One of American Jewry’s most senior leaders lashed out at US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib on Monday, accusing the young lawmaker of making anti-Semitic remarks.
“I am very disturbed. I do believe Tlaib has made anti-Semitic comments,” Malcolm Hoenlein, the chief executive officer of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said.
He made the comments in a briefing at The Times of Israel’s offices in Jerusalem; he was in Israel ahead of a trip including 28 member organizations of the Conference of Presidents to Africa.
Tlaib came under fire in January when she suggested that US senators backing an anti-boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) bill hold dual loyalties.
“They forgot what country they represent,” Tlaib said in a tweet at the time. “This is the U.S. where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality.”
If signed into law, the bill would protect states that pass anti-BDS bills, including those that ban work with contractors who boycott Israel, from lawsuits. Civil libertarians have decried the state laws as impinging on speech freedoms.
In response to Hoenlein’s allegation, Denzel McCampbell, Tlaib’s communications director, told The Times of Israel that “she was talking about senators like [Marco] Rubio who were attempting to strip Americans of their right to free speech. Any other interpretation is inaccurate and unintentional.”
Hoenlein also said the Conference of Presidents was particularly worried about support for Israel on the left wing of the Democratic party.
“We are very concerned about some of the currents in the body politic, especially on the democratic left,” he said. “But we have started already to reach out to people and sectors on the Democratic left and frankly we have found them receptive.”
Twenty-seven percent of Democrats said they sympathize with Israel over the Palestinians, a Pew Research Center poll from June 2018 found. That was down from 38% support among Democrats in a similar survey from 2001.
Hoenlein also noted a host of US senators eyeing a 2020 presidential bid did not vote last week in favor of the anti-BDS bill.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders voted against the bill, while California Senator Kamala Harris and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker did not attend the vote on it.
Alluding to Israel’s upcoming elections, Hoenlein added that he strongly opposes Americans making contributions to Israeli political campaigns.
“There are a few [Americans] who give money to the candidates,” he said, without naming them. “I am very much opposed to Americans donating to Israeli campaigns. I think it distorts democracy here. American Jews are smart enough to know how to vote on what they want to vote and Israelis are also smart enough to know how to vote without outside interference.”
Buzzfeed has reported that more than 90 percent of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign funds from his 2015 reelection bid came from the US. The report noted the Falic, Book, and Schottenstein families all gave the campaign thousands of dollars.
It also stated that several senior politicians in Likud, including Danny Danon and Gilad Erdan, receive campaign funds from US donors.
Hoenlein also expressed concern about the ramifications of Airbnb’s decision to delist homes in West Bank settlements in November.
“The problem isn’t the economic implication of its decision,” he said. “It’s the precedent that it sets — other companies will look into if they can get away with it too. This also really opens a Pandora’s box. At the moment, they are dealing with one area, but next they’re going to turn to East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.”
Asked if the vacation rental giant should be boycotted, Hoenlein said, “I think we should not do business with them… We cannot allow this to happen. So we are going to continue to put pressure on them.”
He added, “More importantly they are going for an IPO this spring and in 26 states, where anti-BDS legislations exists, their pension plans won’t be able to invest in it.”
Concluding his remarks, Hoenlein said he would step down as the head of the Conference of Presidents in January 2020.
“There is a search process that has begun and candidates will be interviewed in coming months,” he said. “I won’t be CEO, but I hopefully will remain in the Conference of Presidents as an adviser.”