For more than a month, Detroit’s suburbs have hosted vigils where victims of the war between Israel and Hamas are commemorated with prayers, candles and tearful speeches.
But those vigils told very different stories about the war, as well as about Rashida Tlaib, who represents the region and is the only Palestinian-American in Congress.
At a rally in solidarity with the Israeli hostages last week at the Adat Shalom Synagogue, Jeremy Moss, a Democratic senator from Southfield, a suburb with a large Jewish population in Ms. Tlaib’s district, spoke with concerned constituents. “So many people have come to me to tell me that they don’t feel seen, heard, represented,” he said.
The following night, in the majority Arab-American enclave of Dearborn, at a memorial dedicated to Palestinian victims of the Israeli invasion of Gaza, speakers denounced the censor of Ms. Tlaib to Congress for her statements on the conflict.
Khalid Turaani, a Palestinian-American activist, compared Ms. Tlaib’s censure to that of Joshua Reed Giddings, a congressman and abolitionist who was censured by his House colleagues in 1842 for introducing resolutions opposing the slave trade.
“I guess history repeats itself,” Mr. Turaani, who heads the Michigan Palestine Task Force, told the crowd.
Since Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel on October 7, no American politician, except President Biden, has played a more central role in debates over the war between Israel and Hamas than Ms. Tlaib. Since her election in 2018, the congresswoman, whose family lives in the West Bank, has been the leading voice for Palestinian rights in Congress.
This year, thanks to a redistricting, she began representing one of the largest Arab-American communities in the country, as well as part of the Detroit area’s largest Jewish community. The war has placed her in the increasingly difficult position of representing both groups, whose views on the conflict are both deeply personal and often extremely difficult to reconcile.
Interviews in Ms. Tlaib’s district revealed a split-screen view of the Gaza war and laid bare the grievances that shaped it. It is a particularly acute version of the national debate over the conflict, rooted in family stories of the Holocaust and personal experiences of lives and lands lost since the advent of the Israeli state.
This divide would pose a formidable challenge for any politician. But for Ms. Tlaib, who has taken a position that alienates many of these voters, it could be insurmountable.
After the October 7 attack, in which Hamas attackers killed about 1,200 people and took about 240 hostages, Ms. Tlaib was one of ten members of the House of Representatives who voted against A resolution condemn Hamas and reaffirm U.S. military aid to Israel worth $3.3 billion a year.
On November 3, she posted a video on social media, accusing President Biden of supporting the “genocide of the Palestinian people” and including images of protesters chanting “from the river to the sea,” a pro-Palestinian slogan which many see as a call not only for the restoration of Palestinian territorial claims, but also for the eradication of Israel.
Tlaib said she saw it as “an ambitious call for freedom, human rights and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction or hatred.” In a statement released shortly before the vote of no confidence, she pledged to “continue to work for a just and lasting peace that defends the human rights and dignity of all, centers peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians and ensures that no person, no child is excluded.” must suffer or live in fear of violence.
Ms. Tlaib’s defense of the slogan attracted conviction of the Biden administration, as well as critical by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and the disavowal of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, both Democrats.
On Tuesday, 22 of Ms. Tlaib’s Democratic colleagues joined House Republicans to pass a resolution to censor her and accuse her of “calling for the destruction of the State of Israel”. The Democratic Majority for Israel, a group led by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, is broadcast television advertisements in the Detroit area to criticize Ms. Tlaib.
“I think Congresswoman Tlaib is radically out of step with her colleagues in Congress, radically out of step with the Democratic Party and radically out of step with Michigan Democrats,” Mr. Mellman said. “We hope she changes her mind, and if not, maybe someone might be interested in running against her.”