Bassam Tlaib couldn’t contain his joy about the election of his niece, Rashida Tlaib, to the US House of Representatives. Together with Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American, she is one of the first two Muslim women to be elected to Congress.
“We are happy for our family and for Beit Ur al-Fauqa,” Bassam said, referring to the family’s West Bank village. “May God give Rashida the strength to carry out her duties well. She’s a strong and courageous woman, she didn’t hesitate to attack Trump head-on.”
Speaking this week with il manifesto, Bassam said the family has been in touch with Rashida. “She is very happy,” he said. “In January, when she’ll take up her duties officially, we’ll have a big party in our village, and we hope to see her again soon.”
The US midterm elections have brought some good news to the small community of Beit Ur al-Fauqa, home to fewer than 1,000 inhabitants. It’s their opportunity to score a win in their rivalry with their more famous sister village, Beit Ur al-Tahta, where, 40 years after the fact, people still boast that they played a crucial role in Cat Stevens’ conversion to Islam.
Bassam Tlaib’s hope is that his niece will not only carry out her mandate in the service of American citizens, but also bring to Congress the voice of Palestine and of her family’s village, hit hard by Israel’s policies. Located to the west of Ramallah, near the “green line” between Israel and the West Bank, Beit Ur al-Fauqa has had many of its lands confiscated after 1967.
Thanks to the success of a number of Democratic candidates, Congress now looks much more like the current social and ethnic makeup of the United States than it did before. The Muslim women Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, together with the young Puerto Rican woman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are symbols of this change.
“We changed the course of history at a time we thought it was impossible. And that if you just believe, believe in the possibility of someone like me,” Rashida Tlaib said in an interview on CBS, aware of how much of a breakthrough her victory was.
In Israel, however, commenters are looking at this development in a rather different light. While the US Congress remains firmly pro-Israel, from January on, different voices will be heard on Capitol Hill about the Middle East and the Palestinian question. The Netanyahu government is not all that concerned, relying on an alliance with Donald Trump that seems unshakeable. But they are also thinking about future US elections, which could bring many more elected officials who think like Tlaib to the Senate and the House.
For her part, the congresswoman-elect has switched from supporting a two-state solution (Israel and Palestine) to supporting one democratic state for both Jews and Palestinians—a decision which lost her the support of J Street, a Jewish progressive organization that firmly supports a two-state plan. In addition, Tlaib also supports cuts in US military aid to Israel. The other elected Muslim Congresswoman, Omar, born in Somalia and elected in Minnesota, recognizes the right of the Jewish state to exist, but describes Israel’s government as an “apartheid regime” guilty of “evil doings.”
On Wednesday, the Israeli media gave significant attention to the House race in a California San Diego County district where Republican Duncan Hunter, embroiled together with his wife in an embezzlement scandal and facing criminal allegations, was fighting a closer-than-expected contest with the Democratic candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar, born and raised in Gaza, whose father was a former employee of the Palestinian National Authority, and who has many times talked about his personal and political closeness to his homeland. (Hunter was eventually declared the winner in this very red district).
It will also be interesting to see what line Ocasio-Cortez will take in Congress on the Middle East question: while she has recently moderated the tone of her attacks on Israeli policies, she continues to openly support the right of Palestinians to be free and independent.