In the digital world, you are what you like. So why was Rashida Tlaib’s official Instagram page following an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist with links to a mosque notorious for its terrorist connections?
The account, ‘Free.Palestine.1948’, belongs to a British Muslim who is an accomplished promoter of extremism. Photos of Benjamin Netanyahu with Adolf Hitler are juxtaposed, and a rat superimposed on the Israeli flag. There are repeated claims that the 9/11 attacks were a false-flag operation by ‘the Jews’ or Mossad, that Israel created ISIS and is an ‘apartheid state’, that Tom Watson, deputy leader of the UK’s Labour party, is ‘a corrupt Israeli agent’, and that the ‘Jewish agenda’ is to use ‘the tools of chaos magic — to use deception, lies, craft and magic — to obtain the conquest of the Gentile world’. Images endorsing Tlaib and Ilhan Omar float conspicuously on this sea of hatred.
None of this is hidden in the small print. This is Instagram, so it’s all in color photos with slogans in big letters. It’s impossible for anyone to follow this account without being aware of its content. The only questions are how long Tlaib has, wittingly or not, presented this account as part of her official online image; whether Tlaib chose to follow the account personally; or whether one of her staffers, liking what he or she saw, chose to identify it with the public face of one of the first Muslim women in Congress.
‘Free.Palestine.1948’ doesn’t follow Rashida Tlaib, but Rashida Tlaib’s account follows him — or used to follow him. On Friday, Ashley Rae Goldenberg of the Capital Research Center, an ‘investigative think-tank’ in Washington, D.C., publicized Tlaib’s official page on Twitter. On Saturday, the number of accounts that Tlaib follows declined from 1,075 to 1,074, as she unfollowed ‘Free.Palestine.1948’. Goldenberg says that she has made ‘multiple requests for comment’, but Tlaib’s people have not replied.
When they do, they’ll offer the usual excuses. They may claim that Tlaib knew nothing about it, even though Tlaib posts first-person statements along with her photos. They may claim that ‘Free.Palestine.1948’ was followed by a temporary, part-time member of staff who’s no longer with Tlaib but can’t be named, for reasons that no one can quite explain. As Tlaib did when her connections to Hezbollah supporter Abbas Hamideh were exposed, they may protest that she’s the victim of a right-wing hit job, and go after Goldenberg and the Capital Research Center. They may even claim that Tlaib’s account was hacked. And they will say that following a page doesn’t endorse its contents. But only the only thing that can exculpate Tlaib is proof that her account was hacked.
An elected official’s page is not the same as a private page, or even other kinds of professional pages. People interested in politics, and journalists especially, follow all kinds of unsavory people online. Ashley Rae Goldenberg, for instance, follows Spectator USA. Goldenberg, a Jewish supporter of Israel, also follows Louis Farrakhan who, last time I checked his status, was neither Jewish nor a supporter of Israel. It’s obvious that following is not to be equated with endorsement — except when we’re looking at the public affiliations of a member of Congress. Those affiliations, past or present, are matters of public interest, whether they’re Ralph Northam’s party photos or Rashida Tlaib’s public page.
Internet businesses aggregate affiliations into user profiles and advertising sales. The online marketing of politics works in the same way, with votes as the pay-off. So does the online marketing of terrorism, with murder in mind. On March 5, ‘Free.Palestine.1948’ invited us to join him for ‘Visit My Mosque’ day at Lewisham Islamic Centre in south London. Previous attendees of the Lewisham Islamic Centre include the killers of Lee Rigby, a British soldier murdered in a south London street by two Islamists in 2013; and Khadijah Dare, a teenage convert last seen as an ‘ISIS bride’ in Syria.
In 2016, the imam of the Lewisham Islamic Centre, Shakeel Begg, lost a libel action after a BBC program called him an extremist. Begg, the judge said, was a ‘Jekyll and Hyde character’ who hides beneath a ’cloak of respectability’, but ‘clearly promotes and encourages violence in support of Islam, and espouses a series of extremist Islamic positions’, including exhorting British Muslims to wage jihad in the Middle East.
If Tlaib’s account was hacked, the association with ‘Free.Palestine.1948’ would have been plausible because it fitted her profile. Tlaib has repeatedly used identity politics to deflect hard questions about her attitudes and affiliations. Abbas Hamideh, a guest at a dinner to celebrate her swearing-in in Detroit, denies that Jews have historical links to Israel, and boasts on Instagram about his love for the ‘heroic resistance leader’ Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah. ‘Right-wing media targeting me again rather than focusing on the President’s reckless shutdown,’ Tlaib wrote on Twitter when that affiliation came to light. ‘Yes, I am Muslim and Palestinian. Get over it.’
To equate Islam with Hezbollah is to insult millions of peace-loving Muslims, in America and elsewhere. The same goes for the idea that schmoozing with Hezbollah supporters, or following racist conspiracists on Instagram for that matter, are ways of expressing solidarity with the Palestinians. To claim that they are is to cast a cloak of respectability over sympathy for terrorism, and to short-circuit Tlaib’s stated goal of ‘humanizing’ the image of Palestinians. These are Tlaib’s choices, just as it seems to have been her choice, or the choice of someone close to her, to follow ‘Free.Palestine.1948’.
It was also Tlaib’s choice, or the choice of those close to her campaign, to present herself as a supporter of the ‘two-state solution’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when she was running for Congress, and then, having won office, to declare for the ‘one-state’ solution that is a euphemism for the destruction of the Jewish state. Again, her cloak of respectability is a front for obnoxious intentions. As long as Tlaib appears to be dissembling for strategic reasons, her apparent fondness for Jew-haters can only suggest that she finds their company so congenial because she is one.
Pro-Democratic media have anointed Tlaib, along with Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as the faces of the party’s future. So has Nancy Pelosi, by posing on the cover of Rolling Stone with Tlaib and Omar, and covering for Omar’s repeated casting of racist aspersions about the loyalty of American supporters of Israel. So have Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, by rushing to defend Omar in recent days. We judge elected officials not just by what they choose to do, but also by the company they keep, in life or on their Instagram page.
Dominic Green is Life & Arts Editor of Spectator USA.