Jews in this country have long been accused of holding dual loyalties. This week, that canard was brought back into the media and political landscape not by white supremacists chanting ‘Jews will not replace us’, but by Rashida Tlaib, a freshman Democrat, and a woman of color.
In response to a bill that would, among other things, challenge the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, Tlaib said that supporters of the legislation had ‘forgot what country they represent.’ Those words are familiar to anyone who’s read anything about anti-Semitic rhetoric. The implication is that Jews, especially Jewish public servants, are all nothing more than foreign agents – traitors, in other words. In a normal political moment, such a naked expression of anti-Semitism would garner bipartisan condemnation. But we are not in a normal political moment.
The wisdom and morality of the now-stalled bill is certainly up for discussion. It is possible to both vehemently oppose the BDS movement and to still question the merit of such legislation out of concerns that it may violate the spirit of the First Amendment.
It is also possible to support the BDS movement, and believe the bill to be unethical. There’s nothing wrong with a difference of opinion. But Tlaib did not reserve her criticism for the text of the legislation, or even the consequences its implementation might have. Instead, she went after the people who supported it – not for what legislation they do or don’t advocate for, but for who they are.
It is ironic that Tlaib should be the one levying charges of dual loyalty. Like many Americans, Tlaib has a multi-layered heritage. She comes from somewhere. She’s American, but there is also more to her background and story. Tlaib is the child of Palestinian immigrants, and is vocal and proud about her roots. That’s a good thing. It’s a great thing. In fact, it’s an exceptionally American thing. Yet while Tlaib cherishes her own heritage, she seems suspicious of that of her colleagues – more specifically, her Jewish colleagues.
The problem with accusations of dual loyalty are that they unfairly assume that Americans of mixed heritage are somehow less American. Liberals, in particular, who speak of the melting pot, who preach of the importance of America being a nation of immigrants, should find Tlaib’s line of thinking especially repugnant – and should say so. Out loud. If a white congressman had accused Tlaib of forgetting which nation she represents, the left would have been apoplectic. So far, however, the only one of Tlaib’s Democratic colleagues who has said anything is Rep Ted Deutch (D-Fl), who told Jewish Insider that ‘questioning the loyalty of members of Congress or suggesting dual loyalty is unfair, and it is dangerous.’ But where are the rest of the Democrats? Why have they said nothing in defense of their Jewish constituents and their Jewish colleagues, or in criticism of Tlaib’s blatant anti-Semitism?
That Tlaib might think so little of her Jewish colleagues and constituents is disappointing, but hardly a reason to panic. That her Democratic colleagues have said almost nothing is a cause for grave concern. Their silence is an insult and an affront to every Jew in the nation. It suggests the Democratic party – much like the Labour party in Britain – is becoming an institution in which Jews were once embraced, but are now increasingly unwelcome.
Daniella Greenbaum Davis is a writer living in New York.