The news is that Rashida Tlaib, the Palestinian-American elected to Congress from Michigan, is refusing an AIPAC trip to Israel and instead is seeking to organize a Congressional delegation to Palestine, to see the occupied territory where her own grandmother lives without any political rights. The Intercept’s Alex Kane and Lee Fang say that Tlaib likens the occupation to the Jim Crow south.
Tlaib is clear about one thing: She wants her delegation to humanize Palestinians, provide an alternative perspective to the one AIPAC pushes, and highlight the inherent inequality of Israel’s system of military occupation in Palestinian territories, which Tlaib likens to what African-Americans in the United States endured in the Jim Crow era.
Tlaib is in a very strong tradition in that understanding. At least two other mainstream political figures have made the analogy– and surely suffered politically for doing so.
In “President Carter: The White House Years,” the new book by Stuart Eizenstat, the power-aide relates from interviews with the former president that Jimmy Carter “increasingly took up” the Palestinians’ cause while in office and “even more so since leaving office.”
He has told me that in his visits to the West Bank, he sees the Palestinians living in conditions like the blacks in the South in which he grew up, but that the Israeli military treats them worse than the white police treat blacks; he finds them not militant or violent, but “just like your mama and daddy were when you were growing up: They want their kids to go to school and maybe get a college education; of course, the college has now been closed.”
Carter lost the presidency in some measure because of the defection of the Jewish community. “From the  New York primary onward, I believe Carter was left with the view that New York Jews had not only defeated him in the primary but were also a factor in his loss in November,” Eizenstat says.
Then there’s Condi Rice. In his memoir of the Bush years, “Tested by Zion,” former national security aide Elliott Abrams recalls a meeting that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in 2006 prior to Annapolis negotiations.
“The need for permits to travel on certain roads is the kind of thing that just made me angry as a child in segregated Alabama,” Rice said to Barak.
Elliott Abrams was angered by her assertion.
This comparison was new. Never before had I heard Condi cast the Israelis as Bull Connor and the Palestinians as the civil rights movement. It was a dreadful sign of just how far she had moved away from sympathy with the Israeli position and of just how much antagonism was developing. Condi’s 2010 memoir, Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family, describes in searing fashion the insults and the harm inflicted on her own family and their community in the years before and during the civil rights struggle, making it even clearer how her emotions about Israel were changing profoundly. And on the Israeli side, such comments elicited a sense that she simply did not understand the world of the Middle East.
Abrams vigorously opposed Rice inside the Bush administration. He described her plans as “completely unrealistic — and also now becoming dangerous” and said that President George W. Bush “no longer believed what he was hearing from her.”
So: The Jim Crow analogy has been around for a long time in American politics, at least since Carter in the late 70s, and always created pushback.
Tlaib will face such pressure. She “needs to be educated” on these issues, Eliot Engel, the likely new chairman of House Foreign Affairs, assured a private AIPAC audience in New York this fall.
And the likely Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, the other day assured a pro-Israel group that Engel and other pro-Israel pols would be running committees, so you can just ignore Rashida Tlaib and other new congresspeople. “Pelosi urged those attending not to pay ‘attention to a few people who may want to go their own way,’ apparently referring to newly elected Congress members such as Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota who have been sharply critical of Israel,” Ron Kampeas reported. “[Chuck] Schumer chimed in: “You couldn’t have two stronger supporters of Israel than Nita Lowey and Eliot Engel.”
P.S. The conference that Pelosi and Schumer spoke to was sponsored by Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban. Adelson is the megadonor of the Republicans, and Saban is a megadonor to Democrats. You’d think they would be at odds. Not on Israel. That’s the nature of the Israel lobby: the issue transcends politics, and support must remain bipartisan.