Bernie Sanders steps in to help Rep. Tlaib hold anti-Israel event in Capitol

Jewish independent lawmaker chairs gathering in Senate committee meeting room to mark Nakba; Tlaib accuses Israel of apartheid, terror, says US aiding ‘ethnic cleansing’

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent-Vermont, during the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 10, 2023. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent-Vermont, during the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 10, 2023. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Sen. Bernie Sanders chaired a gathering in the US Senate Wednesday during which Congress member Rashida Tlaib hosted an event where she bashed Israel as an “apartheid” state that engages in terror.

The gathering was to mark the Nakba, a Palestinian term meaning “catastrophe” that refers to the displacement of Palestinian people when Israel was founded in 1948.

Michigan lawmaker Talib had initially hoped to hold the event in the Congress Visitors Center but Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy thwarted her plan by reserving the space himself and hosting a celebration to mark 75 years of US-Israel ties.

Sanders then stepped in by chairing the meeting in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Hearing Room, located in the Senate office building and therefore outside of McCarthy’s reach.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt panned Sanders for facilitating the Nakba event in the Capitol, calling it “disgraceful.”

“Real conversations are needed around a path to peace, but not with groups & individuals who espouse antisemitism,” Greenblatt wrote. “We call on the Senate to condemn this event.”

Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli responded by tweeting a photograph of wartime Jerusalem Grand Mufti Amin al-Husseini, who met with Hitler, greeting a parade of Waffen-SS volunteers with a Nazi salute in 1943.

Sanders, a Jewish independent lawmaker, made no mention of the Nakba event on his own Twitter feed.

Reports and images from the meeting showed that it was full with standing room only.

Tlaib, who headlined the gathering and gave a speech, also presented a resolution she wants to introduce to Congress that calls for recognizing the Nakba as a historical event that is “ongoing.”

Democrat Rep Cori Bush also attended the meeting.

Addressing the gathering, Tlaib accused Israel of a “sustained campaign of terror” at the Temple Mount, said Israel is an “apartheid state” and that US aid supports “ethnic cleansing,” according to Jewish Insider reporter Marc Rod.

Groups that organized the event, including the Institute for Middle East Understanding and Democracy for the Arab World Now, celebrated that they were able to overcome McCarthy’s attempted block of the gathering.

“Kevin McCarthy attempted to once again silence Palestinians and our supporters, but we were not silenced,” they said in a joint statement.

“The event and Rep. Tlaib’s resolution are major milestones that reflect the shift in support for Palestinian rights in this country,” the wrote. “To heal from our past, we have to be honest about history. Acknowledging the Nakba is an important step towards freedom and justice for Palestinians.”

On Tuesday, after he reserved the Congress Visitors Center, McCarthy told the Washington Free Beacon, “It’s wrong for members of Congress to traffic in anti-Semitic tropes about Israel.”

“As long as I’m Speaker, we are going to support Israel’s right to self-determination and self-defense, unequivocally and in a bipartisan fashion,” he said.

Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, is the only member of Congress who opposes Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish state. Among the participants of the Nakba event were several groups that support boycotting Israel, including Jewish Voice for Peace, Engage Action, and Americans for Justice in Palestine Action. According to the Free Beacon, some of the groups that attended have defended terrorism. Palestinians mark Nakba Day each year on May 15.

Tlaib has in the past accused Israel of being an apartheid regime. In 2019, she attacked Republicans who backed a bill targeting the Israel boycott movement, saying in a tweet, “They forgot what country they represent.”

Then, in 2022, she was criticized by her own party for saying that there was no room in the progressive movement for supporters of what she called Israel’s “apartheid” government.

Sanders has in the past said he would condition US aid to Israel on Jerusalem taking tangible steps to reach a two-state solution and improve the conditions of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip

McCarthy earlier this month visited Israel, where he addressed a special gathering of the Knesset.

JTA contributed to this report.

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