Rashida Tlaib's Monstrous Distortion of History

The congresswoman is either shockingly ignorant or pursuing a more wicked agenda

Rep. Rashida Tlaib / Getty
May 14, 2019

Rashida Tlaib is apparently proud of her ancestors encouraging Hitler, preventing Jews from escaping Nazi rule, and waging war to crush any hopes of establishing a Jewish state, arguing that, somehow, Palestinian Arabs protected the Jewish people. Either that, or the first-term Democratic congresswoman is intentionally misleading the public, or she is just wildly ignorant of Middle Eastern history. There are literally no other explanations for Tlaib's comments to Yahoo News's podcast "Skullduggery" last week. Vile, bizarre, and historically false, her recent remarks need to be refuted not only because of their corrosive effect on humanity's collective intellect, but also because of their seemingly malicious intent.

"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," said Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress. "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."

So what is the problem? First, never say the Holocaust evokes a "calming feeling." Let us examine the context for a moment. Tlaib is saying that, when she thinks of the Holocaust, she does not become saddened thinking of the slaughter of six million Jews, as most people do. Instead, she becomes calm while recalling the deeds of her Arab ancestors. It is just a bizarre thing to say.

Second, there were no Palestinians, as we understand the term today, in the Middle East in the 1930s and 1940s, just Arabs. There is a reason why, in 1947, the United Nations recommended the creation of a Jewish state and an Arab state in Mandatory Palestine, not a Palestinian one. No one called the Arabs living in Palestine at the time the Palestinian people, including the residents themselves, nor did anyone define them as a unique nation. In fact, Jews living there were also called Palestinians. Moreover, during World War II, Arabs across the Middle East saw themselves as part of one nationality. For example, an official German record of the meeting between Hitler and the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, in Berlin in 1941 says, "The Arabs were striving for the independence and unity [emphasis mine] of Palestine, Syria, and Iraq." Jordan could be included in that list, too. Palestinians, like Syrians and Iraqis, did not seem themselves as Palestinians or Syrians or Iraqis, but rather as Arabs, united in part by a clear goal: preventing the creation of a Jewish state on what they saw—and too many still see—in absolute terms as Arab, Muslim land. One final point: the name "Palestine" comes from the Romans, who in the second century CE crushed a Jewish revolt and renamed the area of Judea as Palestina—a reference to the Philistines, traditional enemies of the Jews—in an attempt to minimize Jewish ties to the land of Israel. In other words, the name "Palestine" has nothing to do with the Palestinian people.

Third and most importantly, the Palestinian Arabs did not try, as Tlaib claims, to create a safe haven for Jews in British-administered Palestine; rather, the Arabs tried to prevent such a haven. From 1936 to 1939, the Palestinian Arabs revolted against the British for allowing Jews into the land, leading London to issue the White Paper of 1939, which significantly cut Jewish immigration to Palestine for the first five years and then made it contingent on Arab consent—in other words, ending it altogether. So, because of the Palestinian Arabs' violent revolts, Jews were unable to escape Nazi oppression in Europe and flee to their ancient homeland, trapping them in Hitler's genocidal prison.

Even more egregious, the aforementioned Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who was the Sunni Muslim cleric in charge of the city's Islamic holy sites from 1921 to 1948, was not only a raging anti-Semite, but also a rabid supporter of Hitler's "Final Solution" to exterminate European Jewry. Indeed, the German record of Hitler's meeting with the Mufti notes that, according to the latter, "the Arabs were Germany's natural friends because they had the same enemies as had Germany, namely the English, the Jews, and the communists. Therefore they were prepared to cooperate with Germany with all their hearts and stood ready to participate in the war, not only negatively by the commission of acts of sabotage and the instigation of revolutions, but also positively by the formation of an Arab Legion." Thwarting the creation of a Jewish state was central to this most unholy of alliances. "Germany stood for uncompromising war against the Jews," Hitler said, according to the record. "That naturally included active opposition to the Jewish national home in Palestine, which was nothing other than a center, in the form of a state, for the exercise of destructive influence by Jewish interests."

