Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib defended her recent comments about Israel and the Holocaust Sunday after drawing criticism from top Republicans and Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, accusing her detractors of purposefully mischaracterizing her remarks.
Speaking on an episode of Yahoo News’ “Skullduggery” podcast that was released Friday, Tlaib was asked about her support for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She began by noting the recent observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day before veering into the historic position of the state of Israel.
“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,” Tlaib said.
She continued, “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 the 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 couldn’t we do it in a better way?”
When asked whether advocating for a one-state solution could be seen as reckless, Tlaib replied, “No, I’m coming from a place of love, for equality and justice, I truly am.”
“I want a safe haven for Jews,” she added. “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, 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.”
Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, accused Tlaib of trying to edit history with her comments.
“.@RashidaTlaib, your words are both grossly#antiSemitic and ignorant,” he tweeted at the congresswoman. “You should take some time to learn the history before trying to rewrite it.”
Tlaib, in turn, accused her critics of “trying to silence” her and advance a “racist and hateful agenda.”
“Policing my words, twisting & turning them to ignite vile attacks on me will not work,” she tweeted later Sunday. “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.”
Tlaib’s office also later put out a statement explaining her remarks.
“The Congresswoman did not in any way praise the Holocaust, nor did she say the Holocaust itself brought a calming feeling to her,” spokesman Denzel McCampbell said. “In fact, she repeatedly called the Holocaust a tragedy and a horrific persecution of Jewish people.”
Tlaib’s comments quickly became fodder for top Republicans and right-wing websites.
President Donald Trump on Monday said the comments were “horrible and highly insensitive” and demonstrated a “tremendous hatred of Israel and the Jewish people.”
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a member of GOP House leadership, called on Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her No. 2, Maryland Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer, to “take action” against Tlaib, incorrectly claiming that Tlaib associated a “calming feeling” with the Holocaust and the resulting deaths.
“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,’” Cheney tweeted.
In a statement to CNN on Monday, Hoyer, who is the House majority leader, said Tlaib deserves an apology from Trump and congressional Republicans, whom he accused of taking the congresswoman’s comments “out of context.” And later Monday House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed, saying in a tweet that Republican lawmakers have tried to “smear” Tlaib.
“Republicans’ desperate attempts to smear @RepRashida & misrepresent her comments are outrageous,” the California Democrat said. “President @realdDonaldTrump & House GOP should apologize to Rep. Tlaib & the American people for their gross misrepresentations.”
McCampbell, meanwhile, accused Republicans of “spreading outright lies to incite hate,” specifically charging Cheney.
Cheney “should be ashamed of herself for using the tragedy of the Holocaust in a transparent attempt to score political points,” McCampbell wrote in a statement Sunday. “Her behavior cheapens our public discourse and is an insult to the Jewish community and the millions of Americans who stand opposed to the hatred being spread by Donald Trump’s Republican party.”
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise issued a statement claiming the Holocaust gave Tlaib a “calming feeling,” although in point of fact, she called the Holocaust a tragedy and seemed to be referring to a role Palestinians played in the establishment of Israel after the Holocaust.
“There is no justification for the twisted and disgusting comments made by Rashida Tlaib just days after the annual Day of Holocaust Remembrance,” Scalise said in a statement. “More than 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust; there is nothing ‘calming’ about that fact.”
Tlaib’s comment was in reference to the establishment of the modern nation of Israel, which was declared an independent state in 1948, just a few years after more than 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. Many European Jews had fled persecution and the threat of extinction by coming to historic Palestine to settle. In the course of the war that accompanied Israel’s founding, about 700,000 Palestinian Arabs either fled or were expelled from their homes. In the decades since, the conflict between Israelis, Palestinians, and a range of other parties, particularly Arab states and the US, has remained at a violent impasse and among the most infamous, long-ranging disputes in the modern world. The US had traditionally called for a two-state solution, while Trump has offered public flexibility on the matter and supported Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Tlaib has come under fire repeatedly for her past comments and positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and her comments on the podcast, while frequently misrepresented online, joined a growing list of statements galvanizing many on the right against her.
Tlaib, a freshman Democrat of Palestinian heritage and Muslim faith, has criticized Israel and the US approach to the issue, and called for one state for both Israelis and Palestinians.
This story has been updated with additional developments Monday.
CNN’s Sunlen Serfaty and Devan Cole contributed to this report.