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Did J Street Get Played?

After getting J Street’s endorsement, Rashida Tlaib changed her mind about the two-state solution.

Jacob Siegel
August 17, 2018
Screenshot from Democracy Now
Screenshot from Democracy Now
Screenshot from Democracy Now
Screenshot from Democracy Now

An interesting note appears in a number of recent stories about Rashida Tlaib’s victory last week in the Democratic primary for Michigan’s 13th district. The win, which makes her a shoe-in to take the congressional seat in a field with no Republican challenger, was assisted in part by the donations and endorsement of the liberal advocacy group J Street, “pro-peace Americans fighting for a two-state solution” according to their twitter bio. But J Street is now “seeking clarification” as it tries to sort out what positions Tlaib holds on Israel and whether the organization actually opposes the views of the politician it helped win.

The sudden need for clarity comes after Tlaib, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, abruptly changed her public position on a host of core issues related to Israel.

As a candidate she appeared to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and maintaining U.S. aid to Israel. Haaretz details a webpage set up for Tlaib on J Street’s fundraising site that states she, “believes that the U.S. should be directly involved with negotiations to reach a two-state solution. Additionally, she supports all current aid to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.” That put her in line with J Street’s own positions and qualified her for its support, which depends on candidates affirming its “core principles.” But almost immediately after she was elected Tlaib began to affirm her opposition to those principles starting with a statement to In These Times where, in response to an interviewer asking “what about a two-state solution vs. one-state” she said:

One state. It has to be one state. Separate but equal does not work. I’m only 42 years old but my teachers were of that generation that marched with Martin Luther King. This whole idea of a two-state solution, it doesn’t work.

Elsewhere in the interview Tlaib expressed support for the Palestinian “right of return.” But at other points in the interview she was more circumspect, endorsing the legality of BDS without commenting on it ethics or efficacy. In response to a direct question about criticism she had received for accepting money from J Street, she told the interviewer:

Palestinians are attacking me now, but I am not going to dehumanize Israelis. I won’t do that. Just like people do not accept Trump, I hope they don’t reflect that on me.

Many [Israelis] are marching, saying no to Netanyahu’s apartheid policies. There’s a movement in Israel I support that wants an Israel that embraces Palestinians.

In a series of subsequent interviews Tlaib expanded on her views towards Israel, adding that she would cut aid to the country. She told an interviewer at Britain’s Channel 4:

Absolutely, if it has something to do with inequality and not access to people having justice. For me, US aid should be leverage. I will be using my position in Congress so that no country, not one, should be able to get aid from the US when they still promote that kind of injustice.

Along with Democrat Ilhan Omar, who is running for Keith Ellison’s seat in Minnesota, Tlaib is poised to become one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. Both women have been hailed by supporters as trailblazers and correctives to America’s nativist trajectory under President Trump. Omar, who emigrated to America from Somalia in her teens, has been celebrated and her victory called, “especially gratifying for those in Minnesota and beyond who value opportunity and democratic inclusion.” It is especially noteworthy then that Omar once called Israel an “apartheid regime” that hypnotized the world to ignore its evil doings. And noteworthy again that she appeared to reverse those views last week addressing the Beth El synagogue in Minnesota when she affirmed Israel’s right to exist while disavowing BDS as “not helpful in getting that two-state solution.” In a kind of reversal of Tlaib’s trajectory, Omar would not have qualified for J Street support based on statements she made before her candidacy but has moved closer to a position that would merit endorsement since winning her race.

Tlaib’s trouble with J Street, her sudden reversals of positions, Omar’s changing stances on Israel; all of this points to larger shifts that are already producing visible strains. J Street, representing an older Obama-era mode of liberalism, finds itself now unexpectedly in the dark, awkwardly “seeking clarification” about its candidate’s views.

Before Tlaib and Omar, New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went through a similar public drama, first expressing hostility to Israel before offering qualified support. That is three women of color associated with the Democratic Party’s younger, left-leaning and progressive camps who have exposed a growing a fault line within the party over Israel. Three makes a trend or, in this case, a bellwether for trends in national politics.

(A spokesperson for J Street declined to comment for this article.)

Jacob Siegel is Senior Editor of News and The Scroll, Tablet’s daily afternoon news digest, which you can subscribe to here.