Opinion

Rashida Tlaib and Benjamin Netanyahu's anti-Zionist Alliance

They're the strangest of bedfellows, but both want to destroy the Jewish state. At least Tlaib is honest about her support for a one state solution; Netanyahu is not

Then Rep.-elect Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, on the house floor before being sworn into the 116th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Jan. 3, 2019
Carolyn Kaster,AP

I am not that worried about Ilhan Omar and the threat that she may or may not pose to the State of Israel and the Jewish people. In my view, in fact, Omar has gotten more attention than she deserves.

I am far more worried about Rashida Tlaib and Benjamin Netanyahu and the anti-Zionist alliance that the two of them are cooking up.

Does this sound extreme, bizarre, over-the-top? Hear me out. 

Tlaib and Netanyahu, while approaching the subject from different angles, have both emerged as advocates of a single state from the river to the sea, encompassing what is now Israel and the occupied territories. 

For Tlaib, the state will be Greater Palestine; for Netanyahu, it will be Greater Israel. But whatever it is called, it will not have a Jewish majority, and therefore will be neither Jewish nor Zionist, in any meaningful sense of those terms. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech during a meeting of his Likud party in Tel Aviv on May 6, 2012
JACK GUEZ / AFP

Rashida Tlaib, to her credit, is at least honest about her intentions. 

Unlike Ilhan Omar, who formally favors a two-state solution - that is, a Jewish and Palestinian state, existing side by side - Tlaib wants one state, where issues of religion and ethnicity are irrelevant and where those who are now Palestinians and Israelis coexist in a single political entity. 

Unlike Omar, Tlaib is of Palestinian origin, and her grandmother still lives in the West Bank. And unlike Omar, the Israel-Palestinian conflict has shaped her political consciousness and is central to her political outlook.  "My social justice and passion for human rights was birthed in Palestine," she says.

I am not dismissing the significance of Omar’s words. To suggest that American politicians support Israel because they have been bought off by Jewish money is anti-Semitism, pure and simple. Still, on Jewish and Israeli issues, Omar often comes across as befuddled and inconsistent.  When she says something offensive, she apologizes and seems responsive to Jewish concerns, but then proceeds to say something offensive again. Whether she will ultimately get her bigotry under control remains to be seen, although it is unlikely that Israel will be her major political interest.

>> Ilhan Omar Just Doesn’t Get Why Americans Support Israel

But Tlaib will take hold of the Palestinian issue and will not let it go. More expert, experienced, and focused than Omar on Middle Eastern matters, and completely obsessed with her vision of a Greater Palestine, hers will be the anti-Israel voice that will matter most in the next two years.   

And it will be a dangerous voice because her tone is one of honey rather than hatred. Most of those who demand Israel’s disappearance speak a language of anti-Israel bigotry; they despise Israelis and sympathize with terror against Jews. Israelis, they imply or say outright, are to be militarily defeated and expelled from their homes. 

But Tlaib speaks another language altogether. With constant references to the civil rights movement, she calls for a single state with equality and justice for all its inhabitants, Arab and Jew alike. Her goal, she says, is integration of Israelis and Palestinians, including Palestinian refugees now dwelling in other countries, with no discrimination against people based on their faith or skin color. 

A Palestinian flag graffiti mural sits on a section of the Israeli West Bank security barrier wall at the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, Israel. Dec. 15, 2017
Bloomberg

Does Tlaib really believe in this vision of a single state, fully integrated and with equal rights for all? Or is it a cover for the anti-Israel, anti-Jewish sentiments usually expressed by Palestinian leaders? It is hard to say. 

Many of those who support her do not hesitate to compare Zionists with Nazis and to sympathize with Hezbollah, with its fantasies of driving the Jews into the sea.  But Tlaib angrily rejects any effort to associate her with the demons of war and extermination, pointing out her long-standing call for a just and peacefully-arrived-at one-state solution.

>> What the 'One-state Solution' Really Means: Israeli-sanctioned Apartheid or Eternal, Bloody Civil War 

The problem, of course, is that even assuming her sincerity, her idea of a single Jewish/Palestinian state in which Jews and Palestinians live together and enjoy equal rights is a complete pipedream

The long, violent history of the conflict between Palestinians and Jews and their radically different national narratives mean that the creation of such a state would lead to chaos, terror, mob violence, and ongoing civil war. The answer to the conflict is not mixing hostile populations but separating them. 

There is not a single country in the Middle East that could serve as a model for a workable, peaceable, bi-national country of seven million Jews and seven million Palestinian Arabs. To these considerations must be added the simple fact that the Jewish people and the Palestinian people are each entitled, as a matter of fundamental justice, to a state of their own. 

And so surely the leaders of the State of Israel are opposed to Tlaib’s preposterous proposition, right? After all, the majority of the citizens of Israel still favor a two-state solution. So how could Jewish leaders, inspired by Zionist principles, possibly favor a single state that lacks a stable Jewish majority?

And yet Benjamin Netanyahu has moved to precisely that position, leading a party that openly advocates annexation of the West Bank and a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Only nine years ago, it will be recalled, speaking at Bar-Ilan University, Netanyahu called for two states, and it was assumed that he spoke for Likud in doing so. But in recent years, except very occasionally when dealing with foreign diplomats, references to two states have disappeared from Bibi’s vocabulary. And while he has personally been cagey about specifically endorsing a one-state solution, the party he heads has moved openly into the one-state camp, with his silent acquiescence. 

A Palestinian works on a new housing project in the West Bank settlement of Naale. Jan. 1, 2019
Ariel Schalit,AP

In fact, out of the 30 Likud members who currently hold Knesset seats, 28 have made statements or signed a declaration in support of applying Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank - in other words, support for annexation and a single state. Apart from Netanyahu, the only Likud MK who has not formally backed annexation is Benny Begin, who is retiring from politics.

And Bibi, while remaining quiet on annexation but winking his approval to his far-right allies, has presided over a surge in settlement building that has made a single state likely, if not inevitable. 

And so, in an ironic twist, Rashida Tlaib and Benjamin Netanyahu find hemselves in alliance. The strangest of bedfellows. Partners in the crime of destroying the Jewish state. After all, a single, bi-national state is not Zionism; it is anti-Zionism, which is the position that Tlaib and Netanyahu embrace.

Which is why I am hoping for an electoral victory by Benny Gantz. Or Yair Lapid. Or anyone who will deny Tlaib her victory. Anyone who will separate Israel and the Palestinians, and will keep Zionism and the Jewish state alive. 

Eric H. Yoffie, a rabbi, writer and teacher in Westfield, New Jersey, is a former president of the Union for Reform Judaism. Twitter: @EricYoffie