There is angst in the Democratic Party over the party’s emerging hostile stance on Israel, and it finally broke onto the New York Times front page on Saturday. “Discord Over Israel Reveals Democrats’ Divide,” an update on two controversial new Democratic Muslim congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota (now serving on the House Foreign Relations Committee).
Tlaib and Omar are both supporters of the anti-Israel, some say anti-Semitic, Boycott, Divestments, Sanctions movement, known as the BDS movement. Both have gotten themselves into controversy with controversial, inflammatory statements about Israel, though the Times and other outlets have often sidestepped the matter. Sheryl Gay Stolberg’s new story makes up for the omission somewhat, though still pulls some punches and focus on Republican pouncing.
The Times’ online headline: “From Celebrated to Vilified, House’s Muslim Women Absorb Blows Over Israel.” If that line sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because the paper used a nearly identical formulation in a headline over a more “glorifying” previous story by Stolberg in December 2018: “Glorified and Vilified, Former Somalia Refugee Makes Her Way to Capitol.” The text box to that older story: “Sure-footed and tough, with a flair for inspirational rhetoric.”
“Inspirational” is one way to put it. Omar caused more controversy with a January 31 tweet comparing Israel to the Jim Crow South: “In the same way many Americans knew separate yet equal was immoral but remained silent until brave few were silent no more.” That one didn’t make it into Stolberg’s story, but she did round up several other inflammatory statements from Tlaib and Omar.
Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota were hailed as symbols of diversity when they were sworn in last month as the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress, Ms. Tlaib in her mother’s hand-embroidered Palestinian thobe, Ms. Omar in a tradition-shattering hijab.
Four weeks later, their uncompromising views on Israel have made them perhaps the most embattled new members of the Democratic House majority. Almost daily, Republicans brashly accuse Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Omar of anti-Semitism and bigotry, hoping to make them the Democrats’ version of Representative Steve King as they try to tar the entire Democratic Party with their criticism of the Jewish state.
And while Democratic leaders publicly defend them, some Democratic colleagues are clearly uneasy....
Both women are under fire for comments they have made on Twitter, and in Ms. Tlaib’s case, for her association with Palestinian rights activists who have used social media either to express or share extreme views, such as equating Zionism with Nazism. Both declined to be interviewed, instead sending written statements in which they expressed their commitment to fighting hatred of any kind, while also standing up for the oppressed.
Defenders of the women warn that their critics are entering dangerous territory by conflating anti-Zionism, hostility toward Israel as a Jewish state, with anti-Semitism, hostility toward Jews -- a trend that Jeremy Ben Ami, the president of J Street, the liberal Jewish advocacy group, said he found “disturbing.” J Street did not endorse Ms. Omar and rescinded its endorsement of Ms. Tlaib after she declined to publicly support a two-state solution with Israel and a Palestinian state existing side by side.
Stolberg rectified a shocking instance of bias by omission by fellow Times reporter Catie Edmondson, who truncated an inflammatory part of a Rep. Rashida Tlaib tweet in a January 29 story, a tweet that accused American Jews of dual loyalty. Edmondson wrote:
Ms. Tlaib took a swing at the anti-B.D.S. legislation this month, writing on Twitter that “this is the U.S. where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality.” Mr. Rubio fired back, “This ‘dual loyalty’ canard is a typical anti-Semitic line.” The movement “isn’t about freedom & equality, it’s about destroying #Israel,” he continued.
The pro-Israel media watchdog CAMERA noticed the Times left out the first part of Tlaib’s tweet (“They forgot what country they represent.”), making Rubio’s complaint about “dual loyalty” appear nonsensical.
Stolberg included what her colleague Edmondson left out, which made Rubio’s complaint make sense again:
When the Senate took up its anti-B.D.S. bill in early January, Ms. Tlaib took to Twitter. “They forgot what country they represent,” she wrote, referring to its Senate backers.
Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida and the lead sponsor of the bill, shot back: “This ‘dual loyalty’ canard is a typical anti-Semitic line”....
Credit Stolberg for hitting the high points of the controversies for Times readers who may not have previously encountered them, like the social media postings of some of Tlaib’s radical supporters.