Rashida Tlaib, fiery US lawmaker at center of Israel uproar

Michael Mathes
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First-term US House Democrat Rashida Tlaib, one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress, became a focus of international controversy when Israel denied her entry to the Jewish state and Palestinian territories on a congressional visit

First-term US House Democrat Rashida Tlaib, one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress, became a focus of international controversy when Israel denied her entry to the Jewish state and Palestinian territories on a congressional visit (AFP Photo/BILL PUGLIANO)

Washington (AFP) - No sooner had Rashida Tlaib been sworn in as a member of the 116th US Congress last January, than the daughter of Palestinian immigrants caught flak for her off-color cry to impeach Donald Trump.

She has been in America's blazing political glare ever since.

Whether it's her relentless needling of the president, being told by Trump to "go back" to the "corrupt" country she came from despite being born in Michigan, or being barred from visiting Israel Thursday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tlaib is a political lightning rod.

She became part of an international controversy when she and fellow first-term US lawmaker Ilhan Omar -- together the first Muslim women to serve in Congress -- were denied entry to Israel and the Palestinian territories on a congressional trip.

On Friday Tlaib ramped up the heat, rejecting the Jewish state's compromise offer to allow her into the West Bank on a "humanitarian" visit to see her grandmother.

Accepting that offer under Israel's "oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in -- fighting against racism, oppression & injustice," she said.

Tlaib and Omar have clashed with congressional colleagues, especially regarding their support of a boycott of Israel over its treatment of Palestinians, and comments seen by many as anti-Semitic.

Trump himself has sought to exploit the controversy, saying the two "are the face of the Democrat Party, and they HATE Israel!"

Tlaib is 43, the eldest of 14 children born to Palestinian immigrants. A self-described "progressive warrior," she grew up in modest means in Detroit, eventually becoming a social justice attorney.

A mother of two sons, she speaks with genuine affection for her relatives. But that belies a fiery voice which has often led her into controversy.

In 2016 Tlaib disrupted a Trump campaign rally to protest what she said was his "hate-filled rhetoric."

Also that year she raised eyebrows by supporting a one-state solution, a departure from her Middle East peace stance that envisioned Israel and a Palestinian state side by side.

"It has to be one state. Separate but equal does not work," she told In These Times magazine.

The comments antagonized Jews who believe a one-state solution could dissolve the world's only Jewish state.

Tlaib's election stood in contrast to the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment around the country.

But just hours after being sworn in as the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress, Tlaib drew criticism for using profanity to demand Trump's ouster.

"We're gonna go in there and we're gonna impeach the motherfucker," Tlaib bellowed at a progressive gathering, in video that went viral.

She has continued to make waves. In May Tlaib said she finds "a kind of calming feeling" in knowing that Palestinians were involved in creating "a safe haven for Jews" following the Holocaust.

Tlaib has emerged as a member of the self-styled "squad" of four progressive newcomers, ethnic minority women whom Trump has repeatedly demonized.

But Tlaib insists she won't be cowed, not by Trump or Israel.

She wanted to go to the village of Beit Ur al-Fauqa to "pick figs" with her grandmother, but ultimately declined.

"Silencing me with treatment to make me feel less-than is not what she wants for me," Tlaib said. "It would kill a piece of me that always stands up against racism and injustice."