From Two States to One: Michigan's Rashida Tlaib Shifts Position on Israel

Did Palestinian-American Congressional candidate Rashida Tlaib pull a bait-and-switch on the two-state solution and U.S. aid to Israel? J Street wants to know

Rashida Tlaib gives an interview to Channel 4 News.
Screenshot / Channel 4 News / YouTube

Palestinian-American congressional nominee Rashida Tlaib’s radically shifting positions on key issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has sparked concern in J Street, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization that endorsed her candidacy.

Before her victory in last week’s Michigan Democratic primary, Tlaib’s campaign represented her as supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and endorsing continuing U.S. aid to Israel. Since the primary win, Tlaib has staked out far different positions in media interviews, explicitly endorsing a one-state solution and opposing aid, a change celebrated by far-left Palestinian activists, who sharply criticized her for seeking out and receiving the J Street endorsement.

In response, J Street’s Senior Vice President of Public Engagement Jessica Rosenblum told Haaretz the organization is “currently seeking clarification from Rashida Tlaib’s campaign regarding her recent comments on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The organization’s biggest concern involves Tlaib’s apparent withdrawal of support for a negotiated two-state solution for the conflict. Throughout the vetting process, during which J Street decides which candidates to support, Rosenblum said, “we are clear and unequivocal with all the candidates who we consider for endorsement what our core principles and commitments are. We only endorse candidates who have affirmed support for them."

According to Rosenblum, “support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” was the most important considerations in the group agreeing to offer its endorsement.

On Tlaib’s candidate page on the J Street PAC website, on which supporters can donate to her directly, the description states that Tlaib “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, particularly to fund initiatives that ‘foster peace, as well as economic and humanitarian services.’ Tlaib does not support the expansion of settlements and believes that they make it difficult to reach a sustainable two-state solution.”

On the eve of the primary, Steve Tobocman, a senior adviser to Tlaib, told Haaretz that she supported a two-state solution. Tobocman added that while the Palestinian-American congressional nominee hasn’t issued any position papers regarding any other aspects of foreign policy, she has done so on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because she “sought out the support and received the endorsement of J Street.”

But in a post-victory interview with the website “In These Times,” Tlaib, who talked about her Palestinian family – including a grandfather “who was shot 11 times” – outlined very different positions than those represented by J Street.

Asked whether she supported a one-state or two-state solution, her response was clear: “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.”

On U.S. aid to Israel, she said, “Americans should not be aiding any country that doesn’t support human rights. I’ve been very clear. I will not support racist countries that pick and choose who gets access to justice.”

She condemned the “unequal treatment in Israel, in the different colored license plates for Palestinians; and even in the ocean,” recalling, “when I was 19 and with my family and some of them had head scarves on, we all jumped in the water and the Israelis jumped out as if my cousins were diseased.”

At the same time, she said she refused to “dehumanize Israelis,” particularly those who are “marching” and “saying no to Netanyahu’s apartheid policies.”  

In an earlier interview broadcast by Britain’s Channel 4, Tlaib also said she would “absolutely” back withholding aid to Israel, in keeping with her opposition to Israel’s “discrimination.” In response to the Channel 4 interview, the Jewish Democratic Council of America said it “disagrees” with Tlaib’s position.

On August 7, Tlaib won the Democratic nomination for Michigan’s 13th Congressional district, which encompasses parts of Detroit and surrounding suburbs and is home to one of the largest Muslim and Arab-American populations in the United States. Since no candidate ran in the Republican primary, Tlaib is expected to win the seat.