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Democratic elected officials call on Rep. Rashida Tlaib to apologize over language in social media post

Rep.Rashida Tlaib speaking in front of a group of people
Malak Silmi
Michigan Radio

Some Michigan Jewish Democratic elected officials are calling on a Democratic congresswoman to walk back social media comments they say used an antisemitic 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.

Since then, Israeli counterattacks 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, Senator Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) 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.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Jewish Congresswoman also called on Tlaib to apologize on X.

"The phrase “from the river to the sea” is one of division & violence, & it is counterproductive to promoting peace. None of us, especially elected leaders, should amplify language that inflames a tense situation & makes it harder for our communities to find common ground," Slotkin wrote. "If I knew that a phrase I’d used had hurt any of my constituents, I would apologize & retract it, no matter its origin. I’d ask the same from you."

Moss and Nessel argued Tlaib's 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.

Briana Rice is Michigan Public's criminal justice reporter. She's focused on what Detroiters need to feel safe and whether they're getting it.