Rashida Tlaib, Under Fire for Holocaust Remarks, Hits Back at 'Vile Attacks'

Congresswoman widely criticized after saying she was 'humbled' that her Palestinian ancestors 'created a safe haven for Jews' after the Holocaust

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib speaks at a rally calling on Congress to censure President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 30, 2019.
Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib shot back at critics who slammed her for her description of the Palestinians’ relationship to the Holocaust, tweeting Sunday that “policing my words, twisting [and] turning them to ignite vile attacks on me will not work.”

Tlaib had originally said she “loves the fact” that her “Palestinian ancestors” were part of an attempt “to create a safe haven for Jews” after the Holocaust, although the role “was forced on them” and took place “in a way that took their human dignity away.”

Defending her comments, Tlaib said: “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.” 

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Denzel McCampbell, Tlaib’s communications director, released a formal statement asserting that “Republican leaders and right-wing activists are spreading outright lies to incite hate,” and that it is “dangerous and only increases hateful rhetoric from those who want to cause harm to oppressed people.”

The statement was issued amid widespread condemnation by prominent Republican lawmakers,including the president, of Tlaib’s comments on the Skullduggery podcast late last week.

President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter, “Democrat Rep. Tlaib is being slammed for her horrible and highly insensitive statement on the Holocaust. 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?”

In the statement from Tlaib's office, McCampbell specifically slammed the reaction of Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney (Wyoming), who tweeted that she hoped Tlaib’s recent remarks meant that Democratic congressional leaders would “finally take action against vile anti-Semitism in their ranks. This must cross the line, even for them.”

“Congresswoman Liz Cheney should be ashamed of herself for using the tragedy of the Holocaust in a transparent attempt to score political points. 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,” McCampbell’s statement read.  

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise also slammed Tlaib, saying in a statement: “There is no justification for the twisted and disgusting comments made by Rashida Tlaib just days after the annual Day of Holocaust Remembrance. More than 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust; there is nothing ‘calming’ about that fact.”

Tlaib’s communication director charged that the GOP congress members had twisted her words. “The congresswoman did not in any way praise the Holocaust nor did she say the Holocaust itself brought a calming feeling to her,” said McCampbell. “In fact, she repeatedly called the Holocaust a tragedy and a horrific persecution of Jewish people.”

But McCampbell reiterated the congresswoman’s belief that Palestinian behavior at the time represented an “effort to provide a safe haven for people fleeing persecution.”

This assertion has been at the center of much of the angry reaction to Tlaib’s comments.

Tlaib had told her interviewers, “There’s always kind of a calming feeling when I think of the tragedy of the Holocaust, 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, has been wiped out ... in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post-Holocaust, post-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 in many ways.”

Pundits, predominantly from the right, have harshly condemned the comment, calling it historical revisionism.

The chorus of outrage was joined by Israel's ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, who called Tlaib’s comments “both grossly anti-Semitic and ignorant.”

The Washington Post described the backlash as representing “the second time in recent weeks Republicans have seized on out-of-context remarks by a freshman Democratic lawmaker,” referring to remarks — including by President Donald Trump — of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s reference to the September 11 attacks, portraying them as dismissive.

The attacks on Omar resulted in death threats against the Minnesota congresswoman, who, like Tlaib, is one of the first female Muslim women to serve in the House of Representatives.  

Though the majority of criticism came from the right, there were Jewish Democrats who also expressed discomfort with Tlaib’s interpretation of history. Former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro tweeted that the "idea that [Palestinians] welcomed Jews fleeing Europe for a haven” was “strange.”

Israeli academic Benny Morris, a leading historian of the period, told Haaretz that “Rashida Tlaib is either completely ignorant of the history or is a deliberate liar.”

Morris said that between 1933 and 1945, the Arabs of British Mandatory Palestine “did nothing to alleviate the suffering of the Jews at Nazi hands. Rather, the opposite: The Arabs of Palestine, during the whole period — and supported by the neighboring Arab states — did all they could to prevent Jews trying to escape Nazi hands from reaching the relatively safe shores of Palestine.”

Like many of Tlaib’s critics, Morris also noted that, during his exile in Berlin in 1941-1945, the leader of the Palestinian Arab nationalist movement, Haj Amin al-Husseini, called for the massacre of Jews in the Arab world on Nazi radio stations and helped the Nazis recruit Muslims to serve in their ranks.