Rashida Tlaib sworn in on Jefferson’s Quran as 1st Palestinian woman in Congress
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Rashida Tlaib sworn in on Jefferson’s Quran as 1st Palestinian woman in Congress

Michigan Democrat wears traditional Palestinian gown for ceremony as she begins career on Capitol Hill

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Rashida Tlaib (in red thobe and glasses), accompanied by her family, being sworn in with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (in pink dress), at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 3, 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)
Rashida Tlaib (in red thobe and glasses), accompanied by her family, being sworn in with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (in pink dress), at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 3, 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

WASHINGTON — Wearing a traditional Palestinian gown and placing her hand on a Quran that once belonged to Thomas Jefferson, Democrat Rashida Tlaib was sworn in Thursday as the first-ever Palestinian American woman to serve in Congress.

Together with Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, Tlaib, an outspoken activist-cum-politician from Michigan, was one of the two first Muslim women to enter Congress Thursday, among dozens of freshman lawmakers who are helping make the 116th Congress the most diverse one in the nation’s history.

Tlaib, whose parents are from the West Bank village of Beit Ur al-Fauqa, where much of her family still lives, is one of the first-ever lawmakers to support the anti-Israel boycott movement. She also says she supports a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has called for cutting US aid to the country.

A reporter in Tlaib’s office on Thursday noted the world map hanging on her wall with a minor change. On top of Israel was a post-it note that said “Palestine.” It’s not clear who put the note up, whether it was a guest or an official from Tlaib’s office.

Accompanying Tlaib during the swearing-in ceremony was activist and fellow BDS backer Linda Sarsour.

“It’s a national holiday,” Sarsour, also a Palestinian-American, said in a congratulatory Facebook video for Tlaib. “You’re witnessing history today.”

Sarsour is best known as one of the leaders of the Women’s March, which has recently been roiled with accusations of anti-Semitism, with one activist recently telling The New York Times she was pushed out of the movement and that her Jewish identity was a cause for her ejection.

Also with Tlaib on the first day of her new job were her sons, Adam, 13, and Yousif, 7.

When Tlaib stood to cast her vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker, Adam shouted Pelosi’s name, as well, and followed that with a “dab” — a move favored by tweens in which the nose is nudged inside one elbow while the opposite hand is raised overhead.

Bella Kaufman, Pelosi’s 9-year-old granddaughter, jumped up from her seat in the second row and returned the salute. The House’s legions of parents from both parties chuckled.

Rashida Tlaib (standing), votes for Speaker-designate Rep. Nancy Pelosi along with her kids during the first session of the 116th Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 3, 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP)

During her swearing in, Tlaib wore a Palestinian gown called a thobe.

Tlaib had written in Elle magazine that she would wear the thobe for her mother, who had to stop school in the eighth grade and become a tailor.

“My mother knows struggle and has taught me how to lead with compassion, the compassion that should be required for every representative on every level of government,” she wrote. “It fills me with joy to be able to show aspects of Palestinian culture.”

In recent months, Tlaib has unsettled Washington’s hawkish pro-Israel community. In December, she said she will lead a trip of incoming US lawmakers to the West Bank.

The visit is designed as a counter to the traditional Israel trip for first-term legislators orchestrated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, which includes touring the country and meetings with leading Israeli figures in business, government and the military.

A sign marks the office of incoming Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a freshman Democrat representing Michigan’s 13th Congressional District, on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 31, 2018. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Tlaib has said that her trip will focus on issues like Israel’s detention of Palestinian children, education, access to clean water and poverty — and maybe a visit to Beit Ur al-Fauqa.

In November, Tlaib’s uncle Bassam Tlaib, who still lives in Beit Ur al-Fauqa, told The Times of Israel his niece’s election to Congress was a “great source of pride.”

“She promised to come back to visit here,” Bassam said. “But I don’t know how soon she will come. I imagine she will be very busy in her new job.”

Tlaib has said she does not yet know when the trip will take place, or which Palestinian advocacy groups she would partner with to provide funding.

On Thursday, Tlaib’s ascendance was met with enthusiasm by pro-Palestinian activists who have long complained that they are an ignored constituency in Washington. Many of Tlaib’s backers came to Capitol Hill also wearing a thobe in solidarity with the Michigan Democrat.

Earlier in the morning, Tlaib’s brother called in to C-Span’s Washington Journal television new program to congratulate his sister. “I’m proud of you,” he said. “I can’t wait to see you getting sworn in on Jefferson’s Quran and wearing the Palestinian flag.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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