WASHINGTON (JTA) — After being thwarted by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Rep. Rashida Tlaib succeeded in spotlighting Palestinian perspectives on Israel’s founding in an event on Capitol Hill — with help from one of Congress’ most powerful Jewish members, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The Palestinian-American Democrat from Detroit also introduced a congressional resolution calling on the suspension of some aid to Israel.
Tlaib’s event on Wednesday, called “Nakba 75 & the Palestinian People,” featured the Arabic word for “catastrophe” that Palestinians use to describe the dispersion and expulsion of Palestinians during Israel’s 1948 war for independence. The event included cosponsors that have endorsed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, such as Jewish Voice for Peace and Americans for Justice in Palestine Action.
Tlaib had originally reserved a room in the Capitol Visitors’ Center for the event, but McCarthy canceled it, exercising a rarely used prerogative of his office.
“This event in the US Capitol is canceled,” he wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, sharing an article from the Washington Free Beacon, a right-wing news website that called Tlaib’s event antisemitic. “Instead, I will host a bipartisan discussion to honor the 75th anniversary of the US-Israel relationship.” (Whether that event took place is not clear; McCarthy’s office did not respond to a request for comment.)
That decision earned McCarthy praise from an array of centrist and right-wing pro-Israel groups, which objected to the event, citing the participation of anti-Zionist groups.
“We commend Speaker McCarthy’s decision to shift the focus towards a civil, bipartisan discussion on Israel-US relations,” said a statement from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the foreign policy umbrella for a number of national Jewish groups. “This approach fosters mutual understanding and constructive engagement, laying the foundation for progress towards a more peaceful future.”
Tlaib then turned to the Senate, where Democrats are in the majority and where the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is chaired by Vermont’s Sanders. The progressive leader, who campaigned for her and whom she calls “amo,” or “uncle,” provided the room.
The meeting went ahead as planned, Jewish Insider reported, with the participation of Tlaib and Rep. Cori Bush, a Missouri Democrat who like Tlaib is an outspoken critic of Israel. Sanders’ office confirmed to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the senator signed off on the event, though he did not attend.
“Everyone needs an amo in the Senate,” Jewish Insider quoted Tlaib as telling the room. On Twitter, she was triumphant, writing: “Let the headlines read ‘McCarthy tries to erase Palestine but fails.’”
Centrist pro-Israel groups condemned Sanders for allowing the event to take place.
“It is disgraceful that @SenSanders allowed this event by @RepRashida to be held in our nation’s Capitol,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League who has called anti-Zionism antisemitic, wrote on Twitter. “Real conversations are needed around a path to peace, but not with groups & individuals who espouse antisemitism. We call on the Senate to condemn this event.”
On Wednesday, Tlaib also introduced a resolution marking the Nakba. It cited JVP and other anti-Zionist groups as endorsers, and was cosponsored by a number of Democratic representatives who have joined Tlaib in vocally criticizing Israel, including Bush, Jamaal Bowman of New York, Betty McCollum of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.
The resolution calls for the suspension of some forms of defense assistance to Israel. It calls on the United States to “reject efforts to enlist, engage, or otherwise associate the United States Government with denial of the Nakba” and to scrutinize Israel’s actions according to the provisions of the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act of 2018, which is named after the famed late Holocaust survivor.
Tlaib’s event and resolution came amid a series of congressional actions celebrating Israel’s 75th birthday, which the country marked in late April. Last month, a bipartisan resolution congratulating Israel passed overwhelmingly in the House and a similar one is under consideration in the Senate. Additionally, the leaders of both parties in the House — Democrat Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the minority leader, and McCarthy, a California Republican — visited Israel to join in the commemorations and festivities.
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