Growing Support in U.S. Congress for Palestinian Rights, Rashida Tlaib Says

Palestinian American congresswoman points to recent letter as first congressional correspondence referring to Israeli occupation as 'settler colonialism' as example of shift in attitudes

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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Rep. Rashida Tlaib (L) and Rep. Ayana Pressley attend a press conference last month in Washington, D.C.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (L) and Rep. Ayana Pressley attend a press conference last month in Washington, D.C.Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the Democratic congresswoman from Michigan, said Friday that there is growing, unprecedented support in Congress for Palestinian rights while sharply criticizing Israel's "apartheid system."

Addressing a webinar hosted by American Muslims for Palestine and the Jewish anti-occupation IfNotNow Movement, the Palestinian American lawmaker highlighted the recent letter she led alongside Rep. Mark Pocan as the first congressional correspondence to refer to Israeli occupation as "settler colonialism."

"Just a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable to have 12 members of Congress refer to Israeli occupation as colonialism, so I have no doubt that the needle on Palestinian human rights is moving," Tlaib said. She argued that "settler colonialism describes the reality of what the Netanyahu government is doing. They're building illegal settlements for settlers to colonize Palestinian land," adding that "when you have separate roads and license plates and existing set of laws for different populations in your country, that is an apartheid system."

Tlaib also criticized Israel for "medical apartheid," saying the COVID-19 pandemic reinforced that "occupation threatens the lives and wellbeing of Palestinians, not only through military violence but by denying access to adequate health care." She argued that while Israel has received praise for its high vaccination rate, it is responsible under international law to provide vaccinations to all Palestinians living under occupation.

"We all need to raise awareness of how the systems that oppress Palestinians in Israel and occupied Palestine are mirrored in the United States, where racism in our health care system means that indigenous and Black Americans die at more than twice the rate of our white counterparts," Tlaib said.

"When I see the United States sending nearly $4 billion in military aid to Israel, I not only see money to support occupation, but tax dollars that could be used to fund health care in my home district — one of the poorest in the nation," she added. "This is just one example of the need to stop investing in war and start investing in health care."

Tlaib argued that one cannot claim to be progressive or a supporter of social justice if that vision does not include resistance to the Israeli occupation, telling the viewers that their organizing efforts were making a "huge difference" in institutions of power, including Congress. She praised Jewish allies who have "spoken truth to power" regarding Palestinian human rights. "The systems that oppress us and our struggles for freedom are so interconnected," she said. "You don't wait until it's your community that's targeted."

Tlaib, currently in her second term, has been at the forefront of a wave of criticism of the Israeli government, becoming a frequent target of the right due to her support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Tlaib, whose grandmother lives in the West Bnak, was barred from visiting by the Israeli government in August 2019 due to her BDS stance, in keeping with the government's policy to block visitors who support boycotts. Israel then reversed course and said Tlaib could visit the West Bank on humanitarian grounds as part of a private visit. Tlaib rejected the offer, however, saying that Israel had imposed restrictions meant to humiliate her.

In a subsequent press conference, Tlaib said her grandmother urged her during a tearful phone call not to come. "She said I'm her dream manifested. I'm her free bird," Tlaib recalled. "So why would I come back and be caged and bow down when my election rose her head up high, gave her dignity for the first time?"

Tlaib and her colleague, Rep. Ilhan Omar, were the first Muslim women elected to Congress when they won their seats in 2018. Former President Donald Trump singled them out for criticism several times throughout his tenure, calling them antisemitic and referring to Tlaib as "descipable" and "disgraceful."

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