Republicans have focused their bad faith criticism on a different woman of color in Congress this week.
In the newest round of outrage, Republican lawmakers are arguing that Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, said she gets a sense of calm from the Holocaust. That is not what Tlaib actually said.
Conservatives have seized on comments Tlaib made on an episode of Yahoo News’ “Skullduggery” podcast, released on Friday. In the podcast, Tlaib was asked about her support for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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, 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. And 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 a one-state, I think about the fact that why can’t we do it in a better way? And I don’t want people to do it in the name of Judaism, just like I don’t want people to use Islam in that way. It has to be done in a way of values around equality, and around the fact that you shouldn’t oppress others so that you can feel free and safe. Why can’t we all be free and safe together?
It’s clear from the full context that Tlaib was saying that she was humbled by her Palestinian ancestors providing a “safe haven for Jews post the Holocaust.” But rather than look at the full context of Tlaib’s comments, or even begin a conversation on the merits of a one-state or two-state solution to the conflict, Republicans have instead taken the first part of her response to argue that she said she is actually calmed by the Holocaust.
On Sunday, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to “finally take action against vile anti-Semitism,” now that Tlaib said “thinking of the Holocaust provides her a ‘calming feeling.'” Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) tweeted that the comments prove Tlaib’s heart is “filled with darkness.”
On Monday, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) issued a statement noting that Tlaib said the “Holocaust gave her a ‘calming feeling'” and also called on Pelosi to take action.
President Donald Trump joined in on Twitter, calling Tlaib’s comments “horrible and highly insensitive.”
“She obviously has tremendous hatred of Israel and the Jewish people,” Trump said. “Can you imagine what would happen if I ever said what she said, and says?”
It would be easy to read beyond the first clause of Tlaib’s sentence, but the attacks against Tlaib have more to do with who she is than what she actually said. As the first Palestinian woman and one of the first Muslim women in Congress, her comments have faced an outsized level of analysis.
In a statement on Sunday, Tlaib’s office replied to the criticism.
“Once again, Republican leaders and right-wing extremists are spreading outright lies to incite hate,” Denzel McCampbell, communications director for the office, said. “During one portion of the segment discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Congresswoman mentioned the role that Palestinians played in helping to provide a safe haven for Jewish people following the tragedy of the Holocaust. 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. In fact, she repeatedly called the Holocaust a tragedy and a horrific persecution of Jewish people.”
The bad faith criticism of Tlaib is similar to that faced by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) last month, on comments she made about the September 11 attacks and Muslim Americans’ loss of civil liberties. Omar, the only other Muslim woman in Congress, was criticized for belittling the attacks after her statement was taken out of context. Trump tweeted a video attacking Omar for her comments and using 9/11 imagery, and Omar said she received death threats in the days following the tweet.
On Monday, Omar responded to Trump’s criticism of Tlaib, reminding him that he praised people at the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. “This is another transparent attempt to sow division [between] minority communities and distract from your own criminal behavior by smearing a Muslim woman,” she said on Twitter.
Again, one of the most important points about the backlash is that there is no serious discussion about what U.S. foreign policy toward Israel and Palestine should be or about the merits of a one-state or two-state solution.
When pressed during the podcast on Friday about her support for a one-state solution, Tlaib deferred to the Palestinian people themselves. “That’s not up to us to decide what it looks like … For me, that’s the lens I bring to it, but I’m not a leader there,” she said.
When questioned about whether she was giving up the “dream” of a two-state solution, she stressed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave it up.
“If Netanyahu got up tomorrow morning and decides you know what I’m gonna take down the walls. I’m not gonna expand settlements, enough is enough, I really want to push towards a two-state solution, he has every power, every power to do that. And then people like myself and others will truly believe in that. But uprooting people all over again, to say that that’s gonna — because you understand when you look at the landscape and just map it out, it is almost absolutely impossible with how he has proceeded to divide, how he’s proceeded to dissect and segregate communities that is impossible to see a two-state solution without more people being hurt.”
Trump has praised Netanyahu and cut all aid to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Last year, his administration recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the U.S. embassy there, despite international law claiming that the status of Jerusalem is an issue that must be mutually agreed upon in negotiations.