Two Michigan representatives to the United States Congress voted against a resolution to oppose the boycott movement against Israel. Rep. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn and Rep. Rashida Tliab of Detroit joined 15 other representatives in opposition to the resolution.
398 representatives voted in favor of the resolution, which denounced the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement. BDS aims to economically weaken the state of Israel until they accept pro-Palestinian demands, including the removal of the barrier of separation on the West Bank and withdrawal from Israel’s occupied territories. The measure received sizable bipartisan support and served as a bright spot of cooperation in a decidedly contentious congress. Only 17 representatives voted against the measure, including Dingell and Tliab. Tlaib criticized the measure as against the United State’s tradition of free speech.
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“I can’t stand by and watch this attack on our freedom of speech and the right to boycott the racist policies of the government and the state of Israel,” Tlaib said. “Dissent is how we nurture democracy and grow to be better and more humane and just.”
Many Democratic members of Congress, like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, consider the BDS movement anti-Semitic.
“When there is such a double standard, when the world treats everybody one way and the Jew or the Jewish state another way, there’s only one word for it, anti-Semitism,” Schumer said. “Let us call out the BDS movement for what it is.”
In an interview on CNN, Tlaib seemed unaffected by Schumer’s comments.
“People want to dismiss it because they’re trying to say it’s anti-Semitism,” Tlaib Said. “That’s the way they’re trying to discredit the fact that we all know, under Netanyahu’s regime, human rights violations have gotten worse. I truly believe the state of Israel exists, correct. But, understand, does it exist in the detriment of inequality for the Palestinian people, detriment of not really moving forward in a peaceful resolution? We’re never going to have peace, I truly believe, if separate but equal is the way they want to go.”
Michigan-based Jewish organizations that supported the congressional measure saw the vote as a victory for legitimizing the state of Israel and moving towards a two-state solution.
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“We are very pleased with this bi-partisan resolution,” said Lauren Herrin, Assistant Director at Michigan’s Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC. “It made a clear statement against the BDS movement and the damage it causes to efforts for a two-state solution in the region.”
Critics of BDS claim that it delegitimizes Israel’s existence, leading to anti-Semitism and weakening attempts to reach a point of coexistence with Palestine.
“We’re really dedicated to combating any movements that delegitimizes Israel,” said Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Michigan Regional Director Carolyn Normandin. “BDS bolsters anti-Semitism. Placing all the blame on Israel is not helpful, BDS does not support a two-state solution. We believe the Jewish people should have self-determination.”
Some critics claim that the BDS movement itself is focused on completely disintegrating Israel.
“BDS is a viciously anti-Semitic and anti-Israel movement,” said Sheldon Freilich, President of the Zionist Organization of America’s (ZOA) Michigan Region. “The BDS’s goal is not to boycott. Its aim is to eliminate and replace Israel. We have no issue with someone criticizes Israel’s policies, advocating for denying a homeland for Jews is where things become anti-Semitic.”
When asked about Tlaib and Dingell’s votes against the resolution, both the ADL and Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC focused on their similarities with the representatives rather than their differences.
“While we disagree on BDS, we are pleased we can work with these representatives in other areas,” Herrin said. “We’ve worked closely with Rep. Dingell’s office on issues of immigration.”
“We will work with both as much as with any other member of the House,” Normandin said. “As members of Congress they have the right to show their points of view.”
The ZOA drew attention to Rep. Tlaib and history of criticism against Israel as an indication of anti-Semitism.
“We don’t promote the election of candidates, but we will criticize people if we disagree with their actions or statements,” Freilich said. “Tlaib has an anti-Israel record. She says that Israel is racist and discriminates against people with darker skin, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. On her first day in office she posted over Israel on a world map and wrote ‘Palestine.’ We believe she should either stripped from her committee appointments or removed from congress. We also disagree with Dingell for not being supportive, but we don’t have any further comment.”
Both the ADL and Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC did not comment on Rep. Tlaib’s history of criticizing Israel.