Rubio, Tlaib trade barbs over Israel, free speech

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees Overnight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal Bipartisan senators reintroduce bill to prevent Trump from withdrawing from NATO MORE (R-Fla.) got into a heated exchange with freshman Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibOn The Money: Shutdown Day 27 | Trump fires back at Pelosi by canceling her foreign travel | Dems blast 'petty' move | Trump also cancels delegation to Davos | House votes to disapprove of Trump lifting Russia sanction GOP lawmaker accuses Dems of 'empowering' anti-Semitism GOP lawmaker pushes to derail Tlaib from leading delegation to West Bank MORE (D-Mich.) over freedom of speech and a proposed bill to protect Israel from boycotts.

Rubio introduced a bill this week with Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate rejects government-wide ban on abortion funding Centrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks MORE (D-W.Va.) that seeks to counter the "boycott, divestment, sanctions" (BDS) movement by allowing state and local government to boycott U.S. companies who engage in boycotts of Israel.

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Tlaib on Sunday night criticized the lawmakers for introducing the measure as the first legislative act in the midst of a partial government shutdown that started on Dec. 22 over President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump directed Cohen to lie to Congress about plans to build Trump Tower in Moscow during 2016 campaign: report DC train system losing 0k per day during government shutdown Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees MORE's demand for border wall funding.

“They forgot what country they represent. This is the U.S. where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality,” Tlaib wrote. “Maybe a refresher on our U.S. Constitution is in order, then get back to opening up our government instead of taking our rights away.”

Tlaib was sharing criticism from Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersWomen's March plans 'Medicare for All' day of lobbying in DC Group aiming to draft Beto O’Rourke unveils first 2020 video Why Joe Biden (or any moderate) cannot be nominated MORE (I-Vt.), who has been a staunch opponent of efforts to protect Israel from boycotts, arguing it poses a threat to free speech protections.

Rubio responded to Tlaib on Twitter, arguing if boycotts of Israel were constitutionally protected, then boycotts of companies that boycott Israel should be protected as well.

“This ‘dual loyalty’ canard is a typical anti-Semitic line,” Rubio wrote. “#BDS isn’t about freedom & equality, it’s about destroying #Israel.”

Tlaib responded to Rubio’s charge, stating that her tweet was critical of U.S. senators “seeking to strip Americans of their Constitutional right to free speech.”

“The American people need Trump and Republican Senators to focus on ending the shutdown instead of inventing controversy to distract from your inaction,” Tlaib added.

The freshman congresswoman was also criticized by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an anti-hate organization which tracks instances of anti-Jewish sentiment.

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement that Tlaib’s tweet could be interpreted as suggesting that Jews or members of Congress are more loyal to Israel than to their own country. 

“Whether or not this was her intent, this type of language is deeply problematic,” Greenblatt said, arguing the allegation of mixed or dual loyalty has historically been used as a smear

“Though the legislation discussed is sponsored by four non-Jewish Senators, any charge of dual loyalty has special sensitivity and resonance for Jews, particularly in an environment of rising anti-Semitism,” Greenblatt said. “It is a long-standing anti-Semitic trope connected to the idea that Jews are more loyal to Israel than their own country, or that U.S. legislators — for some conspiratorial reason — are more concerned about issues related to Israel than U.S. national interest."

Tlaib defended her stance during an interview with Democracy Now on Tuesday, stating that she views the bill as “anti-First Amendment.”

“I cannot imagine our country not having the right to economic boycott. Think about, you know, Alabama, Montgomery. Think about Montgomery, Alabama, and all around the country, the civil rights movement,” Tlaib said.

Tlaib mentioned modern-day protests against corporations, like Occupy Walmart, that are "using the right to speak, the right to economic boycott, the right to be able to push up against things that they disagree with."

"There is nothing wrong with that," she added. 

She insisted that the intent of her tweet was to encourage Rubio to “read the United States Constitution.”

“Focus on our values and our rights right now. I don’t want our right to be able to speak and dissent to be taken away. I don’t care if it’s Saudi Arabia or if it’s Israel or any other country,” Tlaib told Democracy Now. “I can’t imagine our members of Congress or even the residents back in the day that pushed back against apartheid in Africa not to be able to boycott.”

Tlaib, the first Palestinian woman elected to serve in Congress, said the claims against her “are just farce.”

“They will continue to label me. My mere existence as a member of Congress as a Palestinian causes a lot of fear, because I’m here as a human being, as an American, that is saying to the world that we exist,” Tlaib said. “And that alone, anything to push up against that and to label me as some sort of anti-Semitic.”