Intel: How the latest freshman-establishment spat is laying bare Democrats’ Palestinian problem


An escalating feud between freshman Palestinian-American Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Minn., and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is laying bare Democrats’ gaping divide over Israel.

Why it matters: Democrats are in a pickle over their left-wing base’s increasing frustration with the plight of the Palestinians. Rising anti-Israel rhetoric risks scaring Jewish voters and others toward the Republican Party, which is exploiting the Democratic rift to the hilt.

“Listen and learn”: The latest skirmish began this week when Al-Monitor asked Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., about Tlaib’s plans to replace the traditional visits organized by the pro-Israel lobby with trips to the West Bank that highlight the Palestinian experience. Engel shot down the idea, saying Tlaib “ought to listen and learn and open her mind and then come to some conclusions.”

She shot back Wednesday with a fiery tweet.

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“Yo @RepEliotEngel, how are we ever going to obtain peace?” Tlaib wrote. “I hope you’ll come with me on the trip to listen and learn. My sity (grandmother) will welcome you with an embrace & love. Please feel free to call me if you have anything to say. I am your colleague now.”

Dem on Dem: The Engel-Tlaib spat is part of a much broader debate within the Democratic Party between a feisty progressive base and a more conservative old guard. While the anti-war group Code Pink crashed Engel’s office this week in response to his comments to Al-Monitor, progressive groups banded together to demand that Democrats make public their internal party rules. Meanwhile, fellow freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., has started conversations on everything from taxes to health care. And billionaire Starbucks former CEO Howard Schultz has launched a long-shot presidential campaign that’s seen in some quarters as an effort to “save the Democratic Party from itself.”

Blood in the water: Republicans have been quick to capitalize on any Democratic dissent over Israel. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, hand-delivered letters to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and all Democratic committee chairs asking them not to approve any requests to send a congressional delegation to the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., has objected to sitting on the same House Foreign Affairs oversight panel as Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., a Somali-American refugee who, like Omar, supports the pro-Palestinian movement to boycott Israel. “Crazy to watch what House Dems are empowering/elevating,” Zeldin tweeted on Tuesday.

“Don’t mind him, he is just waking up to the reality of having Muslim women as colleagues who know how to stand up to bullies!” Omar retorted on Twitter. “It’s gonna be fun watching him lose his marbles.”

What’s next: Tlaib’s office doubled down on the proposed West Bank trips after her spat with Engel.

“Rep. Engel’s comments did not take into account that this trip is to do exactly what he spoke of — listen to the people directly impacted and learn from their experiences to be able to make well-rounded decisions here in Congress,” Denzel McCampbell, a spokesman for Tlaib, told Al-Monitor. “Instead of making condescending remarks, we hope that the congressman joins us in this effort.”

Know more: Read congressional correspondent Bryant Harris’ in-depth piece from last fall about how Democratic newcomers are challenging the pro-Israel status quo.

Bryant Harris

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Al-Monitor Staff

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