About two years after the meeting, Heinrich Himmler, the infamous Nazi SS commander, wrote a telegram to the Mufti, explaining that Germany would stand firmly by the Arabs in Palestine in their fight against the establishment of a Jewish homeland there. "The National-Socialist movement of the great Germany has made its fight against world Jewry a guiding principle since its very beginning," Himmler wrote. "For that reason [the movement] has been closely following the battle of freedom-seeking Arabs—and especially in Palestine—against the Jewish invaders." The Nazis and at least some Palestinian Arab leaders had an understanding: keep the Jews out of their ancient homeland and trapped in Europe, where the German war machine could exterminate them.

Palestinian Arab opposition to a safe haven for Jews continued after the Nazis were defeated. As I wrote last month:

[The Arabs] boycotted the [United Nations] Special Committee on Palestine, which the General Assembly empowered to make recommendations about the future government of the territory, rejecting both the partition [of the land into Arab and Jewish states] and a single, binational state. Then the Arabs completely, and unambiguously, rejected the General Assembly's partition plan, believing that, once the British left Mandatory Palestine, they would defeat the Jews and control the entire area. Of course the Arabs failed, despite the help of several armies. The Jewish state of Israel, established in 1948, endured, and the Palestinian Arabs, who could have had their own state, remained stateless.

So, to sum up, Tlaib's ancestors, who she says sacrificed everything to create a safe haven for the Jews in Palestine, actually forced Britain to block Jews from going there, collaborated with the Nazis to keep the Jews away from the Middle East and in Europe's concentration camps, and then refused to live alongside the Jews and waged war to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state. How did any of that help the Jews exactly?

If the Palestinian Arabs lost their dignity during this time, as Tlaib claims, then they have themselves to blame. If the Arabs wanted a state in Palestine, they could have had one, but they chose to prioritize denying Jewish Zionists their happiness over seeking their own.

More than a radical case of historical revisionism, Tlaib's comments are part of something more sinister: an effort to separate the Jewish people from the land of Israel, in an effort to destroy Israel as the Jewish state. Tlaib grounds Israel's legitimacy, and the moral and historical reasons for its existence, in the horrors of the Holocaust. Forget about the more than 3,000 years of continuous Jewish presence in the land of Israel, and of the deeply entrenched legal, historical, and religious ties that Jews have there; certainly forget about the Jewish people yearning to return to the land throughout 2,000 years in exile, not to mention the modern Zionist movement, which began in the mid-19th century; also forget about Britain's commitments to establish a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, including the Balfour Declaration, which, far from being a unilateral move, received the contemporary equivalent of the international community's endorsement; and, of course, forget the U.N.'s recommendation to create a Jewish state in Palestine. The Jewish people only have Israel because of the Holocaust, and the sympathy it created for them among Europeans. So the imperialist powers worked with the Jews to kick the Palestinians off of their land. At least that is the Palestinian narrative, which Tlaib seems to endorse. And still, the congresswoman has the audacity to think the Jews of Israel should be kissing the feet of the Palestinians for being so noble, so generous to sacrifice their collective wellbeing to help a people whose population has still not recovered from the six million it lost during the Holocaust.

Ignoring, hoping ultimately to erase, the Jewish people's ties to Israel is part of a campaign to destroy Israel as the Jewish state through demonization and delegitimization. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which Tlaib supports, is the leading effort of this vile campaign. That a member of Congress supports this agenda is deeply disturbing. More disturbing, however, is that her deceitful, anti-intellectual approach to issues concerning Israel is a tenet of the progressive movement, which has institutionalized the modern form of anti-Semitism in an effort to undermine Israel to the point that it submits to the mob and ceases to exist as the world has come to know it, leaving millions of Jews vulnerable to the whims of those who are at best indifferent to their fate, and at worst eager to solve the world's "Jewish problem."

Now, it is possible that Tlaib is just unaware of all of this history and does not have malicious intent. If that is the case, then I hope she reads this piece and reconsiders her position with an open mind. That being said, I am not holding my breath.