Bernie Sanders hosts Rashida Tlaib’s ‘Nakba Day’ after Kevin McCarthy canceled it

The anti-Israel event, which was canceled by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, was relocated to the Senate side of the Capitol

Marc Rod

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) speaks at a "Nakba Day" event on Capitol Hill on May 10, 2023.

After being canceled by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), a “Nakba Day” event organized on Wednesday by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) was moved to the Senate side of the Capitol complex, to the hearing room of the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Tlaib’s event — commemorating the “Nakba,” the term, translating to “catastrophe” that Palestinians use to refer to the establishment of the State of Israel — was sponsored by organizations that have supported the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel and have expressed support for terrorists.

The HELP Committee is chaired by Sanders, who has been a vocal critic of Israeli policy in the Senate. During remarks at the event, Tlaib said that “everyone needs an aamu in the Senate” — an Arabic word meaning “uncle” — ”so I want to also welcome you to Senator Bernie Sanders’s [committee room].”

Sanders did not personally attend the event. McCarthy, as House speaker, does not have jurisdiction over Senate office buildings. A Senate source told JI that Senate committees have control over their own rooms. An individual close to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Schumer was “totally unaware of this event.”

Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO), another outspoken critic of Israel, was the only lawmaker other than Tlaib who attended the event. The committee room was standing-room-only for the event, with attendees spilling out into the hallway.

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), a pro-Israel stalwart who co-chairs the Senate Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism, told Jewish Insider that “calling the establishment of the world’s only Jewish state a ‘catastrophe’ is deeply offensive, and I strongly disagree with allowing this event to be held on Capitol Hill.”

“Israel was founded as a refuge for the Jewish people fleeing millennia of antisemitic persecution and violence,” she continued. “Let me be absolutely clear: the United States is and will always remain a stalwart ally of the State of Israel.”

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), the ranking member on the HELP Committee, was not aware that the committee room would be used for the event or consulted on it, a spokesperson said in a statement.

“I wholeheartedly disapprove of the Majority permitting the use of the HELP Committee room for this divisive event,” Cassidy said. “The Capitol Grounds should not be used as a pedestal to legitimize anti-Semitic bigotry.” 

William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said in a statement: “It is outrageous that the hallowed halls of Congress would be used to promulgate the false narratives and historical revisionism of Israel-haters. Clearly they are more interested in demonizing the Jewish State than fostering understanding and common ground in the pursuit of peace.”

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a tweet that the Senate should “condemn this event.”

“It is disgraceful that [Sanders] allowed this event by [Tlaib] to be held in our nation’s Capitol,” Greenblatt said. “Real conversations are needed around a path to peace, but not with groups & individuals who espouse antisemitism.”

The event came as the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired hundreds of rockets at Israel, some toward civilian areas, following Israeli strikes that killed three PIJ leaders in Gaza, as well as ten civilians.

In her remarks, Tlaib accused Israeli police of a “sustained campaign of terror” against Muslim worshippers at the Temple Mount, called Israel an “apartheid state” and said that U.S. military aid to Israel supports “ethnic cleansing.”

Earlier in the day, Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA), the No. 3 House Democratic leader, said it was “unfortunate” that McCarthy had canceled the event. Aguilar, responding to a question from JI at a Democratic leadership press conference, said, “People should be allowed to congregate, to have discussions, to express their viewpoints and ideas. That’s who we are.”

He added that the majority “controls office space, and [if] they want to revoke a group or organization, sometimes they have the ability to do that.” Aguilar, the Democratic Caucus chair, said that “we’ll work with individuals within the caucus to make sure that they have an opportunity to be heard.”

Following up with JI after the press conference, Aguilar emphasized, “that doesn’t mean I agree with everything every member in my caucus says or that every sponsored group or organization that comes here says” and that he did not “know who the official sponsors, speakers, guests and organizations are.”

“Broadly, our job is to help facilitate those conversations when members have guests and groups visit,” he continued.

Neither McCarthy nor Tlaib responded to requests for comment.

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