By Ray Hanania
Rep. Rashida Tlaib is the first Palestinian in the US Congress to experience the force of a pro-Israel political machine that has most elected American officials in a headlock of subservience. The pro-Israel powers demonize anyone who dares to criticize Israel by weaponizing “anti-Semitism” as a public bludgeon — something that was immediately used against Tlaib, a liberal Democrat and a Muslim.
Tlaib is an almost accidental member of Congress, as she won the Democratic nomination for Michigan’s 13th congressional district when four African-American rivals split that dominant community’s vote, allowing her to slip in with a majority of only 900. If she can hold onto her seat when the office comes up for re-election in August 2020, Tlaib might want to look back at the similar challenges that faced Paul Findley, one of the first victims of pro-Israel slander.
Findley was a conservative member of the Republican Party who first took office in 1960, representing an all-white farm belt district in southern Illinois. He was moved by President John F. Kennedy’s support of the civil rights movement and he opposed the Vietnam War, pushing his politics from the far right to the center. Findley, who this month died at the age of 98, was the principle authorof the War Powers Act of 1973, which limited the ability of a president to wage war.
As a champion of human rights, Findley wondered why his colleagues in the US Congress and Americans in general were silent in the face of egregious human rights violations committed against Palestinians by Israel. His concerns grew and his questions made him one of the first targets of the Israeli lobby, pushing him — during a 1978 congressional tour of war-torn Syria — to meet with Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Arafat toldFindley that the Palestinians would recognize Israel if Israel recognized the Palestinians; an offer that was not taken seriously by Israeli or American administrations until 1988.
When he returned from the trip, Findley tried to explain that he believed negotiating with Arafat was the only way to bring about peace in the Middle East and undermine the growing influence of radical elements. But Findley was immediately denounced as anti-Semitic by supporters of Israel and other members of Congress. Some Jewish officials who knew and worked with Findley said he was never anti-Semitic, although they opposedhis support of Palestinian rights.
Yet the false charge of anti-Semitism stuck and haunted his re-election bids in 1980, which he won, and 1982, which he lost to Democrat Dick Durbin. Durbin, whose campaign embraced vicious attacks on Findley for his association with Arafat and his alleged anti-Semitism, has risen to become a senior member of the Senate, where today he has argued in support of the two-state solution.
It is unfortunate that Findley’s criticism of Israel’s oppressive anti-human rights policies and his decision to meet with Arafat overshadow his many other achievements, but that is the price any American who dares to stand up to the vicious pro-Israel machine must pay.
Findley, who I met many times over the years, authored a book that every Arab-American, including Tlaib, should read and use as a blueprint for how to confront the lies and demonization of critics of Israel. It is called “They Dare to Speak Out.”
During an interview I did with Findley back in the 1980s, he told me he could deal with political criticism from other members of Congress, but was shocked at how no one challenged the pro-Israel bias of the mainstream American news media’s coverage of Israel’s atrocities against the Palestinians. The Chicago newspaper where I worked refused to run the interview.
“They Dare to Speak Out” was the first book to expose the highly financed campaigns of pro-Israel activists and lobbies that specifically mold and guard American foreign policy on Israel and Palestine. It was on the Washington Post bestseller list for nine weeks even though it was viciously trashed by pro-Israel writers at the Washington Post, New York Times and other mostly anti-Arab mainstream news publications.
When it comes to criticism of Israel, the media bias and the political demonization has not changed. Tlaib faces the same onslaught that Findley faced. It is one reason why the other Palestinian-American in the US Congress, Rep. Justin Amash, is silent when it comes to the issue of Israeli atrocities. It is unlikely that Amash, a Republican-turned-independent from Michigan’s 3rd congressional district, will follow in Findley’s footsteps, although champions of human rights should ask why not.
Things will not change in America until the news media starts to report more accurately on Israel’s violence against Christian and Muslim Palestinian civilians both inside Israel and under occupation. But the pro-Israel bias won’t change until members of Congress find the courage to stand up to Israel’s bullying, just as Findley did in the 1980s and Tlaib is doing today. It is also very unlikely that there will ever be peace until Israelis recognize the rights of Palestinians and stand up to the crimes of their far-right government.
Until then, Tlaib’s voice is an absolute necessity if we ever want to see the rule of law applied to the conflict or an end to the abyss that is America’s tacit support of Israeli human rights violations.