Rashida Tlaib (D-West Bank) has gone on a rampage again. She’s accused Israel of “apartheid” and “stealing Palestinian homes” – so far so predictable, but now she’s added a new charge – that Israel has deliberately been setting fires to Palestinian land. A report on her latest outburst is here: “Top US Jewish Group Calls for Rashida Tlaib to Remove ‘Falsehood’ About Israelis Setting Fire to Palestinian Fields,” Algemeiner, May 6, 2021
A leading US Jewish group called on Congressman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) to remove a tweet that accused Israel of “apartheid” and “stealing Palestinian homes and burning their lands” as she shared an account of Israelis setting fires to Palestinian fields that was retracted by the Israeli NGO that originated it.
“.@RashidaTlaib, you shared a falsehood about Israeli Jews setting fire to Palestinian fields. This ugly claim has been retracted. You’re a member of Congress. Take down your tweet. Or is it okay to perpetuate untruths when they fit your policy agenda?” the American Jewish Committee (AJC) tweeted Thursday.
On Wednesday, Tlaib retweeted an article about fires near the Palestinian village of Burin, drawing from a Palestinian media sources and a May 4 tweet by the left-wing NGO B’Tselem, which shared a photo of the flames and blamed Israeli “settlers.”
“Stealing Palestinian homes and burning their lands. The actions of an apartheid state. We cannot stand by and watch this happen,” Tlaib wrote, tagging the account of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “Billions of US taxpayers dollars support Netanyahu’s government and this racist violence. We must condemn this swiftly.”
“The actions of an apartheid state”? Yet one more time, let’s review the evidence: Arabs in Israel serve in the Knesset, sit on the Supreme Court, go abroad as diplomats. An Arab judge, George Kara, presided over the trial of President Moshe Katsav and sentenced him to prison. The chairman of Israel’s largest bank, Bank Leumi, is an Arab. Jews and Arabs study together in universities, work together in factories and offices, are treated in the same hospitals, play on the same sports teams and in the same orchestras. Where is the apartheid in any of this?
What about Tlaib’s charge that Israelis are “burning their [Palestinian] lands”? There is no record of Israelis setting fire to the fields near the village of Burin, or indeed, anywhere else. There are no videos of Jews near the fields when they supposedly set alight. A Palestinian source sent a dramatic nighttime photo of Burin, with fields burning in the background, to the left-wing Israeli NGO B’Tselem. B’Tselem tweeted the photo with this caption, “settlers torched Palestinian fields in Burin.”…
At 8:10 am, B’Tselem also sent a release to the media about it, but within two hours, at 10:07, had taken it down. No explanation was given. But media reports emerged that the fires were in fact started by Palestinian arsonists, the Israeli NGO later said that the “The fires in Burin tonight are being re-examined. I will update with any new information I have,” according to the Jerusalem Post, which said that no further information followed. Several days later, B’Tselem has continued to remain silent. It is no doubt worried about the legal consequences of its original — false — charge, and doesn’t want to make matters worse for itself either by admitting to the falsity of its original tweet and subsequent release to the media, or by continuing to stick with that falsehood. It could have avoided its current woes simply by reporting on the fire, and providing the competing versions of Arabs and Israelis as to who was behind it. It’s not even clear from B’Tselem whether the burning fields belonged to Palestinians. Might they have belonged to Israelis? The NGO ought to have checked out the original charge, even sent an investigator to the area to interview both Jews and Arabs, and to weigh the evidence presented by both sides. It did nothing but repeat a Palestinian accusation as fact. B’Tselem clearly has a problem with due diligence.
The outrage of the Israelis is palpable; they are so certain that they have been wronged that they are now going to sue the NGO for slander. Perhaps the tort is libel, rather than slander, as it appears B’Tselem made its charge not orally, but in writing. This may cost B’Tselem dearly.
But what of Rashida Tlaib? There is Congressional immunity for all statements made in the Congress itself or, outside Congress, if those statements have already been published in the Congressional Record. But a tweet going out into the world for the first time has clearly not been published previously in the Congressional Record. Was Tlaib’s tweet made from her Congressional office, or was it made at her home, in a car, at a restaurant, on a plane? Surely there are many American lawyers who would be willing to take the case of the Samaria Regional Council v. Tlaib, to test the scope of Congressional immunity, and possibly, to make new and important law relevant to the age of the tweet. If I were Rashida Tlaib, I’d be concerned.