Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan faced intense criticism Sunday and Monday, including from US President Donald Trump, after saying her Palestinian ancestors “had to suffer” for the Jews to have a safe haven in the wake of the Holocaust.
Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman to serve in US Congress, made the remarks during an interview with Yahoo News’s Skullduggery podcast Friday.
The freshman congresswoman appeared to be making a more complicated point at the time, insisting that she was to an extent glad that her ancestral land had been part of the answer to address the Jews’ suffering, but also ruing the hardship the establishment of the Israeli state had brought upon her people.
“There’s kind of a calming feeling, I always tell folks, when I think of the tragedy of the Holocaust, in the fact that it was my ancestors, Palestinians, who lost their lands, and some lost their lives, their livelihoods, their existence in many ways… 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,” Tlaib said.
“And I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that in many ways.”
But, she added, “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 [solution], I think about the fact that, why couldn’t we do it in a better way?”
She said that “I’m coming from a place of love, for equality and justice, I truly am… I want a safe haven for Jews. Who doesn’t want to be safe? I am humbled by the fact that it was my ancestors that had to suffer for that to happen.”
Trump on Monday joined a chorus of Republicans and Jewish and Israeli leaders who have lambasted Tlaib over the remarks.
“Democrat Rep. Tlaib is being slammed for her horrible and highly insensitive statement on the Holocaust,” Trump said. “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?”
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
Israel’s envoy to the United Nations Danny Danon earlier 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.”
— Ambassador Danny Danon | דני דנון (@dannydanon) May 12, 2019
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.”
At least two of Tlaib’s Republican colleagues took her remarks out of context, saying she had said that the Holocaust — and not the refuge that Jews found in Palestine — gave her a “calming feeling.”
“Rashida Tlaib says thinking of the Holocaust provides her a ‘calming feeling,’” Rep. Liz Cheney (Republican-Wyoming), the third-ranking Republican in the Senate said on Twitter.
Surely now @SpeakerPelosi & @LeaderHoyer will finally take action against vile anti-Semitism in their ranks. This must cross the line, even for them. Rashida Tlaib says thinking of the Holocaust provides her a “calming feeling” https://t.co/opUUNEol2d
— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) May 12, 2019
“@RashidaTlaib says the Holocaust gives her ‘a calming feeling,’” Rep. Lee Zeldin (Republican, New York) said on the same platform.
.@RashidaTlaib says the Holocaust gives her “a calming feeling” calling for a 1 state solution putting Jews in the minority & out of power of their own country. This is a heart filled w darkness & how the Holocaust began in 1st place. Listen @ 28 min mark. https://t.co/7ZEYSnxV4b
— Lee Zeldin (@RepLeeZeldin) May 12, 2019
Tlaib in a statement slammed Cheney “for using the tragedy of the Holocaust in a transparent attempt to score political points.”
Tlaib in her statement said 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.”
In a tweet, Tlaib said “Policing my words, twisting & turning them to ignite vile attacks on me will not work.”
Policing my words, twisting & turning them to ignite vile attacks on me will not work. 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.
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) May 13, 2019
In a response to the president on Twitter, Aaron Keyak, former head of the now-defunct National Jewish Democratic Council, said Tlaib was “totally wrong here,” but accused Trump of inciting hatred himself.
“Instead of attacking freshman members of Congress, stop peddling/tolerating anti-Semitic tropes & racist supporters, truly lead!”
Mr. President, we have been listening to what you've said and it's bad and dangerous itself. Rep. Tlaib is totally wrong here, but you're the President of the United States and your initial response to racist and violent white supremacists marching in Charlottesville was… https://t.co/cauhP2kEkG
— Aaron Keyak (@akeyak) May 13, 2019
He noted previous instances of Trump making anti-Semitic comments or failing to condemn anti-Semites, including after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in which he said that there “were very fine people, on both sides.”
“You told a room of Jewish Republicans that ‘I know why you’re not going to support me. You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money’…Your closing campaign ad included anti-Semitic tropes…You had ‘a Jewish Star of David’ as the background for attacking @HillaryClinton as the ‘Most corrupt candidate ever!’ along with a pile of $100 bills,” Keyak tweeted.
Tlaib, who supports a one-state formula to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, denied that she had given up on the two-state solution.
Also during the interview Tlaib said the Israeli government “gave up” on the two-state solution. The only Democrat to openly challenge the party’s two-state consensus on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Tlaib, of Michigan, was challenged on whether she had “given up” on a two-state peace.
“[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and his party gave it up, and the Israeli government gave it up,” she said. “If Netanyahu got up tomorrow morning and decided, ‘You know what? I’m going to take down the walls. I’m not going to expand settlements. Enough is enough, I really want to push toward a two-state solution’ — he has every power to do that. And then people like myself and others will truly believe in that.”
Though many have rejected a one-state formula as a recipe for continued strife and the end of Israel as a Jewish state, she insisted it would still leave Israel as a safe haven for Jews.
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.