Socialist Alternative

As Israel Bombs Gaza, Congress Targets Rashida Tlaib

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The House of Representatives, including both Republicans and over 20 Democrats, voted on November 8 to censure Palestinian-American Rep. Rashida Tlaib for her outspoken criticism of the Israeli regime’s assault on Gaza. 

Tlaib opposed the Biden administration’s support for the Israeli state and led the call for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. Her opposition drew bad faith attacks from fellow Congressmembers on both sides of the aisle and various organizations affiliated with the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The censure of Tlaib, the only politician currently serving in the US House to take a clear stand against the brutal assault on Gaza, is actually a political attack on the call for a ceasefire. While those who moved to censure Tlaib accuse her of calling for “Israel’s elimination,” the reality is that a ceasefire threatens the interests of US imperialism, drawing condemnation and rage from the two parties. 

Israel has been rapidly escalating the war against Palestine: 10,000 Gazan civilians have been killed by the Israeli state in a month, around the same number of civilians killed in nearly two years of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Just a few days ago, the Israeli Defense Force invaded Gaza and ramped up its bombing campaign. Biden and the Democratic Party are fighting to expand US military aid to Israel, US imperialism’s strongest ally in the region. Now more than ever, we need socialist leadership in the anti-war movement that is willing to stand up to the Biden administration and bases itself on an internationalist, working-class approach.

Punished For Criticizing US Imperialist Agenda

Tlaib’s opposition to the US-Israel war machine is a welcome show of political principle. Elected officials, especially officials who claim to oppose imperialism and oppression, taking a clear stand can play an important role in building a genuine movement against the war. 

Biden’s blanket support for the Israeli state’s invasion is increasingly unpopular. In a recent survey, 66 percent of Americans supported an immediate ceasefire. Biden’s support among Democrats has fallen 11% since the outbreak of the war, and there is widespread outrage among Arab-Americans who typically vote Democrat. Tlaib should go beyond opposition within a hostile Congress, and use her position to call for mass, non-violent protests against the war and occupation that can unite the working class into an anti-war mass movement. Tlaib should explicitly endorse the demand to end all military aid to Israel; she has in the past only proposed conditions on continued military aid

Tlaib’s defiance is especially welcome given the Squad’s mixed-at-best history on Israel-Palestine. Compare Rashida Tlaib’s current opposition toward the Biden administration to October 2021 when Rep Jamal Bowman fell in line and voted for funding of Israel’s Iron Dome. AOC recently affirmed she would vote for future Iron Dome funding after previously voting “present” on it, rather than voting “no.” Outrageously, Bernie Sanders, whose initial popularity was in large part due to his criticism of US wars in the Middle East, has refused to even support the call for a ceasefire, instead backing Biden’s call for a “humanitarian pause.” It goes without saying that a “pause” is totally inadequate to protect the lives of civilians, nor does it point toward an end to the conflict. 

The Democrats have countless forms of party discipline at their disposal to frustrate Tlaib and her supporters. On the one hand, they try to co-opt politicians into corrupt political norms, traditions and procedures that routinely fail working-class people. The Democratic Party has already assembled primary challengers for Squad members and money is lining up behind those establishment cut outs. This is an important lesson for the left: for an anti-war movement the Democrats are a dead end — this is the same party which backed the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and almost every war in US history.  

The Anti-War Movement Needs A New Party

While the Squad is struggling to play defense, Socialist Alternative City Councilmember Kshama Sawant last week took initiative and put forth a ceasefire resolution in Seattle City Council. The resolution condemns the Israeli state’s assault on the Palestinian people, demands an immediate ceasefire, an end to military aid to Israel, the release of all hostages on both sides, and an end to the Israeli occupation and subjugation of Palestinian lands. 

Sawant’s Council office rallied working people to speak in favor of the resolution, including those with families stuck in Gaza. In the end, the Democrats refused to even hold a vote on the resolution, which Sawant sharply condemned in her speech in the chambers. The fight is not over, Sawant’s office and Socialist Alternative are organizing to bring the resolution back for a vote, while continuing to build the strongest possible movement pressure against the Democrats.

All elected Socialists across the country should follow suit and fight to either pass strong resolutions demanding a ceasefire or expose the Democratic Party in the process, while boosting anti-war organizing. Especially now when students are walking out of school, public squares are being occupied, and organized labor and activists prevent the shipping of weapons to Israel

Our council office has been loudly and proudly organizing for Palestinian liberation for nearly a decade now. Kshama and our council office has maintained the position of ending military aid to Israel since being first elected to office in 2013, despite it angering the establishment. We fought the 2021 Deadly Exchange, a Seattle police-IDF training formation, and 2021’s Block the Boat, when activists moved to prevent Israeli cargo from being offloaded in the port of Seattle. In short, we’re not afraid to make enemies in the Democratic establishment, because we know our strength comes from the movements outside City Hall, and we base ourselves on building those same movements.

Fundamentally, socialist elected officials have a duty to fight militarism and to expose politicians who would rather keep their support for slaughter out of the limelight. Any supposed progressives, like Tlaib, should be unapologetically calling out the Biden administration and both parties for their role in the atrocity being carried out by the Israeli state. It is a genuinely positive development that Tlaib has said she won’t endorse Biden, and the rest of the Squad and Bernie Sanders should do the same. 

We need an independent working-class party, and an end to US military aid to Israel should be a key part of its program. 

The Democratic Party is a party of the billionaire class, US imperialism, and is a dead end for fighting war, oppression, and inequality. Tlaib should leave the Democratic Party, build the movements that elected her and mobilize the anti-war movement to her defense against the right wing.

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