6-Word Phrase on Israel Stokes Controversy

Rep. Rashida Tlaib invokes 'from the river to the sea,' which some see as an anti-Israeli rallying cry
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 6, 2023 8:54 AM CST
Congresswoman Takes Flak Over 6-Word Phrase on Israel
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., speaks during a rally at the National Mall during a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Washington, Oct. 20, 2023.   (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

The lone Palestinian-American in Congress is defending her use of a six-word phrase—"from the river to the sea"—that has become a political flashpoint in the US over the Israel-Hamas war. "From the river to the sea is an aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction, or hate," tweeted Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. "My work and advocacy is always centered in justice and dignity for all people no matter faith or ethnicity." Supporters of Israel, however, see the phrase as one that calls for violence against Israelis. Coverage:

  • The phrase: It refers to a desired Palestinian state that would stretch from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, per Politico, which notes that the chant is popular at pro-Palestinian rallies. Critics, however, see it as a rejection of Israel's right to exist.
  • Critics: Fellow Democrats are criticizing Tlaib, reports NBC News, including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida. "This phrase means eradicating Israel and Jews. Period," she wrote. "Dressing it up in a new PR ploy won't change that. Only a return of hostages, eliminating Hamas and liberating Gaza from oppressive terror will save civilian lives and secure the peace, justice and dignity you seek." Michigan's Democratic attorney general, Dana Nessel, called on Tlaib to retract the phrase, as did Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, Michigan's only Jewish representative, per the Detroit News.

  • Letter: Punchbowl News notes that Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider of Illinois is circulating a letter in Congress denouncing the phrase. It is "used by many, including Hamas, as a rallying cry for the destruction of the State of Israel and the genocide of the Jewish people," the letter states. Countering that sentiment is Dearborn, Michigan, Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, a Tlaib ally who says the phrase refers to "harmony among all people."
  • Plea from Sanders: Bernie Sanders calls Tlaib a "friend" but criticized use of the phrase because, whatever its original intent, it has now come to be a rallying cry among enemies of Israel. However, the progressive senator faulted those on both sides of the debate for reducing a "horrendously complex issue" to simplistic views. "Slogans like 'the river to the sea,' if that means the destruction of Israel, that's not going to work," he said, per NBC. "People who are saying, Israel, right or wrong, we're for you all the way, that's not going to work."
  • Video: The Tlaib controversy surfaced when she released a pro-Palestinian video that included protesters calling for a ceasefire in Gaza chanting the phrase. Tlaib blasted President Biden's support of Israel's retaliation in the video, which ends with the text, "Joe Biden supported the genocide of the Palestinian people" in all caps. For that allegation, GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene says she will introduce a measure to censure Tlaib, who is one of only three Muslim members of Congress, per the Hill.
(More Rashida Tlaib stories.)

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