Israeli and US officials push to have Nakba events stopped

Michael Arria

Mondoweiss  /  May 15, 2023

The Israeli government is pushing member countries to boycott the United Nations’ first official commemoration of the Palestinian Nakba.

Today the United Nations (UN) will officially commemorate the Nakba for the first time. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will deliver a keynote address before an “immersive experience” of photos, videos, and personal testimonies.

“This is an occasion to highlight that the noble goals of justice and peace, require recognizing the reality and history of the Palestinian people’s plight and ensuring the fulfillment of their inalienable rights,” explains a UN website.

The Nakba (Arabic for the “Catastrophe”) refers to the 1948 displacement and dispossession of 750,000 Palestinians due to massacres carried out by Zionist militias. 500 Palestinian towns and villages were ultimately destroyed.

Israel has pushed for member countries to boycott the event. “Israel will not be pressured by this slanderous campaign to rewrite history and therefore calls on all member states who truly support reconciliation not to attend this shameful and antisemitic event,” Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan recently declared. The United States is obliging and will not send a representative.

Axios‘s Barak Ravid reports that the Biden administration will not be sending anyone to the event at Israel’s request.

Israeli officials have consistently attempted to suppress acknowledgment of the Nakba. In 2009 the country’s education ministry ordered the removal of the word from a school textbook for Arab children. In 2011, the Knesset adopted a “Nakba law” to withdraw state funds from any institution commemorating the history.

The UN commemoration is not the only Nakba event to face backlash from lawmakers recently. Back in Washington, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) attempted to block “Nakba 75 & the Palestinian People” from occurring in the Capitol Building. The educational event was organized by a number of human rights groups and featured remarks from Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), the only Palestinian-American member of Congress.

“This event in the US Capitol is canceled,” McCarthy tweeted. “Instead, I will host a bipartisan discussion to honor the 75th anniversary of the US-Israel relationship.”

Tlaib refused to back down. “Speaker McCarthy wants to rewrite history and erase the existence and truth of the Palestinian people, but he has failed to do so,” she said in a statement. “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.”

“The Nakba is a well-documented historical event that is recognized by the United Nations,” she continued. “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…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.”

The event proceeded despite McCarthy’s efforts. However, it faced criticism from multiple lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

“I wholeheartedly disapprove of the Majority permitting the use of the HELP Committee room for this divisive event,” said Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) “The Capitol Grounds should not be used as a pedestal to legitimize anti-Semitic bigotry.”

Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Jared Moskowitz (D-FL)  told the Jewish Insider website that “bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel relationship has always been unbreakable and will remain strong for decades to come. Efforts to rewrite history and question the Jewish State’s right to exist will never succeed in Congress.” They also accused Tlaib of perpetuating “malicious narratives” by speaking about her family’s personal experience.

A similar statement came from Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV). “Calling the establishment of the world’s only Jewish state a ‘catastrophe’ is deeply offensive, and I strongly disagree with allowing this event to be held on Capitol Hill,” she said. “Israel was founded as a refuge for the Jewish people fleeing millennia of antisemitic persecution and violence. Let me be absolutely clear: the United States is and will always remain a stalwart ally of the State of Israel.”

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss