Politics & Policy

Tlaib Dismisses Criticism of Anti-Semitic Group That Planned Palestine Trip as ‘Distraction’

Rep Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill, July 15, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Representative Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) defended her aborted plan to attend a trip to Israel and Palestine sponsored by a notoriously anti-Semitic group on Monday, arguing that criticisms of the organization were intended to serve as a “distraction” from Israeli human-rights abuses committed against Palestinians.

Tlaib and fellow Democratic representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota were barred from Israel by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week over their affiliation with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The pair were planning on attending a trip to the country that was funded and planned by Miftah, a non-profit Palestinian advocacy group with a lengthy history of endorsing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Addressing the resulting controversy during a Monday press conference, Tlaib and Omar distanced themselves from Miftah, emphasizing that they weren’t aware of the group’s background when they decided to attend the trip, and adding that they implicitly trusted the group because other Democratic members of Congress participated in similar trip sponsored by it in 2016.

“Our colleagues that are senior members, some of whom have served multiple terms, actually told us about the organization. We’re not the ones who chose the organization. A U.S.-based sponsor organization chose it. But I think there were five members of Congress that actually went on a trip sponsored by the same organization,” Tlaib said when asked about criticisms of Miftah.

The freshman Michigan lawmaker went on to argue that, while she was unaware of Miftah’s background, recent criticisms of the group represent a cynical attempt to distract from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

“We’re just as taken aback and learned from everybody else that there are some issues around the organization. I think these are just distractions into the fact that this had nothing to do really with the agenda or these other issues,” she continued. “I think the focus is the hiding of the truth and hiding that the occupation is happening. I think they knew that us setting foot there would basically bring attention to something that many of us feel is very much against international human rights.”

In 2013, Miftah published an article on its website endorsing an ancient anti-Semitic trope that accuses “Jews [of using] the blood of Christians in the Jewish Passover.”

The group subsequently apologized for the post, but it has issued no such apology for the numerous articles in which its contributors praise suicide bombers who have killed scores of civilians as legitimate combatants in a war for Palestinian rights.

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