In doing so, they abandoned context and facts to make a political attack. President Trump picked up on the false attack against Tlaib on Monday morning, significantly elevating the story of what she didn’t say to cast her as some kind of villain who celebrates the Holocaust. This is a fairly brazen example of how reality is mattering less and less in politics.
Here’s what Tlaib said on the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery” published Saturday about a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and here’s how her political opponents bent her words. The bold is my emphasis added.
TLAIB: “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. . . . 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."
Republicans seized on the first half of that sentence (that she used the term “calming feeling” in context of talking about the Holocaust) without sharing the second half of it (that she felt calm when she thought of how Palestinians gave up their land to give persecuted Jews a homeland after World War II).
"There is no justification for the twisted and disgusting comments made by Rashida Tlaib just days after the annual Day of Holocaust Remembrance,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said in a statement. “More than six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust; there is nothing ‘calming’ about that fact.”
Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the No. 3 Republican in the House, issued a statement describing Tlaib’s remarks as “sickening.”
“I call on Speaker Pelosi and Leader Hoyer to finally take action against Representative Tlaib and other members of the Democratic caucus who are spreading vile anti-Semitism,” she said, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.). “All of us, regardless of party, must stand as Americans against the evil of anti-Semitism. If the Democratic leadership continues to stand by in silence, they are enabling the spread of evil.”
There is plenty of nuance and shades of gray when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is not one of those times. Tlaib describes the Holocaust as a “tragedy” and “horrific” and nothing less.
Her sentiment that Palestinians were martyrs for persecuted Jews is not a popular one among supporters of Israel. And Tlaib did frame her comments awkwardly. “Calming” is not a word normally ascribed to any aspect of the Holocaust. She was overtly critical of what happened to Palestinians but prefaces it by saying she has a positive take on it. That’s dissonant.
But that’s not even in the same universe as saying the Holocaust itself makes her feel calm.
It’s possible that Scalise and Cheney misheard Tlaib. Maybe they didn’t listen to her whole interview; maybe a staffer incorrectly related to them what Tlaib said. But that’s a charitable reading of the situation. Now that journalists have published the full interview, neither has taken back the criticism that wrongly accuses Tlaib of saying the Holocaust gives her “a calming feeling.” Especially important: Neither corrected the record before Trump seized on the story (which was predictable) and broadcast it to his 60 million Twitter followers.
The Fix has reached out to both offices and both offices defended their interpretation of Tlaib's words.
Lauren Fine, a spokeswoman for Scalise, said:
“It’s no wonder that the public trust in the media is at an all time low when the Washington Post and other mainstream media outlets manage to turn a member of Congress saying she has a ‘calming’ feeling thinking about the Holocaust based on historically inaccurate claims of Palestinian victimhood at the hand of Jewish refugees into a story on how this is somehow a Republican misinterpretation. No serious person thinks the media would take such pains to defend similar statements if they were made by a Republican as they do with the Democrats they give a pass for each day.”
Ali Pardo, a spokesperson for the House Republican Conference Committee, said for Cheney:
“There is no context in which describing the Holocaust as ‘calming’ is anything other than sickening. Rep. Tlaib’s ‘history’ is nothing but fantasy based on lies spread to delegitimize the state of Israel. It is disgraceful that House Democratic leaders continue to excuse and enable the anti-Semitism in their ranks.”
On Monday morning, Cheney tweeted Tlaib’s comments without their full context with punctuation that erroneously suggests she is sharing Tlaib’s full statement.
Tlaib is one of two of the first Muslim women to serve in Congress. Both she and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who also was elected in November, have invited controversy and been on the receiving end of it, more than nearly any other Democrat. It’s not lost on their supporters that both are Muslim women of color. (Another popular GOP target, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is also a woman of color.)
Republicans also have taken Omar’s comments out of context to cast her as some kind of monster. Several weeks ago, Republicans grabbed her remarks that “some people did something” about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to accuse her of being glib about the attacks. If you read her remarks in context, though, it appears Omar was using that language to make a point that Muslims have suffered in America because the attackers were Muslim.
Politicians twisting other politicians’ words is as old as politics. But accusing a member of Congress of feeling good about the Holocaust is a particularly fact-free, baseless attack. Before you accuse someone of saying something as egregious as that, wouldn’t you at least double check that’s indeed what that person said? The No. 2 and No. 3 House Republicans, and the president of the United States, didn’t bother.
We’re living in a time where someone can falsely accuse their political opponents of saying something, even when there’s a clear record otherwise. It’s as close as it gets to just making up stuff.