A measured and nuanced discussion of the Holocaust, Israel, and Palestinians was intentionally mischaracterized by right-wing media and politicians Sunday, leading to corporate media and the president amplifying dishonest attacks on one of the nation's only two Muslim Congresswomen.
"I will never allow you to take my words out of context to push your racist and hateful agenda" — Rep. Rashida Tlaib
The controversy comes from remarks made by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) on the Yahoo News podcast "Skullduggery" published Saturday. During the discussion with podcast co-hosts Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman, Tlaib referred to her Palestinian ancestry and reflected on the complicated modern history of her homeland.
"There's, you know, there's a kind of a calming feeling, I always tell folks, when I think of the Holocaust and the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the fact 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, had been wiped out," said Tlaib. "I mean, just 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."
Tlaib also mused as to whether there had been a better way forward for both people that didn't continue the cycle of persecution and expressed her support for a one-state solution in Israel and Palestine.
"I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, in many ways," said Tlaib "But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away, right? And it was forced on them. And so, when I think about one-state, I think about the fact that, why couldn't we do it in a better way?"
The comments were seized upon, and then twisted, by Philip Klein, a reporter for the right-wing Washington Examiner. Klein said that Tlaib's comments were "shocking and historically ignorant" and stated—taking the phrase wholly out of context—that Tlaib said the Holocaust left her with a "calming feeling."
Klein's piece was picked up by extreme right-wing figures like Twitter personality David Wohl and Fox News personality Dan Bongino before receiving the endorsement of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the third most powerful Republican in the House.
Referencing Klein's dishonest framing of Tlaib's "calming feeling" comment, Cheney called on House Democratic leadership to take action against the Michigan representative.
"Surely now @SpeakerPelosi & @LeaderHoyer will finally take action against vile anti-Semitism in their ranks," Cheney tweeted. "This must cross the line, even for them."
Surely now @SpeakerPelosi & @LeaderHoyer will finally take action against vile anti-Semitism in their ranks. This must cross the line, even for them. Rashida Tlaib says thinking of the Holocaust provides her a “calming feeling” https://t.co/opUUNEol2d— Liz Cheney (@Liz_Cheney) May 12, 2019
Cheney's tweet was called out on Twitter Sunday evening by James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, who called the Congresswoman's obsession with Tlaib "disgraceful."
"Your party's been playing this game for a decade," said Zogby. "Shame."
.@Liz_Cheney your obsession w/ targeting @RashidaTlaib or @IlhanMN smacks either of a deep-seated anti-Arab/Muslim bigotry or crass politics designed to prey on the bigotry of your “base.” In either case it’s disgraceful. Your party’s been playing this game for a decade. Shame. https://t.co/WRmVfEPGoA— James J. Zogby (@jjz1600) May 13, 2019
Cheney's tweet was followed by a statement from Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who once referred to himself as "David Duke without the baggage," decrying what he described as anti-Semitism.
"All of us, regardless of party, must stand as Americans against the evil of anti-Semitism," said Scalise. "If the Democratic leadership continues to stand by in silence, they are enabling the spread of evil."
Corporate media jumped into the fray, using headlines to frame the controversy in ways that lent credence to the original piece by Klein and its dishonest framing, irrespective of the reporting in the story.
- "House Republicans criticize Rep. Tlaib over remarks on Holocaust, Israel" (The Washington Post)
- "Rashida Tlaib stands by Israel and Holocaust comments amid criticism" (CNN)
- "Rashida Tlaib slammed by House GOP over comments on Holocaust, Palestinians" (Fox News)
President Donald Trump chimed in on Twitter late Monday morning, less than twenty-four hours since the echo-chamber process began, saying Tlaib was being "slammed for her horrible and highly insensitive statement on the Holocaust."
"She obviously has tremendous hatred of Israel and the Jewish people," said Trump. "Can you imagine what would happen if I ever said what she said, and says?"
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?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2019
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), the only other Muslim woman in Congress and herself a frequent target of the president, replied with a withering attack on the president.
"This is another transparent attempt to sow division between minority communities and distract from your own criminal behavior by smearing a Muslim woman," said Omar. "No one should fall for it this time."
You praised people at a neo-Nazi rally. We don't have to imagine.— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) May 13, 2019
This is another transparent attempt to sow division b/t minority communities and distract from your own criminal behavior by smearing a Muslim woman.
No one should fall for it this time. https://t.co/y0ggJT83oF
Tlaib's comments were "a nuanced, compassionate way to think about a deeply personal and difficult topic," wrote Splinter's Sophie Weiner. "So, of course, Republicans leapt to take the quotes out of context."
In a statement, Justice Democrats executive director Alexandra Rojas called for House Democratic leadership to support Tlaib.
"We call on Democratic Party leaders such as Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer to stand with Rashida Tlaib and call on Republican leaders to condemn Representative Cheney and Donald Trump's bad faith attacks," said Rojas.
Tlaib took a firm line against her critics, dismissing their dishonest attacks and making clear that attempts to silence her would "fail miserably."
"I will never allow you to take my words out of context to push your racist and hateful agenda," said Tlaib. "The truth will always win."