Congress

Rep. Rashida Tlaib defends Holocaust, Israel comments against critics

Michigan Democrat accuses Rep. Liz Cheney, others of misconstruing her comments to incite a backlash

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., defended herself against criticism that comments she made about the Holocaust were anti-Semitic. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Rashida Tlaib defended herself from another series of criticisms that she is anti-Semitic after comments she made about the Holocaust and a one-state solution in Palestine and Israel.

“Once again, Republican leaders and right-wing extremists are spreading outright lies to incite hate,” Denzel McCampbell, a spokesman for the Michigan Democrat, said in a statement Monday, highlighting comments from Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a member of Republican leadership, who urged Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the weekend to “take action” to censure Tlaib for what she claimed was “anti-Semitism.”

Cheney “should be ashamed of herself for using the tragedy of the Holocaust in a transparent attempt to score political points,” McCampbell said. “Her behavior cheapens our public discourse and is an insult to the Jewish community and the millions of Americans who stand opposed to the hatred being spread by Donald Trump's Republican party.”

The controversy between Tlaib and Cheney stems from Tlaib’s answer to a question on Yahoo News’ “Skullduggery” podcast on Friday about a one-state solution for Israel and Palestine. In an apparent effort to sketch out the history of the Israeli state’s founding after World War II, Tlaib described how the Holocaust played a defining role.

“There’s kind of a calming feeling I always tell folks when I think of the Holocaust, and the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the fact that it was my ancestors, Palestinians, who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity, their existence in many ways, have been wiped out, and some people’s passports,” Tlaib said.

“All of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post- the Holocaust, post- the tragedy and the horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time, and I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, right, in many ways,” she said. “But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away, right, and it was forced on them. And so when I think about a one-state, I think about the fact that, why couldn’t we do it in a better way?"

Tlaib stressed that she wanted a place for both Jews and Palestinians to feel safe and free, but that under the current political dynamic that is not the case.

“I want a safe haven for Jews. Who doesn’t want to be safe?” Tlaib said. “I am humbled by the fact that it was my ancestors that had to suffer for that to happen, but I will not turn my back and allow others to hijack it and say that it's some extremist approach because they’re coming from a place of... whatever it is... of division, inequality.”

The Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, joined with congressional Republicans and conservative pundits to condemn Tlaib’s remarks, which the congresswoman said Monday they have taken out of context on purpose.

Danon accused Tlaib of revising the history of the founding of Israel after the World War II and making insensitive remarks.

“.⁦‪@RashidaTlaib⁩, your words are both grossly#antiSemitic and ignorant,” the ambassador tweeted. “You should take some time to learn the history before trying to rewrite it,” he wrote.

McCampbell pushed back Monday against the criticism of Tlaib’s comments and elaborated on what he says the congresswoman was trying to convey.

“Rep. Tlaib said thinking about this effort to provide a safe haven for people fleeing persecution brought calm to Rep. Tlaib because her ancestors were involved in helping those tragically impacted by the Holocaust. The Congresswoman did not in any way praise the Holocaust, nor did she say the Holocaust itself brought a calming feeling to her,” McCampbell said.

“In fact, she repeatedly called the Holocaust a tragedy and a horrific persecution of Jewish people,” he said.

Tlaib, a Palestinian-American who became one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress in 2018, has become a lightning rod in conservative media and pro-Israel circles after she promised constituents after her swearing-in ceremony in January that she would help Democrats “impeach the motherf---er,” referring to President Donald Trump.

In the first month of her term, she was swept up in multiple controversies surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict, including posing for a photo with with a Hezbollah-sympathizing Palestinian activist and other episodes.

At Tlaib’s Washington, D.C., office after her swearing-in on Jan. 3, a Palestinian-American comedian stuck a post-it note with “Palestine” over the Middle East on a large map in the congresswoman’s new office, BuzzFeed News reported. That incident prompted several outlets to assert that Tlaib wanted to “wipe Israel off the map.”

McCampbell suggested Monday that Republicans’ preoccupation with Tlaib’s comments on Israel and construing them as anti-Semitic is “dangerous and only increases hateful rhetoric” toward Palestinians and others.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.