Tlaib and Omar: Moral leaders of the Democratic Party

Tlaib and Omar's BDS support makes them moral leaders in the Democratic Party
5 min read
11 Feb, 2019
Comment: Campaigning to boycott Israel places them at the vanguard of the party's youth appeal, writes CJ Werleman.
Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib react during Donald Trump's State of the Union address [Getty]
In 2018, American voters elected one of the most diverse new congressional classes ever, sending a record number of women and racial minorities to shake things up in both legislative chambers of US political power - the House and Senate.

All in all, 117 women were elected or appointed to Congress, but no two have created a bigger splash or caused nearly as much of a nationwide freak-out as the hysteria that has being whipped up by swearing in of Rashid Tlaib and Ilhan Omar into the 116th US Congress.

From the moment Rashida Tlaib, the daughter to Palestinian immigrants, and Iihan Omar, the daughter to Somali refugees, were sworn into the country's highest political chamber with their respective hands atop Islam's holiest book - the Quran - the usual and predictable anti-Muslim conspiracy theories from the Islamophobia Industry have followed, and the bogus charges of anti-Semitism from those associated with the Israel lobby have ensued.

The pressure and scrutiny on both Tlaib and Omar, however, is about to be turned up a notch now that the US Senate has
advanced legislation that takes aim at the boycott movement against Israel, with a slim majority of Senate Democrats joining Republicans to vote in favour of the anti-Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) bill.

Essentially, the bill aims to criminalise free speech, protecting Israel from criticism and non-violent opposition to its heinous violations of international law and mistreatment of the Palestinian people.

The Senate bill now moves to the House, however, where Democrats hold a sizeable majority, putting the political spotlight on freshmen Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar.

Significantly, both have expressed support for the BDS movement, with Omar boasting of having openly "fought to make sure people's right to support it isn't criminalised", while Tlaib not only offers a full-throated support for the boycott Israel movement, but also brazenly and bravely dares the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) to take her on.

"I wish to humanise Palestinians, provide an alternative perspective to the one AIPAC pushes, and highlight the inherent inequality of Israel's system of military occupation in Palestinian territories," asserted Tlaib in a recent interview, in which she draws comparisons to the treatment of African Americans in the Jim Crow South, while accusing AIPAC of providing American audiences with a "one-sided lens", that "doesn't show the side I know to be real, which is what's happening to my grandmother and what's happening to my family there".

With the Senate's bill moving to the House, AIPAC and its staunchly pro-Israel allies will throw everything including the proverbial kitchen sink at both Tlaib and Omar in an effort to falsely paint them as anti-Semitic and sympathisers with extremist Islamic groups, including Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood - the line of attack already taken up by Frank Gaffney, one of President Trump's foreign policy advisors and long time AIPAC beneficiary.

"What makes congresswomen like Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar… so dangerous is that they are not simply talking to an outfit that I think is properly described as Hamas doing business as CAIR, but that they fully share the Muslim Brotherhood's ideology and ambitions to achieve the triumph of Sharia in our country too," said Frank Gaffney in a recent interview.

Tlaib and Omar will need to restate their already well reasoned arguments for supporting Palestinian human rights and the BDS movement in an even clearer manner

If falsely painting the two Muslim congresswomen as sympathisers with Islamist extremism or anti-Semitism gains even limited traction with voters in a large number of constituencies where Democrats hold House seats, then AIPAC and its allies will then attempt to smear the entire Democratic Party with the same brush - ie: soft on Islamist extremism and weak in its support for Israel, which might help pressure more House Democrats to come out in support of the Senate's bill.

To counter this strategy, both Tlaib and Omar will need to restate their already well reasoned arguments for supporting Palestinian human rights and the BDS movement in an even clearer manner, reminding American voters the US civil rights struggle succeeded only because of the constitutionally protected right to boycott, which is in itself an act of free speech.

While staunchly pro-Palestinian views and support for BDS place both Tlaib and Omar outside of the publicly stated positions of the Democrat Party, particularly among elder stalwarts, they are consistent with those expressed by what has become the spiritual heart and soul of the party - those aged 18 to 35 years.

"In Congress, a sidling away from Israel among Democrats may already be underway," observes Shmuel Rosner for The New York Times. "Once, Democratic legislators had to worry about appearing unsupportive of Israel; today some of them - especially those who need to be re-elected by liberal voters - seem to have the opposite concern: They do not want to be seen as too supportive."

It's for this reason that Senate Democrats who've already declared or signalled their intention to run for the White House in 2020 were among the minority of their colleagues in voting against the Senate bill to criminalise BDS, with Corey Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Elisabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sander (I-VT) among the 22 of the 47 Democrats to vote no, but it's worth noting that all of the aforementioned here have expressed opposition to BDS.

To this end, Tlaib and Omar have already established themselves as moral leaders in their party, championing universal human rights, and equality for the Palestinian people. They were elected for speaking loudly and boldly on equality for all. They will need to be even louder if the Senate's unconstitutional effort to silence criticism of Israel is to be defeated.

CJ Werleman is the author of 'Crucifying America', 'God Hates You, Hate Him Back' and 'Koran Curious', and is the host of Foreign Object.

Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

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.