WaPo Pounces on Republicans Overreaching on Tlaib Seizing Upon the Holocaust

• May 13, 2019 3:12 pm


Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, no longer content to remain a distant third in the three-way contest for most embarrassing freshman Democrat, made the following comments in a recent interview.

There's 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, have 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. And so when I think about a one-state, I think about the fact that, why couldn't we do it in a better way?

At absolute best this is highly insensitive. "There's kind of a calming feeling I always tell folks when I think of the Holocaust" are not words that should leave a professional politician's mouth even in the best of contexts. Even if it were phrased better, however, the point of her comments seems to be that the real victims of the Holocaust were her people being forced to accommodate the actual victims.

But there's also the historical illiteracy. Her ancestors did not "provide" "safe haven" to the Jews, they actively tried to impede any Jewish migration to the area before, after, and during the Holocaust, with prominent Palestinian leaders overtly siding with the Nazis. Tlaib seems to want things both ways, being "humbled," "calmed," and proud of her ancestors, while acknowledging that it was "forced on them."

In any case, Zionism and Jewish migration to Palestine predated the Holocaust by decades, with the British issuing the Balfour Declaration expressing support for the creation of Israel as early at 1917. That Jews are simply Europeans who were bullied by other Europeans and moved to the Middle East in 1946 is a useful narrative to the Palestinian cause, but Jews have lived alongside Tlaib's ancestors in the Holy Land for millennia.

What I'm saying is, the comments were unquestionably bad. The whole point was for Tlaib to use the unique tragedy of the Holocaust to rail against injustices supposedly perpetuated by Jews, all in support of a fringe position that would effectively erase Israel's Jewish nature. Again, at best insanely tone deaf, and only blind partisans or fools are pretending otherwise.

I wonder into which category the Washington Post falls. "House Republicans criticize Rep. Tlaib over remarks on Holocaust, Israel," is their headline. Yes, even on this, the story is not the Democrat's gaffe, but the Republican response. I have to assume that if a Republican had talked about a "calming feeling … when I think of the Holocaust," they would be absolutely torched by the media, context be damned. Especially if said Republican had already been criticized by the Anti-Defamation League.

But the Post went beyond just "Republicans pounce" and accused the GOP of leveling false accusations against Tlaib, writing that "two of the top House Republicans on Sunday criticized her use of the phrase ‘calming feeling,' falsely accusing her of using the phrase to describe her views about the Holocaust itself" abd citing these two statements:

"There is no justification for the twisted and disgusting comments made by Rashida Tlaib just days after the annual Day of Holocaust Remembrance," House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said in a statement. "More than six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust; there is nothing ‘calming’ about that fact."

Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the No. 3 Republican in the House, issued a statement describing Tlaib’s remarks as "sickening."

"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," she said, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.). "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."

Call me crazy, but neither of those statements actually accuse Tlaib of "using the phrase [‘calming feeling']" to describe "her views about the Holocaust itself"? The Scalise statement comes closest, but I read, "More than six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust; there is nothing ‘calming’ about that fact," as a rebuke of her framing, phrasing, and tone-deafness than an accusation she delights in the murder of Jews. That he was accusing her of being "calmed" by Jew murder is one possible interpretation, but it's not a clean-cut as WaPo suggests.

Cheney's quote, meanwhile, says nothing about the "calming feeling" portion of Tlaib's statement at all. It just doesn't! The Post might think that it's implied that Cheney finds the remarks "vile," "sickening," and an instance of "anti-Semitism" because she believes Tlaib was delighting in the Holocaust. But Cheney just doesn't say that in the statement presented as evidence that she did, and it is simply false to state as fact that she did.

You can make the case that Hoyer and Cheney intended to falsely imply Tlaib meant she got a warm fuzzy feeling from the Holocaust. That's a perfectly fine opinion. But it is, at the end of the day, an opinion and one that has no place in a story filed as straight news. And even if you believe that to be the case, it's not true to state as a fact in a straight news story that they said so.

"The episode marks the second time in recent weeks Republicans have seized on out-of-context remarks by a freshman Democratic lawmaker. Last month, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) criticized Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) for the way she phrased a reference to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks," the Post concludes. The writer does not lay out how Crenshaw took Omar out of context. That hyperlink goes to a Washington Post article that does not lay out how Crenshaw took Omar out of context. That Crenshaw took Omar out of context, an opinion, appears to be simply fact now at the Post, one so established that straight news writers do not even have to show their work in asserting it.

As always, there's a clear double standard at play here. While parsing the Republicans statements for falsehoods real or imagined, Tlaib's statement is just presented as is, without commentary. The implications in the GOP statements might render them false, but the obviously false implications of Tlaib's statement are just nonexistent in the eyes of WaPo. The relevant context is Omar being unfairly attacked by Republicans, and not, say, Tlaib's long history of flirtation with anti-Semitic canards and individuals.

I honestly don't want the Washington Post interpreting Tlaib's comments in a news story. That Tlaib's comments were offensive, ignorant, or insensitive are opinions that don't belong in a straight news story unless sourced as someone's opinion. But Republicans deserve the same latitude they gave to Tlaib. The Post should have presented Tlaib, her detractors, and her supporters' statements without showing their hand so blatantly.