WASHINGTON — US Democrats on Monday defended a freshman member of their ranks after President Donald Trump and his allies criticized her remarks about the Holocaust and accused her of anti-Semitism.
Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib told a Yahoo News podcast that she gets “a calming feeling” when she thinks of “the tragedy of the Holocaust” and how the suffering of her Palestinian ancestors helped in trying to create “a safe haven” for Jews in the new state of Israel.
The remark instantly ignited an online fight, with Republicans incorrectly describing Tlaib’s words as reflecting her feelings about the genocide itself that cost millions of lives, including those of 6 million Jews.
Trump tweeted on Monday that Tlaib has a “hatred” of Israel and Jews.
Democrat Rep. Tlaib is being slammed for her horrible and highly insensitive statement on the Holocaust. She obviously has tremendous hatred of Israel and the Jewish people. Can you imagine what would happen if I ever said what she said, and says?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2019
It was the latest upheaval over the words of some of the first Muslims in Congress after Rep. Ilhan Omar questioned Israel’s influence in Washington. Senior Democrats rebuked her, and Omar apologized.
A Democratic leader demanded an apology for Tlaib.
“If you read Rep. Tlaib’s comments, it is clear that President Trump and Congressional Republicans are taking them out of context,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland. “They must stop, and they owe her an apology.”
“Obviously I don’t think that she hates Israel or hates Jews,” Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan said on Fox News. “She’s not a hateful person. She’s not a bigoted person.”
The issue had its roots in Tlaib’s remarks on the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery,” in which she was asked about her backing of a one-state solution to the conflict in Israel. She replied by noting the US recently commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“There’s a 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, had been wiped out,” Tlaib said around the halfway point in the 55-minute podcast, dated Friday. “I mean, just all of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post-the Holocaust, post-the tragedy and horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time.”
She continued: “I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, right, in many ways. 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 one-state, I think about the fact that, why couldn’t we do it in a better way?”
Republicans pounced on the phrasing “calming feeling.” Trump tweeted Tlaib “obviously has tremendous hatred of Israel and the Jewish people.” That echoed earlier comments by House Republicans, who called on Democrats to stand against what House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney called “anti-Semitism.”
“All of us, regardless of party, must stand as Americans against the evil of anti-Semitism,” Cheney (Republica, Wyoming) said in a statement. “If the Democratic leadership continues to stand by in silence, they are enabling the spread of evil.”
Tlaib shot back in a tweet and a statement that Republicans were twisting her words.
“Policing my words, twisting & turning them to ignite vile attacks on me will not work,” she said. “All of you who are trying to silence me will fail miserably. I will never allow you to take my words out of context to push your racist and hateful agenda. The truth will always win.”
In a separate statement she slammed Cheney “for using the tragedy of the Holocaust in a transparent attempt to score political points.” She noted that she “did not in any way praise the Holocaust, nor did she say the Holocaust itself brought a calming feeling to her,” but “repeatedly called the Holocaust a tragedy and a horrific persecution of Jewish people.”
Israel’s envoy to the United Nations Danny Danon called Tlaib’s comments “grossly anti-Semitic and ignorant” and urged her to “take some time to learn the history before trying to rewrite it.”
Much of the Arab leadership in Mandatory Palestine did not welcome Jewish refugees with open arms. Muhammad Amin al-Husayni, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, opposed all immigration of Jews, and during World War II campaigned against the arrival of Jewish refugees. He also reportedly worked with the Nazis to prevent the establishment of a Jewish homeland. In addition, the Arab residents revolted against the British, which led to restrictions on Jewish immigration to British Mandatory Palestine, depriving Jews of any “safe haven.”
During the interview Tlaib said it was ultimately up to Israelis and Palestinians “to decide what it looks like,” comparing Israel’s current situation to segregation in the United States. “It’s important to understand that separate but equal didn’t work here. We have to allow self-determination to happen there.”
Last week, Tlaib announced the dates for her congressional visit to the West Bank, which she organized to compete with Israel trips organized by the American Israel Education Foundation, an affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
JTA contributed to this report.