Straining to Defend Rashida Tlaib at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Why the leftist Jewish media leaped to the defense of a Jew-hater in Congress.
Attacks on Israel that distort the reality of the Jewish state’s past and present in the service of undermining its well-being and its very survival have become ever more widely disseminated in bastions of the Left in America. This is occurring most strikingly in academia, among both students and faculty, but also in prominent mainstream media and even within the Democrat party. At the same time, those Jews who align themselves with the Left often resort to the most contrived of contortions to mitigate the message of such attacks.
A representative example of this phenomenon was recently provided by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA)’s editor-in-chief, Andrew Silow-Carroll. The context was his contribution to the storm of comment in response to Rashida Tlaib’s remarks in a May interview on the podcast Skullduggery. Silow-Carroll’s article was entitled, “What did Rashida Tlaib say about the Holocaust? It’s probably not what you think.” What makes the piece particularly noteworthy is that the JTA is a news service whose stories are picked up by Jewish papers around the world and the rhetoric of its articles, not least that of pieces by its editor-in-chief, is shaped to have a desired impact on the service’s Jewish readership. In Silow-Carroll’s gloss on the Tlaib interview - as in many other articles put out by the JTA having to do with Israel and its critics on the Left - the rhetoric is clearly intended to reassure readers that attacks on Israel from the Left, in this case the Democrat Congresswoman’s statements, were not so problematic and that reactions to the contrary are overwrought.
Tlaib had been asked in the Skullduggery interview about her support for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how she envisioned a single state that would meet both Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish national aspirations. She never answered the question. Instead, she remarked, as transcribed by Silow-Carroll in his piece, "...two weeks ago we celebrated, or took a moment I think in our country to remember, the Holocaust. 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."
In his column, Silow-Carroll first goes after Republicans who attacked Tlaib for saying she gets a "calming feeling" when she thinks about the genocide. Well, she did say that. But Silow-Carroll insists all she meant was, as she states, "...it was my ancestors... in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews... I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that..." Silow-Carroll next goes after those who pointed out that, far from welcoming Jewish refugees during the Nazi era, Palestinian leaders worked against their immigration to British Mandate Palestine and collaborated with the Nazis during the war. (He does note Palestinian collaboration in the war against the Allies; he could also have noted collaboration in the murder of the Jews.) Silow-Carroll particularly cites Benny Morris as erroneously accusing Tlaib of crediting Palestinians with welcoming Jewish refugees. She did say they "provided" the haven but acknowledged "it was forced on them."
But what is Silow-Carroll's point? With regard to Tlaib's "calming feeling" on thinking of the Holocaust, he writes, "she is saying that even if the Jews did come and take [her people's] land and rights away, at least it was for the alleviation of another people's suffering." But she clearly hates Israel, feels its creation was a great injustice to her people, and wants to undo it with her one state solution that would ultimately make Jews a minority in a Palestinian Arab state..
Even the descendants of people who genuinely did help the Jews during and after the Holocaust, descendants of people who often put their lives at risk to extend that help, are unlikely to have - in response to their forebearers' heroism - a "calming feeling" on thinking of the Holocaust. They are much more likely to be pained, saddened, appalled by the scale of the atrocities whenever they think of it. "Calming feeling" is a bizarre statement whose meaning, for those trying to fathom it, is no less plausibly closer to that inferred by Tlaib's critics than to the gloss Silow-Carroll struggles to put on it.
And what is his point in his retort to Benny Morris for noting what Palestinian attitudes and actions towards the Jews actually were before and during World War II? Yes, Tlaib did not say that the Palestinians welcomed the Jews but she certainly doesn't acknowledge the murderous violence with which they opposed both Jews in the Mandate and those trying to survive in the Arab world and in Europe.
In addition, Tlaib insists it was the Palestinians' land to which Jewish survivors came after the war. In fact, it had been Ottoman Turkish land and, in the wake of the First World War, had been given by the League of Nations as a homeland to the Jews, both those already living there - including those who had been either a plurality or majority in Jerusalem for more than a century - and those who would immigrate there. The League of Nations did so in the context of creating or recreating many nations from the lands of the German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman empires. These nations included Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Syria and Iraq, with Syria, Iraq and the Jewish national home all being held as mandates by Britain or France to foster nation-building. In every instance, there were ethnic and religious groups within the new nations that were not happy with the new situation, but nowhere else was this seen as delegitimizing the nation-building project.
Silow-Carroll never directly addresses Tlaib's false characterization of the land on which Israel was established as appropriated Palestinian land. Nor does he note that it was in defiance of League of Nations objections and in the service of what it construed as its imperial interests that Britain severely restricted Jewish admission to the Mandate in the years before and during World War II while allowing in large numbers of Arabs from neighboring states, people who then became “Palestinians.” Nor does he address the fact that it was not Israel's establishment that led to, in Tlaib’s words, "my ancestors - Palestinians - [losing] their land and some their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity, their existence in many ways..." In fact, they would have suffered none of that if they had accepted the United Nations' 1947 division of the Mandate - all of which had been intended by the League of Nations for the Jewish homeland - into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. It was the Palestinians' rejection of the UN plan and their going to war to prevent its implementation and to destroy the Jewish community that led to the losses she laments.
Even as he is silent on these truths and tries to put the best possible gloss he can contrive on Tlaib's remarks, Silow-Carroll ultimately acknowledges that that gloss still reflects her echoing the false "...anti-Zionist refrain that the Jews escaped the window of a burning house only to land on someone else's head."
Still he is determined to put a positive spin on Tlaib's rhetoric and to take to task her critics among Republicans, the "Jewish commentariat and media," the Israeli press and many other voices in the Jewish world, as well as some Democrats who want "to separate themselves from the increasingly diverse insurgency on their left."
But, again, what is Silow-Carroll’s point? What drives his strained arguments? In trying to discern the answer, it is worth noting once more that a central recurrent theme in left-leaning Jewish media, including the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, is insistence on downplaying the extremism of anti-Israel voices on the Left, to rationalize their rhetoric and arguments and even to cast them in positive terms. They do so to oppose an Israeli government and Israeli policies with which they disagree. They do so to counter Israel's supporters on the American Right and in the mainstream American Jewish community and even in the American Center-Left, and often as well to make common cause with more radical elements of the American Left even as those elements embrace increasingly strident anti-Israel positions. And they do so not least to sway a worldwide Jewish readership to be less critical of, and more receptive to, Israel’s attackers on the Left.
These ideologically driven stances by a significant segment of Jewish outlets and Jewish commentators do a gross disservice to the reality of Israel's history, current situation and challenges. In prioritizing promoting their leftist allegiances over informing and educating their Jewish readership, they routinely obscure the truth-telling that is at once the most ethical and most effective response to those such as Tlaib who seek to undermine Israel and ultimately to see it destroyed.