A Palestinian-American congresswoman held an event Wednesday evening on Capitol Hill to commemorate the Nakba Day, aka the “Palestinian catastrophe" of mass displacement in 1948. The controversy surrounding the event demonstrates growing division in the traditionally pro-Israel US Congress.
What happened: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) is one of the most vocal supporters of the Palestinian cause. A member of the self-described “squad” of progressive congresspeople, she was elected in 2018.
Tlaib planned to hold an event on Wednesday in the Capitol Visitor Center to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Nakba Day. Nakba is an Arabic word meaning “catastrophe” that refers to the mass displacement of Palestinians from modern-day Israel during the 1948 war after Israel’s independence. What exactly happened at the time is somewhat disputed, but there is general consensus, including among Israeli historians such as Benny Morris, that thousands of Palestinian Arabs were expelled from their homes. Others left voluntarily, including to Jordan.
Ahead of the event, some pro-Israel groups pressured Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to bar Tlaib from using the Capitol Visitor Center for the event.
“In previous years, many Nakba Day events have devolved into hateful, anti-Israel and even antisemitic language,” the Anti-Defamation League wrote a letter to McCarthy.
On Wednesday, McCarthy tweeted that the event had been canceled.
However, Tlaib then moved the event to the hearing room of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The committee’s chairman, Bernie Sanders (I-VT), allowed Tlaib to hold the event there since it is outside the control of the House, unlike the Capitol Visitor Center, according to multiple reports.
Sanders’ office did not respond to Al-Monitor’s request for comment on Thursday.
Tlaib introduced House Resolution 388 for the event, which calls for US policy to "commemorate the Nakba through official recognition and remembrance,” support Palestinian refugees, condemn “Israel’s ongoing nakba” against the Palestinians, and more.
Tlaib presented a copy of the resolution to nakba survivor Abed Musa at the event.
Congresswoman @RashidaTlaib presents the Nakba Resolution to Nakba survivor Dr. Abed Musa. #Nabka75 pic.twitter.com/bK9ZSk5zp3
— DAWN MENA (@DAWNmenaorg) May 11, 2023
Congresswoman Cori Bush (D-MO), another strong critic of Israel, likewise attended, according to reports.
Reactions: Some members of Congress engaged in a war of words after the ceremony. Tlaib tweeted “let the headlines read ‘McCarthy tries to erase Palestine but fails.’”
Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA), the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, slammed Tlaib’s holding of the event in the committee’s room.
“I wholeheartedly disapprove of the Majority permitting the use of the HELP Committee room for this divisive event. The Capitol Grounds should not be used as a pedestal to legitimize anti-Semitic bigotry,” he said in a statement.
The Republican Jewish Coalition also criticized Sanders, who is Jewish, for helping Tlaib. “There should be no ‘Jews for Nakba Day,’” the coalition tweeted.
Why it matters: Members of Congress in both parties have traditionally been supportive of Israel, but a growing number of progressive Democrats espouse pro-Palestine views in the House. Holding a nakba event could be seen as symbolic. The event was widely covered in Arabic-language media.
Know more: The event took place amid significant fighting between Israel and Gaza-based Palestinian groups. At least 28 Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed so far, in addition to injuries on both sides, according to reports on Thursday.