Tlaib says critics are 'twisting' her words as Trump attacks in tweet
Washington — President Donald Trump on Monday attacked U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib in a tweet over remarks she made about the Holocaust and Israel that she says have twisted and taken out of context by critics.
The Detroit Democrat stood by her words Monday, accusing Republicans of trying to use the Holocaust to "score political points."
"It's shameful that right-wing extremists and GOP leadership, including President Trump, have twisted and misconstrued my words to spread falsehoods rooted in hate," she said.
The controversy arose in response to comments by Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress, in an interview posted Friday on Yahoo's Skullduggery podcast.
In the interview, Tlaib was speaking about the experience of her Palestinian ancestors whom she says suffered as Israel became a place of refuge for European Jews after the Holocaust:
"There's always a calming feeling, I always tell folks, when I think of the Holocaust and the tragedy of the Holocaust in the fact that it was my ancestors, Palestinians, who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, the human dignity," Tlaib said.
"Their existence in many ways have been wiped out .... 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 in many ways. But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away, right? And it was forced on them."
Tlaib also said on the podcast that she wants "a safe haven for Jews."
"Who doesn’t want to be safe?" she added.
Trump on Monday followed the lead of some other Republican leaders in denouncing Tlaib's comments as anti-Semitic.
"Democrat Rep. Tlaib is being slammed for her horrible and highly insensitive statement on the Holocaust," Trump tweeted.
"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?"
The Michigan Republican Party called on Democratic leaders to censure Tlaib, saying they've ignored "despicable comments" from members of their caucus.
"Anything less is a sign that anti-Semitism is acceptable within today’s Democrat Party," Michigan GOP Chairwoman Laura Cox said in a Monday statement.
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, who chairs the House GOP conference, said Tlaib's remarks about "must cross the line" for House Democratic leaders.
"Surely now @SpeakerPelosi & @LeaderHoyer will finally take action against vile anti-Semitism in their ranks. This must cross the line, even for them," Cheney tweeted Sunday.
Tlaib responded to Trump's tweet in a statement, saying the Holocaust "was a horrific persecution of Jewish people and should be remembered as such, nothing short of that."
“Instead of recognizing that the accusations against me are false and that my words have been blatantly misconstrued, Trump has once again used his platform to incite hate and violence based on lies," Tlaib said.
“This is yet another attempt by the administration and the GOP to try to distract from their horrible policies, lawless acts, and actual anti-Semitic rhetoric," she added.
“Anti-Semitism has no place in our society and any effort to try to sow hate and divisiveness into our political discourse must be stopped immediately in its tracks. Hate and violence will not move this country forward. Only inclusive leadership and confronting the truth about the growing white nationalist movement in our country will move us forward. Unfortunately, we are not seeing it from President Trump nor his Republican Party.”
Tlaib also responded Sunday on Twitter, dismissing the criticism.
"Policing my words, twisting & turning them to ignite vile attacks on me will not work," she wrote.
"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."
Spokesman Denzel McCampbell stressed that Tlaib was not saying the Holocaust itself brought a "calming feeling" to the congresswoman.
"In fact, she repeatedly called the Holocaust a tragedy and a horrific persecution of Jewish people," he said.
Experts said the history is more nuanced than Tlaib described in the podcast. An important Palestinian leader was aligned with the Nazis during World War II, and others in Palestinian leadership opposed a two-state solution.
Also, it was not the Palestinians who decided who came to the state of Israel but the ruling British authority at the time, said Deborah Dash Moore, a professor of history and Judaic studies at the University of Michigan.
"The refugees came to the land of Israel in part because the United States didn't let in many of the refugees, right? Where else could they have gone? In that sense, there was room that was made," Dash Moore said.
"Now, did her Palestinian ancestors have a say in who came? No, it was the British who had the say because they were the ones who controlled immigration. She's trying to make a connection and say they did the right thing, even though — in truth — they didn't have the power to say yes or no."
Dash Moore listened to Tlaib's remarks and said, "I did not hear anything that was anti-Semitic about this."
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said Trump should apologize to Tlaib.
"Mr. President: Stop dividing the American people up by their religion, their race or their country of origin — and stop your ugly attacks against Muslim women in Congress. You are taking Rep. @RashidaTlaib's comments out of context and should apologize," Sanders tweeted.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, defended Tlaib, saying it's "no coincidence" Republicans were going after her in a "smear campaign" after previously targeting Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar for remarks that critics said were anti-Semitic.
Tlaib and Omar, who took office in January, are the first Muslim women elected to Congress.
"People should seek the truth & read her comments. The incessant vilification of the first Muslim-American women in Congress is shameful," Blumenauer tweeted.
The progressive group Justice Democrats, which endorsed Tlaib last year, called on party leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to back Tlaib and denounce Trump and Cheney's "bad-faith attacks."
"Donald Trump and the far-right movement within the Republican Party will do anything to distract, divide, and conquer the American people through racist appeals at a time when his trade policies are falling apart and as his party wants to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid," said Alexandra Rojas, the group's executive director.
In Friday's podcast, Tlaib was responding to a question about her vision for one state for both Israelis and Palestinians, noting how "separate but equal didn't work here" in the United States.
"You shouldn't oppress others so you can be free and safe," Tlaib said. "Why can't we all be free and safe together?"
The interviewer asked Tlaib if she was "playing with fire" by advocating for a one-state solution, noting extremists on both sides who also support a one-state solution by either expelling Jews or Arabs from Israel.
"No, 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?" Tlaib said.
"I am, you know, humbled by the fact that it was my ancestors that had to suffer for that to happen. But I will not turn my back and allow others to hijack it and say that it’s some extremist approach because they’re coming from a place of, whatever it is — of division, inequality. But you know, if you look at Netanyahu, he's the first person to come out and support President Trump's wall. That is not the kind of leadership."