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AG Nessel, Sen. Moss make ‘plea’ to Rep. Tlaib over language in social media post

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib at a women's rally in Ann Arbor.
Cathy Shafran
89.1 WEMU
Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib at a women's rally in Ann Arbor.

A pair of Michigan Jewish Democratic elected officials are calling on a Democratic congresswoman to walk back social media comments they say used an anti-Semitic phrase.

The phrase is “from the river to the sea.” It’s part of a chant heard in recent protests against Israeli strikes in Gaza, and included in a social media post by Representative Rashida Tlaib.

Conflict has escalated between Israel and Hamas, Gaza’s ruling party, after a surprise Hamas attack on Israeli soil about a month ago that killed around 1,400 people and took over 200 others hostage.

Meanwhile, Israeli counterstrikes have killed around 10,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel is among the Jewish elected officials condemning the use of the chant. She said high tensions over Israel's retaliation for a Hamas attack have prevented nuanced discussions.

“There’s nothing we can say that’s right, and there’s nothing we can say that doesn’t cause us to get, minimally, very hateful responses, but in some cases, death threats,” Nessel said during a press conference Monday.

This past weekend, Nessel criticized Tlaib (D-MI 12) for defending the use of the phrase on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“From the river to the sea is an aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction, or hate. My work and advocacy is always centered in justice and dignity for all people no matter faith or ethnicity,” Tlaib wrote in a tweet.

Despite Tlaib's defense of the phrase, Nessel and Senator Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) have urged her to take down the tweet and walk back those comments.

Moss said the phrase is a call for displacement of Jews in Israel.

“I’m hopeful that an outcome of this dialogue — and this is tough dialogue; we know Rashida very well — but an outcome of this dialogue hopefully can be a better understanding of where each of our communities is coming from,” Moss said.

Both Moss and Nessel say they consider Tlaib a friend. They acknowledged they felt she wasn’t coming from a place of hate.

But they argued her words were unproductive.

“What I have seen in the state is that oftentimes, the enemies of Jewish people are also the enemies of Arab Americans and the Muslim community. And I think it’s one of the things that have brought us together, to understand that we have to work together in order to combat hate,” Nessel said.

Tlaib, who is the only Palestinian-American member of Congress, has faced heavy criticism for her commentary on the Israel-Hamas conflict. She said that criticism is misguided.

“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. Instead of attacking me and distorting my words, they should listen to their constituents and call for a ceasefire to save innocent lives,” Tlaib said in an emailed statement.

Moss said Monday he didn’t believe a ceasefire would solve anything. Nessel deferred her opinion to members of congress she said she had spoken to who also didn’t support a ceasefire as an immediate solution to the humanitarian crisis.

Beyond the criticism from her fellow Democrats, Tlaib possibly faces censure in Congress. Her response was similar.

“Many of them have shown me that Palestinian lives simply do not matter to them, but I still do not police their rhetoric or actions. Rather than acknowledge the voice and perspective of the only Palestinian American in Congress, my colleagues have resorted to distorting my positions in resolutions filled with obvious lies. I have repeatedly denounced the horrific targeting and killing of civilians by Hamas and the Israeli government, and have mourned the Israeli and Palestinian lives lost,” a press release from her office read.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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