Democratic politician Rashida Tlaib is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants who in 2018 became one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.
Who Is Rashida Tlaib?
Rashida Tlaib represents Michigan’s 13th district in Congress. At the start of her first term in 2019, she became the first Palestinian American woman and one of the first two Muslim women in the U.S. House. She is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and part of “The Squad” with fellow progressive congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley. Before being elected to Congress she served three terms as a Michigan state representative from 2009 to 2014 and worked as a legal advocate.
Early Life and Education
Tlaib was born Rashida Harbi Elabed on July 24, 1976, in Detroit, Michigan. She’s the oldest of 14 children born to Palestinian immigrant parents. Her family spoke Arabic at home, and she served as the family translator during her childhood. She attended Southwestern High School and Wayne State University and was her family’s first high school and college graduate.
After receiving her degree from Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School, Tlaib began working for ACCESS, the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services.
Early Political Career
Tlaib began interning for a Michigan state representative in 2004 and joined the legislator’s staff in 2007. In 2008 she was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives, making her the first Muslim woman in the body. Among her accomplishments as a state legislator was fighting against pollution affecting her constituents. She served three terms, from 2009 to 2014, before facing term limits. Tlaib unsuccessfully ran for the Michigan Senate in 2014.
Prior to the “Me Too” movement, Tlaib spoke up about being sexually harassed by a Michigan director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. The director resigned in 2013.
After her term in the state legislature, Tlaib worked for the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice. There, she handled matters ranging from anti-bigotry initiatives to standing against tax breaks for wealthy people and businesses.
When Donald Trump was campaigning as the Republican presidential nominee in 2016, Tlaib was thrown out of a Michigan event when she shouted at him to ask if he’d ever read the Constitution.
In 2018, Tlaib won a primary race by 900 votes to become the Democratic nominee in Michigan’s 13th district. The district, which is one of the nation’s poorest and heavily Democratic, contains parts of the city of Detroit and surrounding communities. It was represented for more than five decades by John Conyers Jr. Tlaib ran unopposed in 2018’s general election and received 88.7 percent of the vote. Her win made her the first Palestinian American woman elected to Congress.
In January 2019, soon after her arrival in Washington, D.C., Tlaib gained national attention when she said of then-President Trump, “We’re gonna go in there and we’re gonna impeach the m*****f****r!” As she was sworn into Congress she represented her heritage by wearing an embroidered Palestinian dress known as a thobe.
Tlaib is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and favors progressive priorities such as a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for All, immigration reform and debt-free college. She has proposed legislation to expand federal civil rights laws, marched against police brutality, and decried the impact of corporate money on politics. California congresswoman Barbara Lee, a fellow progressive, is a mentor to Tlaib.
Trump tweeted about Tlaib and other members of “The Squad” — congresswomen Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Pressley — in 2019, telling them to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Tlaib responded on Twitter, “Yo @realDonaldTrump, I am fighting corruption in OUR country. I do it every day when I hold your admin accountable as a U.S. Congresswoman.”
Tlaib’s district has a majority Black population, but she won her 2020 primary against a Black opponent. She handily defeated the Republican candidate in the 2020 general election.
Relationship With Israel
A May 2019 interview in which Tlaib spoke about the formation of Israel resulted in some Republicans taking her words out of context and accusing her of antisemitism. Tlaib defended herself in part by tweeting, “Policing my words, twisting & turning them to ignite vile attacks on me will not work.”
Tlaib supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which aims to push Israel to alter its treatment of Palestinians. Israel’s government is opposed to this movement and in August 2019 used Tlaib’s support of BDS as a reason to bar her and Representative Omar from making a planned visit.
Tlaib had intended to see her 90-year-old grandmother, who lives in a small West Bank village, while in Israel. Following the cancellation of her visit she initially applied for permission to see her family on humanitarian grounds, which was granted. However, because Israel required her not to “promote boycotts against Israel,” Tlaib ultimately decided not to go. She explained via tweet: “Visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in–fighting against racism, oppression & injustice.”
Tlaib wed Fayez Tlaib in 1998. They had two sons, Adam and Yousif, before divorcing in 2015.