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.