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Republicans amp up attacks on Tlaib's Holocaust comments

Republicans amp up attacks on Tlaib's Holocaust comments
© Greg Nash

The war of words over race and anti-Semitism is heating up on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers in both parties launched new salvos Tuesday in the escalating uproar over recent comments from Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibOcasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Kamala Harris's facial expressions during debate go viral MORE (D-Mich.) invoking the Holocaust.

House Republicans fired shots at the Michigan freshman and her party defenders, accusing Democrats of whitewashing sentiments that GOP lawmakers have portrayed as anti-Semitic.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: McConnell says he would give Trump-backed coronavirus deal a Senate vote | Pelosi, Mnuchin see progress, but no breakthrough | Trump, House lawyers return to court in fight over financial records Progress, but no breakthrough, on coronavirus relief McConnell says he would give Trump-backed coronavirus deal a vote in Senate MORE (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerTop Democrats introduce resolution calling for mask mandate, testing program in Senate Trump orders aides to halt talks on COVID-19 relief This week: Coronavirus complicates Senate's Supreme Court fight MORE (D-Md.) have responded in kind, denouncing Tlaib’s critics for twisting her message in an effort to divide the party and win the favor of Jewish voters, who have long flocked to the Democrats’ side.

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Other top Democrats joined in defending Tlaib on Tuesday.

“Rep. Tlaib has been purposefully slandered by the President and other Republicans with her comments deliberately taken out of context and mischaracterized,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerMarijuana stocks see boost after Harris debate comments Jewish lawmakers targeted by anti-Semitic tweets ahead of election: ADL Democrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court MORE (D-N.Y.), one of the most powerful Jewish lawmakers, said in a statement. “It is clear from the full quote that she was not making any antisemitic reference.”

The bitter back-and-forth marked the latest development in the ongoing debate over Israel and Congress’s approach to its longtime Middle East ally. That dynamic took on new dimensions this year with the arrival of two outspoken Muslim women — Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarVeterans launch pro-law enforcement super PAC with battlegrounds ad buys Kamala Harris and the stereotypes we place on Black women Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair MORE (D-Minn.) — on Capitol Hill.

The partisan brawl is also playing out against the backdrop of the 2020 campaign, with President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden holds massive cash advantage over Trump ahead of Election Day Tax records show Trump maintains a Chinese bank account: NYT Trump plays video of Biden, Harris talking about fracking at Pennsylvania rally MORE accusing Tlaib of harboring “tremendous hatred of Israel and the Jewish people.”

More than any other Republican, House GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneySteve King defends past comments on white supremacy, blasts NYT and GOP leaders in fiery floor speech GOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power Graham vows GOP will accept election results after Trump comments MORE (Wyo.) has seized on the issue, taking to social media and cable TV to attack Tlaib and the Democratic leaders who “enable the anti-Semitism in their ranks.” Her involvement has boosted her profile and comes amid speculation that Cheney, a defense hawk and fierce Israel backer, might jump into next year’s Wyoming Senate race and could land on a future Republican presidential ticket.

Campaign politics may also have motivated Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) to wade into the fight on Tuesday. The Sunshine State, where Scott served eight years as governor, is a critical battleground in the 2020 presidential election, and winning over a larger chunk of the influential Jewish vote there could tip the balance for Trump as he seeks a second term.

“Democrats’ tolerance of anti-Semitism exposes their intolerance,” Scott tweeted.

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In the 2018 midterms, 70 percent of Jewish voters in Florida voted for Democrats, compared with the 76 percent who stuck with the party nationwide, according to a poll commissioned by the progressive Jewish group J Street. Republican Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisTrump jokes he'll 'find a way' to fire Gov. DeSantis if he loses Florida Exclusive poll: Biden up in Mich., Pa., tied with Trump in Fla. The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump, Biden hit campaign trail in Florida MORE narrowly beat Democrat Andrew Gillum in Florida’s gubernatorial race last fall, while Scott edged out Democratic Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonSenate Democrats want to avoid Kavanaugh 2.0 Democrats sound alarm on possible election chaos Trump, facing trouble in Florida, goes all in MORE by 0.4 percent.

The GOP outcry follows Tlaib’s recent interview with Yahoo News’s “Skullduggery” podcast, in which she denounced the lost lives, forced migrations and other hardships suffered by some Palestinians when Israel was created after World War II. Tlaib, the first Palestinian American woman to serve in Congress, couched her remarks by adding that she also experiences a “calming feeling” in considering that the political upheaval helped “create a safe haven for Jews” after years of “tragedy and horrific persecution,” including the Holocaust.

“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,” she said in the podcast, which was published Saturday. “And I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, right? ... But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away and it was forced on them.”

Historians and prominent Jewish commentators quickly took issue with Tlaib’s version of events, noting that fierce opposition to Israel’s founding by many Palestinians led to years of violence that hurt both sides. Some also pointed out that the leader of Palestine’s Arabs at the time, Muhammad Haj Amin al Husseini, had opposed Jewish immigration to Palestine during Adolf Hitler’s reign in Germany — obstructing one of the few safe havens for Jews seeking to flee Europe — and later aligned himself with the Nazi regime.

Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, called attention to al Husseini in a series of tweets Tuesday.

“He murdered Jews,” Giuliani said. “He did everything he could to destroy a Jewish homeland.”

Rep. Lois FrankelLois Jane FrankelShakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' Florida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum Hillicon Valley: Democrats demand answers over Russian interference bulletin | Google Cloud wins defense contract for cancer research | Cyberattack disrupts virtual classes MORE (D-Fla.) also characterized some of Tlaib’s remarks as inaccurate, but defended her Democratic colleague.

“Congresswoman Tlaib’s comments that Palestinians helped create a ‘safe haven’ for Jews after the Holocaust is historically inaccurate,” said Frankel, who is Jewish and co-chair of the Women’s Caucus. “However, her statement was taken out of context and the criticism of anti-Semitism is political and not warranted. Personally, I wish all politicians would stop using Jews as political footballs.”

Some congressional Republicans took their critiques beyond the historical realm and alleged that Tlaib’s “calming feeling” was in reference to the killing of more than 6 million Jews in the Holocaust.

“There is just no context in which it is OK to say that a calming feeling comes over you when you think about the Holocaust,” Cheney said in an interview Tuesday with “Fox & Friends.”

“Most fourth graders know what the Holocaust was, and she apparently doesn’t,” Cheney added.

Scott, meanwhile, extended his criticisms to Pelosi, who a day earlier had demanded that Trump and Tlaib’s other GOP critics offer an apology.

“No, @SpeakerPelosi, you should stop defending anti-Semitism,” Scott tweeted on Tuesday.

Tlaib, for her part, is offering no apologies. Appearing on NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Myers” on Monday, she said she was simply lending a voice to her Palestinian ancestors, including her grandmother, who lives in the West Bank.

“I will continue to speak truth to power, continue to uplift my grandmother through love, and that’s all I can do,” Tlaib said. “[I will] continue to share the human impact of what it means to be Palestinian in the occupied territories.”

Overall, the full-throated defense of Tlaib from Pelosi and Hoyer has been markedly different from their response in February, when party leaders banded together to condemn comments from Omar. Many lawmakers deemed those remarks anti-Semitic, resulting in passage of an anti-hate resolution on the House floor.

“Republicans’ desperate attempts to smear @RepRashida & misrepresent her comments,” Pelosi tweeted this week, “are outrageous.”

Updated on May 17 at 1:01 p.m.