Rep. Shri Thanedar a new lion of Detroit politics?Rep. Shri Thanedar a new lion of Detroit politics?

This past year has brought some unexpected turns for Detroit in both sports and politics. Surprisingly, the Detroit Lions are having a remarkable season after years of struggling. Remember the infamous 0-16 record in the 2008–09 season? In the recent 2021–22 season, they managed only three wins. Fast forward to now, and the team seems to have made a remarkable turnaround.

In the 2022–23 season, the Lions just scraped through with a winning record of nine wins and eight losses. However, the 2023–24 season has been a game-changer for them, boasting an impressive 12 wins to five losses, and there’s more to come. Led by quarterback Jared Goff, the team sealed their regular season with a solid 30-20 victory against the Minnesota Vikings. This victory not only secured their division, now the NFC North, but also marked their first division win since 1993. The Lions are now eyeing the Super Bowl, a far cry from their previous struggles.

Shri Thanedar, a rather unusual figure in Detroit’s political scene, is notable not just as an Indian immigrant and naturalised US citizen, but also for his young look at the age of 68, due to a remarkably thick head of hair. Before joining politics, he was a successful entrepreneur in pharmaceutical testing.

Thanedar sought for the Democratic candidature for Michigan governor in 2018 against stiff opposition, but he did not do well. Undaunted, he shifted his goals, spending a time in the Michigan Senate before running for the House in 2022, representing a district that includes most of Detroit and its southwestern suburbs.

His quest for Congress in a competitive Democratic primary was successful, and he received more than 71% of the vote for the 13th Congressional District. Notably, this district has typically been carried by black candidates, which has sparked resentment among fellow Democrats.

While Thanedar typically agrees with progressive Democratic beliefs, such as calling for a $15 minimum wage, co-sponsoring the Medicare for All Act, and supporting an assault weapons prohibition and federal abortion regulations, there is one area where he differs. His strong support for Israel, especially in the aftermath of the October 7 Hamas assaults, has distinguished him from many progressives in Michigan, creating considerable division within the party.

Shri Thanedar stood in solidarity with the Israeli people on the day of the Hamas assault, condemning the act and remaining so despite the controversy it generated. A famous occasion had him dancing in a synagogue in a Detroit suburb with other Michigan leaders, emphasising his support for Israel. Thanedar even separated himself from the Democratic Socialists of America owing to their support for Hamas.

His backing for Israel, notably its military activities in Gaza, has sparked opposition among Michigan activists. Demonstrators even gathered on his yard, and a December party he attended devolved into chaos, resulting in injuries that he criticised on social media.

In contrast, Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of the neighbouring 12th Congressional District has pursued a different course. Tlaib has been censured by the House of Representatives for spreading misleading information regarding the October 7, 2023 Hamas assault on Israel and pushing for Israel’s annihilation. While Thanedar’s unwavering support for Israel has garnered comparisons to the successful Detroit Lions, Tlaib’s predicament is more like to the faltering Detroit Pistons in the NBA, who face countless difficulties and criticism.

The controversy over Rashida Tlaib’s censure vote may come down to one’s interpretation of the cry “From the River to the Sea,” which Tlaib, the only Palestinian American member of the House, has repeated. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) views this statement as a rallying cry for terrorist organisations such as Hamas, which has called for Israel’s annihilation. According to the AJC, the slogan is a typical call to arms for pro-Palestinian activists seeking to create a Palestinian state while eliminating Israel and its citizens.

Some observers doubt whether teenage demonstrators who use this term are completely aware of its connotations. During a congressional hearing, university presidents avoided the subject of whether demands for “genocide” violated their institutions’ standards of conduct, instead taking a contextual approach. This attitude drew criticism from benefactors, prompting the departure of two of the school presidents.

Aside from the uproar over the phrase, Tlaib has received criticism for falsely claiming Israel of attacking a Gaza Strip hospital and blaming the Biden administration for “genocide” for failing to urge an Israeli ceasefire. She also criticised Shri Thanedar in the Detroit News for “posting memes” and failing to represent his working-class community.

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