On Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) swooped in to save an event at the Capitol commemorating the 75th anniversary of what Palestinians know as the Nakba, or catastrophe — the time period during which Zionist militants expelled three quarters of Palestinians from their homes to establish the state of Israel — after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-California) attempted to cancel the event.
The event, hosted by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), was slated to feature Palestinian survivors of the Nakba while highlighting Israel’s continued oppression of Palestinians, and was co-organized by groups like the Institute for Middle East Understanding and Jewish Voice for Peace Action. It was planned to take place in the U.S. House side of the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, D.C.
At the last minute, however, the event got kicked out of the space by McCarthy. Rather than allowing a member of Congress to recognize the cruelty of Israeli apartheid, McCarthy invoked his power as speaker to instead host his own event “to honor the 75th anniversary of the US-Israel relationship,” as he announced on Twitter — completely erasing Palestinians from the equation.
“Speaker McCarthy wants to rewrite history and erase the existence and truth of the Palestinian people,” Tlaib responded in a statement. “We cannot allow the same people who want to ban books and erase history simply because they’re uncomfortable with the truth to silence Palestinian voices.”
Soon after, Sanders swooped in to rescue the event, instead hosting the speakers in the Senate side of the building in the room where the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, of which Sanders is chair, meets. The event wasn’t able to be filmed, as planned, but it went on, with speakers noting the irony of the scuffle.
“It’s ironic we’ve been displaced at our Nakba event,” said Jumana Musa, daughter of Abed Musa, whose family was forced to flee Palestine during the Nakba. “They thought they could bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.”
Tlaib presented a resolution calling on Congress to recognize the Nakba and the rights of Palestinians that she introduced on Wednesday to Abed Musa.
“He was 8 years old when the Nakba began. He told his story of trauma, violence and the ongoing pain,” Tlaib said of Abed Musa on Thursday morning. “Experiences like his are what McCarthy and others tried to erase, but we didn’t let that happen. His smile and ability to share his story made it all worth it.”
The turmoil surrounding the event is reflective of a refusal by establishment politicians to recognize Israeli apartheid.
“I think anti-Palestinian sentiment in D.C. in general has long been normalized,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York). “And it’s very clear that McCarthy is trying to send a message.”
Indeed, some Republicans in Congress praised McCarthy for his move to kick out the event, while others used the opportunity to disingenuously and hypocritically criticize Democrats and Sanders for supposed antisemitism, with some right-wing figures going as far as to say that Sanders’s support of the event meant that the Jewish senator, who has family who were killed in the Holocaust, isn’t truly Jewish.
Tlaib, however, struck a triumphant tone after the event, having emerged with her event largely intact on Wednesday: “Let the headlines read ‘McCarthy tries to erase Palestine but fails.’”