Rashida Tlaib just announced a whopping $3.7 million fundraising haul for the last quarter of 2023, after being censured by Congress for her support of Palestine. Her fundraising success shows pro-Palestine politics can go head-to-head with the Israel lobby.

US representative Rashida Tlaib speaking during a press conference with supporters of a cease-fire in Gaza outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, December 14, 2023. (Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images)

As the only Palestinian American in Congress, Rep. Rashida Tlaib has made a name for herself as the leading congressional voice for Palestinian liberation. Her outspoken criticism of Israel’s apartheid and military occupation, and now its genocide of Palestinians in Gaza, has placed a major target on her back. While the Biden administration aids and abets the massacre, Republicans and Democrats in Congress have censured Tlaib for insisting Palestinians deserve to live in freedom.

These attempts to isolate her don’t seem to be working. Though Congresswoman Tlaib may have few allies in Washington, her recent fundraising numbers show she has little reason to feel alone. In the last quarter of 2023 — the period in which Hamas launched its October 7 attack, Israel initiated its genocidal war, and Congress censured Tlaib — her reelection campaign raised an astounding $3.7 million.

This level of fundraising for a House reelection campaign — outside of an expensive media market like New York — is practically unheard of. For comparison, in the same period, fellow Squad member Jamaal Bowman, who represents the Bronx and the suburbs of New York, raised only $724,000. Senator Ted Cruz raised $3.4 million for his reelection campaign — a statewide race in Texas, which is home to nearly thirty million residents. What’s even more impressive is that Tlaib, who refuses corporate donations, received donations from over 32,600 supporters, of whom 22,700 were first-time donors. Their average donation was $75.

For decades, progressive politicians have avoided vocal support for Palestine for fear that taking the principled position would amount to political suicide. The Israel lobby wields great influence and spends heavily to oppose candidates who show even a modicum of sympathy for the plight of Palestinians. But Tlaib is proving that independent, antiestablishment politics have a mass constituency.

Palestine is an infamous third rail of American politics. Across the political spectrum, support for Palestine or harsh criticism of Israel can easily earn one the label of antisemite and status as persona non grata. Progressives have historically shied away from criticizing Israel due to fear of the Israel lobby and its outsize political spending. Last election cycle, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) collectively donated over $42 million in primaries and general elections. In the upcoming cycle, AIPAC alone plans to spend over $100 million to unseat Tlaib and the other six members of the Squad who have all backed a cease-fire.

Even those politicians who are not particularly fierce critics of Israel have found themselves in the Israel lobby’s sights. Nina Turner and Andy Levin, for instance, do not support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) that is widely popular among supporters of the Palestinian cause. Yet the Israel lobby still inundated their districts with millions of dollars for their opponents in the 2022 elections, defeating Turner and unseating Levin, one of the only Jewish members of Congress who has been outspoken about Israel’s crimes.

Tlaib’s campaign and fundraising have been buoyed by her steadfast support for Palestinian freedom, even when it was especially unpopular.

Similarly, Rep. Jamaal Bowman has in the past voted to fund Israel’s Iron Dome missile system. Yet his support for a cease-fire has led liberal Zionist lobbyist group J Street to drop its support for the congressman, and AIPAC has now donated over $600,000 to his challenger, who in total raised nearly double Bowman’s total in the last quarter.

Tlaib’s most difficult battle is still ahead of her. Already, the Israel lobby has offered two Senate candidates in Michigan $20 million to drop out of their race and run against Congresswoman Tlaib instead; both refused. Though $3.7 million pales in comparison to AIPAC and DMFI’s war chests, Tlaib’s campaign and fundraising have been buoyed by her steadfast support for Palestinian freedom, even when it was especially unpopular, and her leadership of the movement for a cease-fire.

Today, a majority of Americans support a cease-fire in Gaza, including over three-quarters of Democrats, and half of Biden 2020 voters believe Israel is committing a genocide. That was not the case on October 7 and the days immediately following. When Hamas and other forces first broke through the barrier fence entrapping Gaza, the US media immediately went into overdrive to manufacture consent for Israel’s inevitable retaliation.

The Left mobilized in support of Palestine despite known risks to their employment and reputation. Congresswomen Tlaib and Rep. Cori Bush played a key role by putting forward H. R. 786 in support of a cease-fire and by refusing to moderate their criticism of the Biden administration. The media smeared these efforts as antisemitic, while Congress overwhelmingly censured Tlaib.

But Tlaib is now the champion of the position supported by a majority of Americans and a supermajority of the president’s own party. Meanwhile, Biden’s popularity continues to drop precipitously.

In 2016, Bernie Sanders’s presidential run showed millions of Americans that politics didn’t have to be the domain of the ultrawealthy. His campaign demonstrated that a different kind of politics was possible — one could run for president in opposition to the corporations that dominate our government, on a platform of universal programs like Medicare for All that addressed people’s basic needs and a message about the need to take on the power of the ultrarich.

Sanders’s campaign (and his follow-up 2020 run) showed that one could run a competitive, people-funded campaign that relied on grassroots energy and a large number of small-dollar donations. Many heeded Sanders’s call to get involved in politics and were elected to office without taking corporate cash, a wave that brought Tlaib to Congress in 2018.

Now Tlaib is showing that confrontational, pro-Palestinian politics are popular — and have a real shot at beating the Israel lobby. Hopefully she too will inspire a generation of candidates to follow her example.

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