Progressives Discard the Truth to Demonize Israel

Rhodes's lies, Tlaib's bigotry, and a creepy obsession with the Jewish state

Rep. Rashida Tlaib / Getty
July 25, 2019

In February, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) received a well-deserved backlash after she accused American politicians of supporting Israel because of the "Benjamins," referencing money and America's foremost pro-Israel lobbying group. Omar's suggestion—that American leaders only back the Jewish state because Jews buy their political support—is, by any reasonable definition, anti-Semitic. The next month, however, Ben Rhodes, who served as Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser, went unnoticed as he used the same slur. "The Washington view of Israel-Palestine is still shaped by the donor class," Rhodes told the New York Times. "The donor class is profoundly to the right of where the activists are, and frankly, where the majority of the Jewish community is." Sure, Rhodes's wording is more eloquent than Omar's (although inaccurate about the Jewish community's positions), but his implication is the same: scheming, wealthy Jews are gaming the political system to help Israel and, naturally, to hurt the Palestinians. Rhodes, of course, has a history of undermining the Jewish state as a prominent member of the Obama administration.

It should not be surprising, then, to see Rhodes lie and mislead to demonize Israel. He did just that earlier this week, retweeting a story on Israeli crews demolishing Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem with the added message: "Imagine having your home destroyed just because of who you are, and that being the point." Naturally, Omar and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) both endorsed Rhodes's tweet. To say that Rhodes mischaracterized the situation would be a radical understatement. It is possible that Rhodes is remarkably ignorant about Israeli affairs and did not read the article, but he is an intelligent man who presumably follows international news closely. More likely he had at least a basic idea of the truth, which would mean he intentionally misled the public.

Here are the facts that Rhodes conveniently ignored: In the early 2000s, Israel built a security barrier along the West Bank to protect itself from Palestinian terrorist attacks. The Israeli government only began to build the structure when Palestinian suicide bombers infiltrated Israel and murdered civilians at such a frequent rate that some kind of barrier became necessary. In 2011, Israeli authorities prohibited construction near the fence for security reasons. Still, residents of Sur Baher, a Palestinian neighborhood located on the outskirts of east Jerusalem along the security fence, began building apartment buildings with the Palestinian Authority's permission. The 12 buildings demolished on Monday were all within 400 meters of the barrier, in the Wadi al-Hummus section of Sur Baher. The structures in question were located on the Israeli side of the security fence but in the West Bank, under the Palestinian Authority's control. Israel's High Court of Justice ruled that the buildings could be demolished because they "constitute a security danger to the area of the security fence" and, last month, after years of legal proceedings, rejected the residents' appeal to halt the demolitions. The court is currently hearing a second appeal, but, on Sunday, rejected a request for an injunction against the demolitions until the legal proceedings are completed.

Rhodes also failed to mention that the Israeli military only demolished some of the many illegal structures in the area, that only one of the buildings contained residents (17, according to one report), and that the Jerusalem Municipality promised to advance within 180 days a new building plan for 5.5 hectares in Sur Baher. The buildings are supposed to house businesses and create 1,500 jobs.

Yet Rhodes portrays the demolitions as examples of ethnic cleansing, writing that the Jewish state destroys Palestinian homes precisely because Palestinians live in them. The truth completely contradicts his claims. If the apartment buildings were not so close to the security barrier, which only exits out of necessity to protect innocent Israelis, then Israel would not have demolished the buildings. It really is that simple. And, more generally, if Palestinians did not consistently try to murder Israelis in terrorist attacks, then Israeli authorities would not demolish attackers' homes. One can argue that demolition is a misguided policy, but no one can honestly say that it is racist. Unfortunately, Rhodes and many like-minded progressives, who view liberals as too centrist and moderate, are dishonest when it comes to Israel, so they can and do make such accusations.

The great irony here is that the Palestinians, who Rhodes purportedly supports, actually commit ethnic cleansing against Jews. Under Palestinian law, for example, selling or attempting to sell land to Jews is a crime, punishable by hard labor, imprisonment, and even execution. Furthermore, the Palestinian Authority encourages murdering Jews by rewarding terrorists who carry out attacks against Israelis. Indeed, the PA allocates hundreds of millions of dollars of its annual budget to pay these criminals and their families. Palestinian leaders also refuse to accept Jews' right to self-determination, repeatedly saying they will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. In Israel, meanwhile, Arabs comprise more than 20 percent of the population and enjoy full rights as Israeli citizens. They can even protest publicly against Israeli policies, enjoying the benefits of Israel's democracy. Moreover, many Palestinians try to work in Israel, where they earn much higher wages, and the Arab population in the Palestinian territories has skyrocketed since the founding of Israel in 1948. There is no argument to support claims of ethnic cleansing against Israel—unless, of course, someone wants to lie.

And here we get to Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.), who, just one day after Rhodes's tweet, compared Israel to Nazi Germany. Tlaib made the absurd comparison while speaking on the House floor to oppose a resolution affirming the chamber's opposition to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel. Tlaib, a Palestinian-American who supports the BDS movement, said she could not stand by and watch an attack on the right to "boycott the racist policies of the government and state of Israel."

"The right to boycott is deeply rooted in the fabric of our country," she said. "Americans boycotted Nazi Germany in response to dehumanization, imprisonment, and genocide of Jewish people."

It is shameful to liken Nazi Germany to a country full of survivors, and descendants of survivors, of the Holocaust. One reason why so many Jews were slaughtered in Europe is because they could not flee to Israel, then known as Mandatory Palestine, where Arabs actually revolted to prevent Jews from coming there.

Unfortunately, attacks like Rhodes and Tlaib's are now typical of far-left progressives, who have made hatred of the world's only Jewish state part of their moral and political doctrines. Such attacks reveal a creepy obsession with Israel, a country about the size of New Jersey that, in the progressive worldview, is somehow behind much of the world's evils.

Progressives are not just affecting Israel; they are inspiring hatred everywhere, including in the United States. Just look at Sam Zahr, a Lebanese-American who lives in Dearborn, Mich. Zahr recently delayed the scheduled opening of a franchise of Burgerim, a restaurant chain founded in Israel, after the Arab-American community lashed out at him. His kids were bullied, and he even received threatening messages, all because the burger company started in Israel. Progressives like Rhodes and Tlaib inspire—one could even argue encourage—such hatred by demonizing and delegitimizing Israel, making it seem perfectly fine to terrorize a man to crush his dreams. Zahr is a victim of the BDS movement, which Rhodes may not explicitly support but certainly helps with his rhetoric and actions.

This kind of behavior will inevitably target Jews, who are already the main victims of hate crimes, even without such pervasive assaults on Jewish sovereignty. There have been numerous examples of hatred toward Israel manifesting as attacks on Jews. The line is so blurred, in part because Israel and the Jewish people are inexorably linked. Criticizing Israel is fine, but demonizing and delegitimizing the Jewish state crosses a clear, red line, into the realm of something much worse. When progressives discard the truth to demonize Israel, they also demonize the Jewish community, whether they know it or not. They are creating an environment hostile toward Jews—an environment that, one day, may make Jews in the West that much more grateful for having Israel as a refuge.