WASHINGTON — Last week, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., said in an interview that it gave her "a calming feeling" to think of her Palestinian ancestors giving up their lives and their land to create a safe haven for Jews fleeing the persecution of the Holocaust. She added that her ancestors had to give up their dignity at the same time, which is why she now supports a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Given the deeply polarized atmosphere in Washington now, and Tlaib's outspoken criticism of Israel's current government policies, her statement immediately caused a furor. Many right-wing critics interpreted her statement as meaning the Holocaust itself gave her a calming feeling, and others accused her of anti-Semitism, as they have often done since her election to office last fall. President Donald Trump tweeted that she had a "tremendous hatred of Israel and the Jewish people."
On Monday, Tlaib accused Trump and GOP lawmakers of "spreading outright lies" about her.
"The Holocaust was a horrific persecution of Jewish people and should be remembered as such, nothing short of that. While I conveyed these sentiments during Yahoo’s Skullduggery’s Podcast, it’s shameful that right-wing extremists and GOP leadership, including President Trump, have twisted and misconstrued my words to spread falsehoods rooted in hate," Tlaib said in a statement Monday.
"Trump has doubled down on his party’s use of the Holocaust to score political points," she added. "This is yet another attempt by the administration and the GOP to try to distract from their horrible policies, lawless acts, and actual anti-Semitic rhetoric."
During the interview on the "Skullduggery" podcast released Friday, Tlaib was asked about her support for a one-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians.
Tlaib responded by noting that Holocaust Remembrance Day recently occurred and said, "There's 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, have been wiped out, and some people's passports."
She continued, "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, and I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, right, in many ways. 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 a one-state, I think about the fact that, why couldn't we do it in a better way?"
A number of Republicans criticized Tlaib for using the words "a calming feeling" when speaking about the Holocaust even though she appeared to say she had that feeling when thinking about a safe haven created for Jews after the Holocaust.
"No one should ever receive a 'calming feeling' when thinking about the Holocaust," Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., said on Monday. "Rep. Rashida Tlaib's comments are completely unacceptable and reveal a disturbing, warped view of history."
Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., who is Jewish, tweeted Sunday that Tlaib "says the Holocaust gives her 'a calming feeling' calling for a 1 state solution putting Jews in the minority & out of power of their own country. This is a heart filled w darkness & how the Holocaust began in 1st place."
Israel’s representative to the U.N., Ambassador Danny Danon, tweeted Sunday that Tlaib's "words are both grossly #antiSemitic and ignorant. You should take some time to learn the history before trying to rewrite it."
And Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said that Democratic leaders should take action against "vile anti-Semitism in their ranks."
Tlaib responded to the backlash Sunday evening, tweeting that Republicans were twisting her comments.
Tlaib also said during the podcast: "I want a safe haven for Jews. Who doesn't want to be safe? I am humbled by the fact that it was my ancestors that had to suffer for that to happen, but I will not turn my back and allow others to hijack it and say that it's some extremist approach because they're coming from a place of... whatever it is...of division, inequality."
Freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., defended Tlaib, tweeting that Trump “praised people at a neo-Nazi rally,” referring to his “both sides” comment after a deadly protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., tweeted that it was clear Trump and Republicans are taking Tlaib's comments out of context.
While no Democratic lawmakers have appeared to criticize Tlaib for her remark, few besides Omar and Hoyer have defended her. Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who served under President Barack Obama, suggested that Tlaib’s claim that Palestinians welcomed Jews who fled the Holocaust in Europe was incorrect.