Dr. Mark Goldfeder: House should censure anti-Semitic Rep. Rashida Tlaib

Congress should not be a forum for hate speech aimed at any religious, racial or ethnic group

The House of Representatives should censure Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., for her continuing embrace of anti-Semitism and her calls for the destruction of Israel, the world’s only Jewish state.

Congress should not be a forum for hate speech aimed at any religious, racial or ethnic group. While Tlaib’s target is the Jewish people today, it’s easy to imagine a different bigot in Congress targeting African Americans, Latinos, or another group with hateful comments in the future if Tlaib’s attacks on the Jewish people are not condemned on a bipartisan basis.   

Tlaib’s toxic anti-Semitism is dangerous. According to the FBI, the majority of religiously motivated hate crimes in the United States are committed against Jews. That number is on the rise, despite the fact that Jews make up less than 2% of America’s population.


The first step needed is to call out anti-Semitism for what it is. It is high time for Congress to do just that in no uncertain terms.

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In her latest expression of anti-Semitism, Tlaib retweeted a message Sunday that read: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” That phrase is a well-known Hamas jihadist call to annihilate the state of Israel and murder its Jewish inhabitants. It is an open request by Hamas and other terrorist groups for violence against innocent people and against one of America’s closest allies, Israel.

It is beyond repulsive that a sitting member of Congress could retweet this to her followers without facing immediate bipartisan censure.  

It should be obvious that calling for the destruction of the world’s lone Jewish state — along with the ethnic cleansing and genocidal extermination of its millions of Jewish inhabitants — is anti-Semitic. To imagine that the state of Israel would go away without the wholesale killing of Jews is ridiculous.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

To be anti-Zionist, in the Hamas sense of wanting to destroy the Jewish state, is the same as calling for the mass slaughter of the Jews who live there.

Tlaib deleted her hate-filled tweet fairly quickly, but this is not the first time she has engaged in clearly anti-Semitic behavior and gotten away with it. She has accused American lawmakers supportive of Israel of dual loyalty, defended terrorist attacks against a civilian population and revised history surrounding the Holocaust.

And it has only been a few days since Tlaib expressed worry over President-elect Joe Biden’s pick of a Jewish American, Antony Blinken, as his nominee for secretary of state.

While Tlaib certainly has a First Amendment right to make anti-Semitic comments, there needs to be an objective baseline standard for what members of Congress will tolerate without condemning such hatred. 

To be anti-Zionist, in the Hamas sense of wanting to destroy the Jewish state, is the same as calling for the mass slaughter of the Jews who live there.

One starting point would be for Congress to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of anti-Semitism. The definition states that anti-Semitism is “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” The definition goes on to list several useful examples of anti-Semitism.

The IHRA definition is used by several agencies of the U.S. government, including the Department of Education. It is also used by 33 governments around the world that are members of IHRA.

The definition is also recommended for use by the European Council and the European Parliament. And it has been endorsed by the U.N. secretary-general and the secretary-general of the Organization of American States.  It is also included in policy guides prepared by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and has been formally adopted by a growing number of European nations and American universities.

The IHRA has provided us with the consensus-driven gold standard of anti-Semitism definitions. The use of this definition has increased the awareness and understanding of the parameters of contemporary anti-Jewish discrimination. 

In addition to adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism for members, the House and Senate should agree to condemn anyone who violates that standard. For the record, each of Tlaib’s above-mentioned actions alone would violate the definition.

The adoption of such a definition would not shut down criticisms of Israel or its leaders. Legitimate criticism of Israel is fine under the IHRA definition. Anyone who is merely criticizing Israel, even harshly and regularly, should have no problem signing onto the definition of anti-Semitism.

However, if someone actually demonizes and delegitimizes the Jewish state, or applies a double standard by requiring of it behaviors not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation, then that person should stop and think twice about the hatred being conveyed.


Tlaib excels at the promotion of a popular false dichotomy, which reasons that since not all anti-Zionism is necessarily anti-Semitism, none of it should be included in a definition of anti-Semitism. What this argument does is provide a convenient way for modern anti-Semites to remain in polite society while espousing incredible hate under the thinnest of anti-Zionistic veils.

Tlaib and her allies take offense at the notion that some expressions of anti-Zionism could be considered anti-Semitic, and insist on a definition of anti-Semitism that does not include even the most troubling of anti-Zionist sentiments. But anti-Semites should not get to decide the definition of anti-Semitism.

When is the anti-Zionism expressed by leaders like Tlaib anti-Semitic? In the first instance, it is anti-Semitic when proponents use classic anti-Semitic tropes including, but not limited to, false accusations of Jewish conspiracies; blood libels; accuse Jews of dual loyalty, and engage in Holocaust revisionism.


When this happens, the symbols and signals used often belie the speaker’s true nefarious intent. When they actually call for the extermination of the Jewish state, the line is even easier to see.

The truth is that Israel is the birthplace and homeland of the Jewish people going back thousands of years to biblical times, and is central to Judaism. False claims that the Jews have no right to their ancient homeland and hate-filled calls for destroying the Jewish state and its inhabitants can’t be called anything other than anti-Semitism.