Tlaib stands by her defense of Palestinian slogan, ‘From the river to the sea’  

Congresswoman faces mounting criticism from fellow Democrats, two more GOP censure resolutions

By: - November 6, 2023 7:47 pm

U.S. Rep Rashida Tlaib in Detroit, April 22, 2019 | Ken Coleman

Updated, 8:50 a.m., 11/7/23

After several Michigan Democratic leaders criticized U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) for her controversial Friday post on X about a Palestinian slogan amid the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants offered a response to the Advance

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

That drew rebukes from many Democrats, including Michigan leaders like Attorney General Dana Nessel, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing) and state Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), some of whom asked Tlaib to reconsider a phrase that’s hurtful to many Jewish people.

However, Tlaib stood by her statement that she made after posting a video that accuses Democratic President Joe Biden of “genocide” for supporting Israel.Last month, she drew fire from Republicans and Democrats for her comments after the Oct. 7 attacks that didn’t reference Hamas. 

“My colleagues are much more focused on silencing me — the 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 told the Advance on Monday. 

Tlaib and some Democrats have advocated for a ceasefire in Israel and Gaza. She highlighted results from Justice Democrats and Detroit Action, two progressive organizations, who commissioned a poll from Lake Research Partners released Monday. 

The statewide survey of 513 Michigan Democrats finds more than 7-in-10 voters (or 71%) support a ceasefire in Gaza and Israel.” 

The slogan, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” is often chanted or written on signs at pro-Palestinian demonstrations, including several in Michigan since the militant group Hamas attacked Israeli civilians on Oct. 7 and Israel declared war.

Jewish organizations including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and American Jewish Committee say the slogan is antisemitic and is used by terrorists like Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which seek Israel’s destruction. 

“It is fundamentally a call for a Palestinian state extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, territory that includes the State of Israel, which would mean the dismantling of the Jewish state,” the ADL writes.


However, Al-Jazeera, a Qatari state-owned media outlet, interviewed Nimer Sultany, a lecturer in law at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, who said the slogan is about “the need for equality for all inhabitants of historic Palestine.

“Those who support apartheid and Jewish supremacy will find the egalitarian chant objectionable,” said Sultany, a Palestinian citizen of Israel.

Attorney General Dana Nessel was among those who asked Tlaib for a retraction over her defense of the slogan.

“.@RashidaTlaib, I have supported and defended you countless times, even when you have said the indefensible, because I believed you to be a good person whose heart was in the right place,” Nessel wrote.”But this is so hurtful to so many. Please retract this cruel and hateful remark.”

In a thread on the history of violence against Jewish people, including the Holocaust, state Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) said Tlaib’s interpretation “is not how Jews view the phrase “from the river to the sea.” This is not how Hamas views the phrase ‘from the river to the sea.’ Hamas uses it as a rallying cry. And they don’t simply want to displace Jews in Israel. They want Jews dead.”


On Monday, Nessel and Moss, who are both Jewish, further talked with the Advance about the issue Nessel pointed out the slogan has been used by Hamas to support terrorism against Israel. Moss, who is one of Tlaib’s constituents, pointed out that the congresswoman has used the phrase in the past. 

“It’s still painful. It still hurts us,” said Nessel about Tlaib. “And we are asking her to stop.” 

Moss called for all to be “calming voices” at this time. But he disagreed with her call for a ceasefire, citing concern about hostages from Israel and other nations who Hamas abducted on Oct. 7. 

“What would a ceasefire achieve?” Moss said. “Hamas would be there and unchecked and these hostages would not be released.” 

Several other lawmakers have criticized Tlaib, including state Rep. Noah Arbit (D-West Bloomfield), who is Jewish.

“It is disturbing and enraging that Jewish communities in Southfield, Franklin, Bingham Farms, Beverly Hills and beyond are represented by someone who adopts wholesale the call for the State of Israel to be wiped from the map, necessitating the elimination of 8 million Jews,” Arbit said. 

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) said such language “inflames a tense situation.”

“As the only Jewish member of MI’s congressional delegation, I have worked to reach out to Arab & Muslim constituents who I know are feeling fear and anguish right now, & I have tried to reflect that empathy in my approach to this crisis. I ask the same of @RepRashida,” Slotkin said.

“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.”

Meanswhile, Tlaib’s Democratic colleagues in the U.S. House all stood by her during a censure resolution vote last week.

Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled chamber on Wednesday voted to quash an effort to censure Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib after U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) accused her of “antisemitic activity and “leading an insurrection” when hundreds of protesters sang and chanted in a U.S. House office building on Oct. 18, advocating for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

The motion to table the resolution, introduced by Greene on Oct. 24, succeeded in a 222-186 vote, with 23 Republicans joining Democrats.

On Monday, Greene introduced a watered-down version of the censure resolution against Tlaib. U.S. Rep. Rich McCormick (R-Ga.) sponsored his own measure ensuing Tlaib for “antisemitism.”

Per Politico, the House Democratic caucus is reportedly whipping their members against the resolutions, which Tlaib slammed in a statement Monday evening.

“It’s a shame my colleagues are more focused on silencing me than they are on saving lives, as the death toll in Gaza surpasses 10,000,” Tlaib said. “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.”


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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.