and other members of the Democratic caucus who are spreading vile anti-Semitism,” Rep. Liz Cheney, the House Republican conference chair, said in her own statement. “All of us, regardless of party, must stand as Americans against the evil of anti-Semitism. If the Democratic leadership continues to stand by in silence, they are enabling the spread of evil.”

Tlaib responded to the manufactured controversy in a tweet on Sunday.

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These statements made by Republicans are absurd, disgusting, and infuriating to hear, especially for an American Jew like myself. Anyone with more than three brain cells can see that Tlaib was in no way implying that she found the Holocaust “calming.” There is no way to claim that was her intent without wildly distorting her comments.

This cycle of distortion and overreaction is the same one that has played out over and over as the right (and some in the center) have expressed “outrage” over Tlaib’s colleague Omar’s comments on the very real power of the Israel lobby in American politics.

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Reading hatred of Jews into Omar and Tlaib’s comments is a dishonest and dangerous way to smear the first two Muslim women in Congress, both of whom also happen to be on the left of the Democratic party. The fact that people are spreading these distortions as a Republican president who says that Nazis were “fine people” sits in the White House goes to show how little any of these people care about anti-Semitism. The only thing they really care about is silencing the left and getting their way, and they are willing to steamroll over all of us, Jews very much included, in order to do it.

Now, we will get to watch as the same sickening cycle completes itself again. Tlaib’s comments, in their distorted form, are already getting picked up by conservative media. It’s only a matter of time until Fox News starts discussing it and our president inevitably tweets about it. “Reasonable” conservatives in the pages of mainstream publications will launder the absurd lie for moderates. Tlaib will face death threats, just like Omar has. This will all be blamed on Tlaib and her “reckless” comments.

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When the next atrocity like the Tree of Life or Poway shootings inevitably happens thanks to the creeping extremism from the right, these same ghouls will drag out these benign comments and point to the left, as they turn a blind eye to the hatred that’s seeping out of their own party. It’s truly a shonda, and everyone involved should be ashamed.

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