US Congresswoman Rashia Tlaib of Michigan. Photo: Reuters/Rebecca Cook.
It is rather shocking to contemplate the implications of US Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI)’s recent decision to declare her unequivocal support for Zahra Billoo.
When the Democratic Congresswoman took to Twitter on Friday evening, she must have been fully aware of the countless examples for Zahra Billoo’s extremist views that prompted the national Women’s March to quickly rescind Billoo’s recent appointment as a board member.
For the past decade, Billoo has served as Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) branch in San Francisco, and she has produced an unending stream of hate-filled social media posts during that time.
In 2010, Billoo equated Israelis with Nazis, and declared: “No need for a holocaust museum, seeing as Israel has taken it upon itself to recreate it. #Israel #Nazis.” In 2014, she made a similar statement, asserting that “Israel ‘defending’ itself from Palestinians is analogous to Nazi Germany defending itself from Jewish uprising.” Billoo also indicated support for Hamas, declaring, “Blaming Hamas for firing rockets at [Apartheid] Israel is like blaming a woman for punching her rapist.”
Almost exactly a year ago, Billoo opined that “the Israeli Defense Forces, or the IDF, are no better than ISIS. They are both genocidal terrorist organizations.” Her social media posts include numerous similar statements, and like many radical anti-Israel activists, Billoo also frequently denounces the US. Last year, Billoo described the White House as “a war mongers’ shelter” and a “Zionists’ shelter.”
Not even President Obama was good enough for Billoo, who told her followers in 2012 that she was “troubled by the fact that many of the people who condemn the Taliban for their crimes cheer on Pres. Obama despite his comparable crimes.”
Billoo’s public extremism and the fact that the Women’s March quickly distanced itself from Billoo should make it inconceivable that any politician would publicly embrace her. But Rashida Tlaib was undeterred, and posted [archived link] a remarkable declaration of solidarity with Billoo:
#FreePalestine always sis! They won’t silence us for speaking out against human rights violations. They will lie, smear our names and call us anti this and that, but we always be pro- humanity & we have the truth on our side. Stay strong @ZahraBilloo.
It’s noteworthy that Tlaib’s tweet linked to Billoo’s thread complaining about her dismissal from the Women’s March board. Without acknowledging any wrongdoing, Billoo blamed “an Islamophobic smear campaign led by the usual antagonists.”
While Billoo felt it might have been advisable to express herself less “passionately,” she made clear that she had no other regrets by declaring: “I stand by my words.”
Rashida Tlaib endorsed Billoo’s sentiments without any reservations, echoing her preposterous claims that she was the victim of “lies” and “smears,” while ridiculing concerns about antisemitism as unwarranted accusations of “anti this and that.” Tlaib also echoed Billoo’s vilification of her critics as bigoted liars by claiming the moral high ground: “we always be pro- humanity & we have the truth on our side.”
But the truth is that it is shocking and alarming that a member of Congress would be so eager to lend unqualified support to an unrepentant extremist like Billoo.
By enthusiastically embracing Billoo as her “sis,” Tlaib signals that support for a #FreePalestine agenda justifies even the most unhinged bigotry. But Tlaib might ask herself why Billoo, whose family is from Pakistan, takes such an intense interest in the Palestinians that she feels only loathing for the Jewish state while remaining apparently unmoved by the dire plight of the Baloch who have long fought Pakistan’s oppressive rule.
Most importantly, however, Tlaib’s enthusiastic embrace of Billoo elevates a radical fringe voice that is not representative of mainstream American Muslims. Pew surveys show that American Muslims are “largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world.” Pew found that two-thirds of American Muslims acknowledge “that the quality of life for Muslims in the US is better than in most Muslim countries.”
And nearly half (48 percent) of American Muslims say that Muslim leaders in the United States “have not done enough to speak out against Islamic extremists.”
Billoo, by contrast, has always been very proud of her extremist brother.
In 2007, Billoo happily announced on her blog: “my lil’ brother was quoted in the Jewish Journal.” But Billoo had no reason to be proud of her brother Ahmed, who told The Jewish Journal that “the righteousness of suicide bombers needs to be evaluated on a ‘case-by-case basis.’” Ahmed Billoo was clearly reluctant to condemn suicide bombings and explained that he believed they were “something that Islam justifies,” claiming that it was “very rare that I meet someone who says suicide bombings in Palestine are not justified.”
Fast forward to July 2019, and Zahra Billoo’s brother Ahmed is a cleric, also known as Ahmed Ibn Aslam Billoo, who leads a trip to Jerusalem for his employer, the “Institute of Knowledge” in California. When departing from BenGurion Airport, Ahmed Billoo reportedly posted a no longer publicly accessible — but archived — Facebook update that he was “feeling annoyed,” adding an invocation in Arabic that reads in translation: “Oh God, reduce their numbers, exterminate them, and don’t leave a single one alive.” The hashtag “Zionists” in English clarified whom Ahmed Billoo wanted exterminated.
Upon his arrival in the US, Ahmed Billoo apparently complained about harassment by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials, and his sister Zahra eagerly seized the opportunity to emphasize: “My brother @AhmedIbnAslam makes me proud often but there’s a special appreciation I have here – putting his privilege to good use, asserting his rights, speaking out against @CBP harassment, and thereby making it somewhat easier for those who are unable.”
Rashida Tlaib legitimizes Zahra Billoo’s unhinged views, and Zahra Billoo legitimizes her brother’s extremism, all for the sake of a supposedly “progressive” #FreePalestine agenda that seems motivated primarily by a bigoted and even murderous hate for the world’s only Jewish state.
Petra Marquardt-Bigman is a German-Israeli researcher and writer with a PhD in contemporary history. Her recent work has focused on antisemitism and anti-Israel activism