Rep. Rashida Tlaib draws fire for not apologizing for saying Israel caused Gaza hospital blast
The backlash to Tlaib's remarks showed a divide within the Democratic Party.
Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, of Michigan, refused to apologize Wednesday for saying a day earlier that Israel is to blame for the hospital explosion that day in Gaza, despite evidence from the U.S. defense department that the blast was likely caused by an errant projectile from Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
A number officials in the US and around the world blasted Israel for what they believed was an attack on a civilian facility that left hundreds dead. But claims and evidence began to suggest that the Gaza hospital blast was likely caused by a Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket that fell short of its target, two U.S. officials told ABC News. Still, what has happened has not conclusively been determined.
Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, have been among Israel's strongest critics, with Tlaib accusing Israel of "oppressive & racist policies" in 2019. In February 2019, a tweet from Omar in response to a tweet from journalist Glenn Greenwald appeared to be using a common way of referring to $100 bills -- which feature Benjamin Franklin -- to suggest that many members of Congress support Israel because they get campaign donations from pro-Israel groups and individuals, evoking historical stereotypes linking Jews to money and influence. She later apologized for the tweet.
Their comments have at times been alleged by colleagues and others in congressional leadership to be antisemitic. But they have defended their views as legitimate, free speech in defense of the Palestinian cause.
Some of the criticism leveled against Tlaib and Omar over past comments has also been criticized as including Islamophobic or racist rhetoric.
Tlaib on Wednesday joined thousands of protesters calling for a ceasefire in Gaza during a solidarity rally hosted by the left-leaning group Jewish Voice for Peace at the National Mall. She was visibly emotional, at time, pausing her speech to openly weep and criticizing lawmakers who have not backed a proposed ceasefire resolution in Congress.
"As an American, not just as a member of the United States Congress, I am ashamed. I am ashamed that they're saying, 'not yet. Maybe next week.' ... How many more have to die?" Tlaib said.
She also addressed the backlash, applauding attendees for the "courage it's taken to speak up."
"The American Jewish community in my district, and all of you here. I just know how much courage it's taken to speak up. Many of you have been targeted. You're being gas lit. Some people are losing their jobs. Folks are getting events canceled. Literally, their First Amendment right wiped away for standing up and saying that children deserve to live. It is literally inhumane for my colleagues to allow that to continue and say nothing," Tlaib said.
Tlaib also slammed President Joe Biden for his support for Israel since the Hamas terrorist attack.
"To my president, to our president ... I want him to know, as a Palestinian American and somebody in Muslim faith, I'm not going to forget this. And I think a lot of people are not going to forget this," Tlaib said.
"President Biden, not all Americans are with you on this one and you need to understand that. We are literally watching people commit genocide and killing the vast majority just like this, and we still stand by and say nothing. We will remember this," she warned.
Omar is also facing criticism from Republicans over similar comments Tuesday that Israel is to blame for the hospital explosion that day in Gaza as Israel denies fault. As information about the hospital blast was initially being reported, Tlaib tweeted on Tuesday afternoon, "Israel just bombed the Baptist Hospital killing 500 Palestinians (doctors, children, patients) just like that. @POTUS this is what happens when you refuse to facilitate a ceasefire & help de-escalate. Your war and destruction only approach has opened my eyes and many Palestinian Americans and Muslims Americans like me. We will remember where you stood."
Omar tweeted on Tuesday afternoon, "Bombing a hospital is among the gravest of war crimes. The IDF reportedly blowing up one of the few places the injured and wounded can seek medical treatment and shelter during a war is horrific. @POTUS needs to push for an immediate ceasefire to end this slaughter."
On Wednesday evening, Omar replied to her original post, writing that it was based on initial reports and adding that the Israel Defense Forces and U.S. say the hospital was not struck by Israel.
"Our office cited an AP report yesterday that the IDF had hit a Baptist hospital in Gaza. Since then, the IDF denied responsibility and the US intelligence assessment is that this was not done by Israel," she wrote. "It is a reminder that information is often unreliable and disputed in the fog of war (especially on Twitter where misinformation is rampant). We all have a responsibility to ensure information we are sharing is from credible sources and to acknowledge as new reports come in."
Omar called for a "fully independent investigation to determine conclusively who is responsible for this war crime."
The backlash also showed continuing fault lines within the Democratic Party on Israel, with the two representatives standing out in criticizing Israel's government as other Democrats have said they do not believe Israel was responsible for the explosion.
But Biden said in remarks on Wednesday that the blast "appears [like] it was done by the other team."
The Biden administration's "current assessment," National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson tweeted Wednesday morning, "is that Israel is not responsible for the explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday."
Republican lawmakers called on the lawmakers to apologize and retract their tweets.
Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., wrote in a statement on Wednesday that Tlaib and others should apologize for their remarks about the hospital explosion.
"It is appalling and unacceptable that Democrats in Congress partook in Hamas' misinformation campaign. ... Rep. Tlaib and her radical colleagues helped spread this insidious lie far and wide, without remorse, and as of this morning have yet to take down their posts, issue an apology, or place blame on the actual perpetrators with the same conviction," Lawler wrote.
Lawler also said he hopes Tlaib and colleagues "can bring themselves to see this ugly truth, the hateful environment they have stoked, and understand the fear their Jewish constituents are feeling."
Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., on Wednesday morning called for strong GOP House leadership to push back on what he said was Tlaib's "bias."
"It's sickening. And this right here is why Kevin McCarthy should still be speaker of the House because we should be pushing back on Tlaib right now. ... This is absurd for her to go out there and defend ... a known terrorist organization that has been recognized by the United States as a terrorist organization and then go against one of our strongest allies, Israel," he said on Fox News' "Fox and Friends."
Democratic lawmakers have not mentioned Tlaib or Omar by name but did criticize those who fault Israel for the blast without more information.
Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., did not mention any politicians by name but slammed "critics" of Israel Wednesday morning for jumping to conclusions on the hospital blast.
"Critics falsely accused Israel of deliberately bombing a hospital before the facts were known. Did any of these critics condemn Islamic Jihad for causing the hospital explosion? Did any retract the false accusation?" Torres wrote.
"Erroneous reports and some Members of Congress took the word of Hamas terrorists as truth following the horrific Al-Ahli Arab Hospital bombing. They should remove their posts, update their headlines, and remember not to trust terrorists who brutally murdered innocent civilians," tweeted Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., on Wednesday.
Israel has suffered at least 1,400 deaths since Hamas launched a terrorist attack on Israel on Oct. 7, according to the Israeli Health Ministry. There have been at least 3,478 deaths in Gaza during the same period, per the Palestinian Health Ministry.
ABC News' Isabella Murray, Briana Stewart, John Parkinson, Rick Klein, and Mariam Khan contributed to this report.