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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 TlaibBiden and the new Congress must protect Americans from utility shutoffs Overnight Energy: EPA rule exempts many polluting industries from future air regulations | Ex-Michigan governor to be charged over Flint water crisis: report | Officials ousted from White House after papers casting doubt on climate science Ex-Michigan governor to be charged over Flint water crisis: report 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 PelosiMissouri woman seen with Pelosi sign charged in connection with Capitol riots Boebert communications director resigns amid Capitol riot: report Revising the pardon power — let the Speaker and Congress have voices MORE (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerBoebert communications director resigns amid Capitol riot: report GOP divided over Liz Cheney's future Pelosi mum on when House will send impeachment article to Senate 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 NadlerPelosi names 9 impeachment managers Republicans gauge support for Trump impeachment Clyburn blasts DeVos and Chao for 'running away' from 25th Amendment fight 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 OmarDemocrats poised to impeach Trump again Pence opposes removing Trump under 25th Amendment: reports Pelosi vows to impeach Trump again — if Pence doesn't remove him first MORE (D-Minn.) — on Capitol Hill.

The partisan brawl is also playing out against the backdrop of the 2020 campaign, with President TrumpDonald TrumpFacebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP Section 230 worked after the insurrection, but not before: How to regulate social media 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 CheneyGOP divided over Liz Cheney's future The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history GOP in bind over Trump as corporate donations freeze 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 DeSantisFlorida Republicans close ranks with Trump after Capitol siege Once the slam-dunk nominee, Trump's 2024 aspirations already toast after Capitol chaos State and federal officials wrestle over vaccine rollout, delays MORE narrowly beat Democrat Andrew Gillum in Florida’s gubernatorial race last fall, while Scott edged out Democratic Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonGeorgia Senate races shatter spending records Georgia voters flood polls ahead of crucial Senate contests The Hill's Morning Report - Fearing defeat, Trump claims 'illegal' ballots 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 FrankelHow Congress dismissed women's empowerment Frankel defeats Loomer in Florida House race Live updates: Democrats seek to extend House advantage 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.