House Speaker Kevin McCarthy canceled a Wednesday event sponsored by Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib meant to commemorate al-Nakba, or “the catastrophe,” as many Arabs refer to the period surrounding the birth of Israel, saying it’s “wrong for members of Congress to traffic in antisemitic tropes about Israel.”
As Israel was created in 1948, a war broke out between the Israelis and Arabs, and some 700,000 Palestinians either fled or were expelled from their homes in what became the State of Israel. Many Arabs, especially Palestinians, commemorate the displacement every year as Nakba Day.
McCarthy intervened late Tuesday to reserve the Capitol Visitor Center space where Tlaib – the first Palestinian-American US congresswoman – was going to host a Wednesday event, according to a spokesperson for McCarthy.
Tlaib responded in a statement, saying, “Speaker McCarthy wants to rewrite history and erase the existence and truth of the Palestinian people, but he has failed to do so. This event is planned to bring awareness about the Nakba and create space for Palestinian Americans who experienced the Nakba firsthand to tell their stories of trauma and survival.”
“We fully plan on moving forward with this event and we will continue to ensure that Palestinian voices are heard. We will not be silenced,” Tlaib said in the statement.
The event was ultimately held at the Dirksen Senate building, just not on the House side as originally planned, and due to the last-minute location change, staff said they couldn’t secure permits to allow filming.
Dozens of people attended with several standing around the edges of the room and spilling outside the door.
Speakers included Dr. Abed Musa in conversation with his daughter, Jumana Musa.
“It’s ironic we’ve been displaced at our Nakba event,” Jumana Musa said. “They thought they could bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.” One woman was seen wiping tears from her eyes, as Abed Musa spoke.
Tlaib’s event was called “Nakba 75 & the Palestinian People, an educational community event featuring special guest, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib.”
According to the invitation, “May 15th marks 75 years since the beginning of the Nakba, which means ‘catastrophe.’ Seventy-five years ago, Zionist militias and the new Israeli military violently expelled approximately three-quarters of all Palestinians from their homes and homeland in what became the state of Israel.”
“To uplift the experiences of Palestinians who underwent the Nakba, and educate Members of Congress and their staff about this history and the ongoing Nakba to which Israel continues to subject Palestinians, we’ve partnered together to host this congressional and community educational event, to be followed immediately afterward by dinner,” the invite says.
McCarthy would instead lead a bipartisan briefing celebrating the 75th anniversary of the US-Israel relationship instead, his office said.
“It’s wrong for members of Congress to traffic in antisemitic tropes about Israel,” McCarthy said in a statement to CNN from his office. “As long as I’m speaker, we are going to support Israel’s right to self-determination and self-defense, unequivocally and in a bipartisan fashion.”
The event was organized by a number of groups, including Institute for Middle East Understanding, Americans for Justice in Palestine Action, Project48, Democracy for the Arab World Now, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, American Friends Service Committee, Virginia Coalition for Human Rights, Emgage Action and Jewish Voice for Peace Action.
Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, praised McCarthy’s decision to cancel the event, saying it was “inappropriate.”
“I think Congresswoman Tlaib has freedom of speech, First Amendment, but the speech is very anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian, and I think very inappropriate on the 75th anniversary of the State of Israel being formed,” he said outside a Republican conference meeting.
This story has been updated with additional developments.
CNN’s Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report.