Yesterday, President Trump invited this very comparison on Twitter, so I’m going to make it. “Can you imagine what would happen if I ever said what she said, and says?” he wrote.
Actually, I can imagine it because I think what Trump said after Charlottesville has some similarities to what Rep. Tlaib said a couple days ago about Palestinians and Jews. Let’s start there. This account of her remarks comes from the NY Times:
In thinking about the Holocaust, Ms. Tlaib, whose grandmother lives on the West Bank, said she had a “calming feeling” knowing that her ancestors had lost their land and their livelihoods in the creation of “a safe haven for Jews” after World War II — a statement that is not historically accurate.
“All of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post the Holocaust, post the tragedy and horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time,” Ms. Tlaib said. “And, I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, right?”
But in Republicans’ telling, M[s]. Tlaib never uttered the words “tragedy and horrific persecution of Jews.” Instead, Representatives Steve Scalise and Liz Cheney, the No. 2 and No. 3 Republicans in the House, seized on the words “calming feeling” in the headlines of back-to-back statements they issued Sunday casting Ms. Tlaib as an anti-Semite.
Not everyone is going to accept this account of what Tlaib said but former ambassador to Israel Michael Oren did. He called Rep. Tliaib’s comments “gross ignorance of history” but said they weren’t anti-Semitic.
Tlaib’s comment was not anti-Semitic but ahistorical. The Palestinians massacred Jews, violently opposed their search for shelter, and collaborated with the Nazis. But gross ignorance of history must be distinguished from anti-Semitism.
— Michael Oren (@DrMichaelOren) May 13, 2019
I think that’s basically accurate. Tlaib wasn’t intending to attack Jews, she was actually trying to take credit for saving them in an odd, collective way. The problem is that her history is wrong. Her ancestors did not provide a safe haven for the Jews. In fact, they supported Hitler’s genocidal efforts to wipe out the Jews as even the NY Times eventually points out:
“Palestinians suffered as a consequence of the state of Israel, but the relationship between the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel is highly arguable,” said Aaron David Miller, who has advised both Democratic and Republican presidents on the Middle East. “Every institution for what would become the state of Israel was in place well before Hitler started killing any Jews.”
Moreover, Mr. Miller noted, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, had allied himself with Nazis and fiercely opposed the creation of the Jewish state. Of Ms. Tlaib, Mr. Miller said: “She recognized the horrific nature of the Holocaust. Then she deployed it to make a series of confused, unaware and even ignorant assumptions with respect to what that means for the Palestinians.”
Bottom line: Her intent was not anti-Semitic but her ignorance of history resulted in her defending Nazi sympathizers as if they were a great help and comfort to the Jews, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. And that does remind me of Trump’s comments after Charlottesville. We’ve all heard this argument so I’m not going to go over it at great length again but here’s what Trump said:
“Excuse me, they didn’t put themselves down as neo-Nazis, and you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group – excuse me, excuse me, I saw the same pictures you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.”
In the same press conference, Trump also said, “I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and white nationalists because they should be condemned totally.” Trump is asserting that in addition to the bad people, the neo-Nazis, there were some other people who were there to protest the removal of statues who weren’t neo-Nazis. And those people were okay.
The problem (for Trump) is that the people who organized this event and the people who participated in the tiki torch march the night before all seemed to be of the neo-Nazi variety. There were people at the tiki march giving the Hitler salute and chanting “Jews will not replace us.” These were not very fine people. I think Trump was just wrong, but as we’ve just established that’s not the same as endorsing Nazis. In fact, Trump condemned the Nazis explicitly as Jake Tapper recently pointed out:
Again, I don’t expect to convince anyone who has a firm opinion about either Rep. Tlaib or Trump, I’m just telling you how I see it. Rep. Tlaib wasn’t trying to be anti-Semitic and Trump wasn’t trying to defend neo-Nazis. The problem is that both of them had the underlying facts wrong. So Tlaib winds up defending her ancestors as having given safe haven to the Jews which is the opposite of the truth and Trump winds up saying there were “very fine people” marching in Charlottesville which doesn’t seem to be the case. Neither had bad intent. Both had bad facts.
And that’s where the similarity ends. Because when Rep. Tlaib said something wrong and was accused of anti-Semitism over it, she immediately got a slot on Seth Meyers to defend herself and articles in the NY Times explaining that she was factually wrong (but not bad), plus the entire leadership of her party demanding everyone else apologize for unfairly calling her an anti-Semite. When Trump made essentially the same mistake we had a year of everyone on the left calling him a new-Nazi supporter and basically no one in the media pointing out that while he was very arguably wrong about who was protesting that day, he also clearly was not endorsing the neo-Nazis. It took a year for this point to be even slightly acknowledged.
In fact, even saying that much on behalf of Trump now is still considered outrageous by many on the left. If you look at this Vox piece on Trump’s “new defense” of his Charlottesville remarks, there’s an entire sub-section headlined “What Trump should have known about Unite the Right” which points out that it was a bunch of racists and neo-Nazis who organized the event. And yes, Trump should have known. But as we’ve just established, being wrong isn’t the same as being a hater. The media can separate the two when it’s inclined to do so.
The left and the media ran with Trump’s statement to frame him as a barely concealed neo-Nazi. But when Rep. Tlaib makes a similar blunder they rush to explain that she merely made a factual mistake but had no ill intent. The problem, as always, is that the refs don’t handle both sides of the aisle with anything remotely close to fairness. The world would be an utterly different place if the media held Democrats and Republicans to the same standard, but it so rarely happens that it’s notable when it does.
Imagine an alternate earth, like something out of a DC comic book, in which everything is the same except the media is made up of about 85% conservatives. On that earth, the media rushed to explain that President Trump was wrong about who was marching in Charlottesville but didn’t have any racist ill intent behind his comments. He specifically said he wasn’t talking about neo-Nazis they would have pointed out. Meanwhile, on that alternate earth, Rep. Tlaib’s career is in shambles because the same right-leaning media and right-leaning late-night hosts dropped that approach in her case and determined that her comments were proof of her underlying anti-Semitism. Of course, that earth’s media wouldn’t be any less biased than what we have now but it would be enlightening to look in upon it from time to time and see how things play out differently.