WASHINGTON—First they came for Ilhan Omar. Then they came after Rashida Tlaib.
“They” are arch-conservative Republicans, certain Jewish-American lawmakers, White extremists, nativists, political opportunists and a wave of other critics who were consumed for a week with condemning Democratic freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib for comments she never made.
The right wing Republicans adopted a mob mentality and took to the airways, social media and traditional media to attack Rep. Tlaib—one of two Muslims elected to Congress last November—for what they say are anti-Semitic comments she made during an interview released on May 11.
Critics, including Republican House leaders Liz Cheney, Steve Scalise and Kevin McCarthy as well as President Donald Trump, released statements condemning Rep. Tlaib’s comments as anti-Semitic.
During the interview on Skullduggery, a podcast on Yahoo, Rep. Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, discussed the creation of Israel, details of her one-state solution and the effects of Palestinians being forced off their land. Her comments about the calming feeling she has because Jews found sanctuary in Palestine during the Holocaust with Palestinian help was mischaracterized by Ms. Cheney and the rest as her having a calming feeling when thinking about the Holocaust.
Her actual comments were: “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,” she said. “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.”
During the interview, the Michigan lawmaker described the Holocaust as a tragedy.
Rep. Cheney was the first to respond and those who followed, including the president spoke of Rep. Tlaib’s “tremendous hatred of Israel and the Jewish people.”
Rep. Cheney tweeted: “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.’ ”
In response to relentless attacks from Rep. Cheney in the days following the interview, Rep. Omar addressed her colleague directly: “Give it up, we all know you never met a Muslim you didn’t want to vilify! Your deep seeded hate and Islamophobia might be a tool to rally your base, but won’t get rid [of] your colleagues. You just have to deal.”
House Majority Leader Hoyer and other Democrats also rushed in to defend Rep. Tlaib, rebuking Rep. Cheney, the president and Republicans for intentionally taking Rep. Tlaib’s comments out of context and demanding that they pull back and apologize.
“If you read Rep. @RashidaTlaib’s comments, it is clear that President Trump and Congressional Republicans are taking them out of context. They must stop, and they owe her an apology,” said Rep. Hoyer.
Rep. Tlaib didn’t hesitate to hit back at the attacks as well, blasting those who lied about her comments, while reiterating that she stands by her words.
“Policing my words, twisting & turning them to ignite vile attacks on me will not work. All of you who are trying to silence me will fail miserably,” she tweeted on May 12. “I will never allow you to take my words out of context to push your racist and hateful agenda. The truth will always win.”
Support has poured in from a wide cross-section of supporters like activists Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour; Rep. Ayanna Pressley; Sen. Bernie Sanders; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; and lecturer, best-selling author, commentator and religious scholar Reza Azlan.
Yet Rep. Tlaib isn’t the only freshman member of Congress experiencing the avalanche of smears, and misrepresentations from Republicans as well as death and other threats from supporters of President Trump.
Rep, Tlaib’s colleague and sister-in-the-struggle Rep. Ilhan Omar has also been the target of equally vile and vicious comments from Republican critics. They have labeled her anti-Semitic. She and her family have received death threats because she had the temerity to question the clout and level of influence the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has on American politics and policy toward Israel and the Middle East. She has criticized America’s unquestioned support of an Israeli government that has occupied the West Bank for 52 years; annexed Palestinian land to build Jewish settlements, enforced a land, sea and air blockade with Egypt against Gaza since 2007 when Hamas took control of the Gaza strip; and killed and imprisoned Palestinian men, women and children resisting the occupation and Israel’s overwhelming military force.
Both lawmakers have spoken often about their concerns about humanitarian crisis affecting Palestinians, while criticizing the U.S. and Netanyahu governments. But as has become customary, critics say, any valid criticism of Israel and Israel policy is painted as anti-Semitic for political and other reasons.
The attacks against have been so fierce, critics say, because they have broken with Democratic policy positions. For example, they support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, a Palestinian-inspired effort to, among other things, force Israel to end the occupation in the Palestinian territories. They have each challenged the political status quo of the U.S., particularly in regards to foreign policy. And they have leveled criticism against the rising tide of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bias.
Much of the backlash and animus, many observers say, arises from the fact that the pair is Muslim, non-Caucasian and female. Plus they are seeking to upend the status quo in Congress to the consternation of establishment Democrats and Republicans.
So concerned was Dr. Angela Davis, Dr. Barbara Ransby and other activists, that they organized a Rally in Defense of Ilhan Omar on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on May 1.
One-hundred women were invited, including Nina Turner, a former Ohio senator and co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 election campaign; Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza; Women’s Movement co-founder Linda Sarsour; and the Rev. Traci Blackmon.
The rally was moderated by Thenjiwe Tameika McHarris, an organizer with the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice. Reps. Tlaib and Pressley came to the rally, as did Rep. Omar, whose appearance sparked sustained applause and cheers from the predominantly female crowd.
Rev. Blackmon gave a fiery and memorable speech denouncing President Trump, White extremists and others who are intent on silencing the voices of Rep. Omar and all Black women.
“I am here in the nation’s capital because of this nation’s shameful history of … systematically dismissing, devaluing and denigrating Black women who have been the most consistent block of voters in this country but who are ridiculed and ignored on both sides of the aisle,” said Rev. Blackmon, executive minister of Justice & Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ and senior pastor of Christ The King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri. “… We are not the other. This nation was built on our backs, suckled on our breasts, and was enriched by the blood and sweat of our ancestors whose labor was stolen for the coffers of the few.”
Like Reps. Tlaib and Omar, Rev. Blackmon, said Black women refuse to back down in the face of racist aggression and vowed that they would protect Rep. Omar and those leaders resisting the rise of racism, sexism, hate crimes, anti-Muslim bias and Islamophobia.
In New Jersey a week earlier, Fredrikca Bey(check make sure spelling is correct) organized a similar rally in Newark. More than 200 participants heard speakers at the April 23 event, “We The People, Support Congresswoman Ilhan Omar,” whose speakers and supporters were a cross-section of religion, politics and civil society. They included Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Sen. Cory Booker, mayors, assemblymen and women, Christians and Muslims.
Ms. Bey was unavailable to talk to the Final Call but Abdul Hafeez Muhammad, East Coast regional student minister of The Nation of Islam and lead minister of Mosque No. 7 in Harlem, said it was necessary to stand in defense of Rep. Omar.
“It’s very important because as Min. Louis Farrakhan said at Saviours’ Day, she has a sweet heart. Rep. Omar was sent there by the people, but God is the overseer. She was sent there to shake up Congress,” he told The Final Call. “Neither her nor AOC (Alexandria Ocasio Cortez) are there to be part of old boys and old girls network. What she said about AIPAC is true. They control Congress and even the president. Min. Farrakhan said, why apologize for speaking the truth? Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.”
Iman W. Deen Shareef agreed.
“The vitriolic rhetoric from Congress and Trump and death threats to her and family is why we had the rally,” said Imam Shareef, convener of the Council of Imams of New Jersey, Masjid Waarith ud Deen in Irvington, N.J. “It is a misrepresentation of what she has said and as a result Sister Frederica Bey called various members of the Muslim community to come together to stand as one and voice our support.”
“I have never seen this kind of racism as well as misogyny. There are people who are supposed to represent the values of the United States but in fact, they are the very same people perpetuating this ignorance. If citizens of the United States don’t wake up, some of the people they’ve placed in office and authority who are not qualified to be there, and represent the antithesis of what America projects itself to be, will destroy the soul of this country. The danger is that if people do not adjust to the threat, the disease will spread and it will become a cancer.”