LANSING, Mich. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan has received widespread criticism for a video she posted over the weekend that was deemed offensive to the Jewish community by some, but she said her critics should focus less on the words she used than on saving civilian lives in the Middle East.
“My colleagues are much more focused on silencing me — the only Palestinian American voice in Congress — than they are on ending the horrific attacks on civilians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank right now,” Tlaib said in a statement sent Monday to The Associated Press. “Instead of attacking me and distorting my words, they should listen to their constituents and call for a cease-fire to save innocent lives.”
She was responding to calls from national and Michigan Democrats asking her to take down a video posted Friday, which includes a clip of demonstrators chanting “from the river to the sea.” Tlaib also said in the video “we will remember in 2024” before text appears stating: “Joe Biden supported the genocide of the Palestinian people.”
It’s the latest example of a public rift dividing Democrats in Michigan, which is home to one of the nation’s largest Arab American communities.
The Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish groups have criticized the “from the river to the sea,” chant as a call to dismantle the state of Israel. Many Palestinian activists say they are not calling for the destruction of Israel, but for freedom of movement and equal rights and protections for Palestinians throughout the land.
Democrat Elissa Slotkin, the lone Jewish member of Michigan’s congressional delegation, said on social media that the phrase promotes “division and violence,” and is “counterproductive to promoting peace.”
“If I knew that a phrase I’d used had hurt any of my constituents, I would apologize and retract it, no matter its origin,” Slotkin said. “I’d ask the same from you.”
Other Michigan Democrats, including Attorney General Dana Nessel and Michigan Senate President Pro Tempore Jeremy Moss, joined in criticizing Tlaib and calling for her to apologize. Nessel said that while she has defended Tlaib in the past, her use of the phrase “is so hurtful to so many.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said during a Sunday appearance on CNN that while he considers Tlaib a friend, “slogans like ‘the river to the sea,’ if that means the destruction of Israel, that’s not going to work.”
Tlaib said on social media late Friday that the “from the river to the sea” phrase is “an aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction, or hate.”
The back and forth between Democrats in Michigan is the most recent example of a widening divide over the Israel-Hamas war. Michigan is home to one of the largest Arab American communities in the nation, which Tlaib partially represents, but her Detroit-area district also includes a thriving Jewish community.
Tlaib, whose grandmother currently lives in the West Bank, has been called out since the war began by some who say she didn’t do enough to condemn the Hamas attack. An effort to censure Tlaib was dismissed with broad bipartisan support last week as both parties raised concerns about violating First Amendment rights.
Two U.S. House Republicans, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, introduced another motion to censure Tlaib on Monday.
Associated Press writer Farnoush Amiri in Washington, D.C. contributed to this report.