Iconic Tlaib speech condemns 'separate and unequal' Israeli apartheid

Rashida Tlaib's momentous 'separate and unequal speech' makes her an icon of our times
4 min read
10 Dec, 2019
Comment: Tlaib's fiery speech on Palestinian rights, delivered in the House of Representatives challenges Democrats to pressure Israel to end its apartheid rule, writes Josh Ruebner.
'We must take bolder actions to ensure human rights are upheld in Israel' said Tlaib[Getty]
If the United States ever abandons its support for Israel's separate-and-unequal regime toward the Palestinian people, then historians will surely look back at Rep. Rashida Tlaib's (D-MI) iconic speech on Palestinian rights, delivered in the House of Representatives on 6 December, as a significant turning point in that process.

Proudly draped in a keffiyeh - a Palestinian national symbol of resistance to Israeli oppression - the first-ever Palestinian American Congresswoman took to the floor to oppose House Resolution 326, a nonbinding resolution ostensibly supporting a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, but diluted to the point of meaninglessness. 

Many Republican members of Congress have previously cast doubt on the desirability of Palestinian statehood, preferring instead the Trump administration's vision of a one-state apartheid resolution in which Israel would exercise perpetual domination over the Palestinian people.

Tlaib last week, however, broke new ground by denouncing on the House floor a two-state resolution from the vantage point of universal human rights. Calling Palestinian statehood in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip not only "unrealistic" and "unattainable", she also made the case that a two-state resolution "legitimises inequality, ethnic discrimination and inhuman conditions."

It's not clear if Tlaib is referring to the inequality that would be inherent between Israel and a newborn Palestinian state, whose sovereignty would be severely circumscribed as proposed in all prior negotiations. Or if she means the ethnic discrimination she cites would be a continuation of today's second-class citizenship for Palestinians citizens of Israel.

Tlaib broke new ground by denouncing on the House floor a two-state resolution from the vantage point of universal human rights

Perhaps she is referring to the inhuman conditions of Palestinian refugees who would be denied their right of return and forced to remain in refugee camps under a two-state resolution.

Regardless of the potentially ambiguous phrasing of this statement, it is nevertheless crucially significant, since Tlaib stakes her claim that the two-state resolution is intrinsically immoral and unjust, challenging her Democratic colleagues to think beyond a stale and unworkable paradigm.

Many of Tlaib's fellow Democrats (and some Republicans) have warned for years about the window of opportunity shutting for a two-state resolution due to Israel's ongoing, illegal colonisation of Palestinian land in the West Bank.

However, these members of Congress have perpetually left that window open just a crack to postpone reckoning with the fact that Israel is not ending its military occupation, that it already has imposed a de facto annexation of most of the West Bank, and that there is currently a one-state Israeli apartheid rule between the river and the sea.

Tlaib is less equivocal than the rest of her colleagues about the feasibility of a Palestinian state in the indeterminate future, calling out Israel for having taken actions already "to ensure its demise".

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party "increased their illegal taking of Palestinian homes, imprisoned more Palestinian children than ever before, and are building walls right now to annex the West Bank and other Palestinian villages," she argued.

Tlaib's speech was also momentous because unlike most of her Democratic colleagues who constrict their critique to some aspects of Israel's human rights abuses of Palestinians living under military rule (and never fail to "balance" their criticism with condemnation of Palestinian behavior), the first-term congresswoman also spoke out against supremacist laws enacted by Israel's so-called democratic parliament.

In 2018, Israel enacted the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law, a bill with constitutional force, proclaiming that only Jewish people are entitled to self-determination in Israel. This law, Tlaib rightfully claimed "eliminated the political rights of the Palestinian people and effectively made them second-class citizens."

Referencing the United States' shameful legacy of Jim Crow, Tlaib declared that "separate but equal didn't work in our country, and I can't see that it is possible in other countries. Given our nation's history of segregation, we should recognize when such injustices are occurring."

And in the face of these injustices, "we must take bolder actions to ensure that human rights are upheld in Israel and that Palestinians and Black Israelis are treated with equality every human being deserves," Tlaib urged.

The first-term congresswoman also spoke out against supremacist laws enacted by Israel's so-called democratic parliament

H.Res.326 narrowly passed on a mostly partisan vote.

Congress is divided as never before over its policy prescriptions for the Israeli-Palestinian issue with most Republicans openly denying the right to Palestinian self-determination and most Democrats halfheartedly giving lip-service to an outmoded paradigm which bears no relevance to realities on the ground. 

In this context, the time is ripe for Congress to take up Tlaib's challenge to pressure Israel to end its apartheid rule and bring about democracy and equality.

Josh Ruebner is senior principal at Progress Up Consulting and author of Israel: Democracy or Apartheid State? and Shattered Hopes: Obama's Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace.

Follow him on Twitter: @joshruebner

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.