The president of the United States is slamming a sitting member of Congress for comments about Israel that she didn’t even make.
That’s the only way you can look at the situation, once you’ve carefully examined the facts of the matter.
This all started with Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s recent comments about the outcome of the Holocaust. While speaking on Yahoo News’ “Skullduggery” podcast, which was released on Friday, Tlaib was asked why she supported a one-state solution for Israel. She began her explanation by discussing the aftermath of the Holocaust, and how the Israeli state was started, per reporting from CNN:
“There’s kind of a calming feeling I always tell folks when I think of the Holocaust, and the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the fact that it was my ancestors, Palestinians, who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity, their existence in many ways, have been wiped out, and some people’s passports.
“I mean, just all of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post-the Holocaust, post-the tragedy and the horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time, and I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, right, in many ways. But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away, right, and it was forced on them. And so when I think about a one-state, I think about the fact that, why couldn’t we do it in a better way?”
If you read that passage in its entirety, you get the feeling that the Congresswoman is discussing how the difficulties between the two sides started in the first place. Her interpretation is up for debate, of course, by anyone wishing to challenge her.
But Republican lawmakers are taking a different view, focusing on just one line from the diatribe by Tlaib, in which she said the Holocaust gave her a “calming feeling,” and extrapolating it to mean something completely different from what she said.
— Robert Franek (@robertfranek) May 13, 2019
“There is no justification for the twisted and disgusting comments made by Rashida Tlaib just days after the annual Day of Holocaust Remembrance,” GOP House Minority Whip Steve Scalise said.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming) also added that she felt Tlaib’s words were “sickening” and “anti-Semitic.”
Other Republicans followed suit, and conservative media put out explosive headlines taking Tlaib’s words out of context. And later on Monday morning, the president himself chimed in on the matter, writing in a tweet that he felt Tlaib “obviously has tremendous hatred of Israel and the Jewish people.”
Democrat Rep. Tlaib is being slammed for her horrible and highly insensitive statement on the Holocaust. She obviously has tremendous hatred of Israel and the Jewish people. Can you imagine what would happen if I ever said what she said, and says?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2019
That sentiment is not evident from her actual remarks, of course, but Trump’s tweet is now out there for all of his followers to gobble up and spew out on their own. It is now part of the Gospel of MAGA.
I’m still a firm believer in the idea that context matters, so here it is: Tlaib wasn’t saying the Holocaust brought her a calming feeling. She was discussing the aftermath of that event, the part where her Palestinian ancestors had lost their land in the Middle East in order for the world to provide Jewish migrants a place to settle in the aftermath of the Holocaust.
Tlaib even described the event herself as a “tragedy” and “horrific” in her remarks, a point that Republicans and Trump overlooked in their condemnations.
Others have noted this damaging omission by the right. Columnist Jonathan Chait penned an op-ed in New York Magazine discussing the matter.
“I don’t agree at all with Tlaib’s view of the Middle East…nor do I especially endorse this comment in particular,” Chait wrote. “But what she is saying here is not very hard to understand: While she regrets the establishment of the state of Israel, it did bring a benefit to Jewish refugees.”
Chait’s observation is precisely on-point. Agree or disagree with Tlaib’s viewpoints, but don’t read into her words anything more than what’s actually there. Her comments were not anti-Semitic, nor were they meant to cause a rift in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather, they were meant to heal.
But now, with Trump’s hate-mongering tweet, a new problem arises. Or actually, an old problem does, one that we’ve seen develop already since he’s become the president.
We already know that Trump’s supporters take his words as hard truth, even though he is a noted perpetual liar. We also know that some of the more extremist elements of his followers like to take matters into their own hands, typically by lashing out with hateful rhetoric of their own, but on occasion going even further — like the example of Cesar Sayoc, who sent pipe bomb packages to liberals and Democratic lawmakers last year, and who described Trump’s campaign rallies as a “drug” to him, per previous reporting from HillReporter.com.
We can only assume, then, that Trump’s words — which are actually hate-filled, unlike Tlaib’s — will likely inspire someone else to do something stupid and reckless, too. We can only pray the action that individual (or individuals) chooses isn’t violent.
The president’s words matter, no matter who’s in office, and it’s deeply disturbing that Trump, who likely knows that fact, doesn’t think it matters when it comes to his distasteful and vitriolic criticisms of his opponents he makes online or in front of cameras. He just keeps on making them anyway, with an apparent disregard for the outcomes.