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US House Speaker cancels historic Nakba Day event at Capitol building

Kevin McCarthy cancelled event that was scheduled to feature Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, and said he would instead celebrate 75 years of US-Israel relations
Protesters gather in Washington on 15 May 2022 to commemorate the 74th anniversary of the Nakba (MEE/Umar Farooq)

United States House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has cancelled an event at the Capitol building that was supposed to commemorate the Nakba, and said he will instead "host a bipartisan discussion to honour the 75th anniversary of the US-Israel relationship".

The Nakba event was organised by Jewish Voice for Peace Action, Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn) and the Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU), among several others.

The Nakba, or "catastrophe" as it is known in English, is commemorated every year on 15 May and refers to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Zionist militias to make way for the creation of Israel in 1948.

Between 1947 and 1949, Zionist forces seized more than 78 percent of historic Palestine and expelled at least 750,000 Palestinians from their lands and homes.

According to a statement from the organisers, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib was supposed to speak at the event, which would have explored how "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".

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Speaking to the right-wing US publication The Washington Free Beacon, McCarthy said that "as long as I'm speaker, we are going to support Israel's right to self-determination and self-defence, unequivocally and in a bipartisan fashion".

It was unclear if the event, the first of its kind inside the US Capitol building, could be rescheduled for a later date. 

Several rights groups roundly condemned the decision, with Josh Kadish, the international relations officer at the Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem, accusing McCarthy of weaponising antisemitism.

Nakba: The Palestinian catastrophe, explained
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"There's an entire industry that weaponizes antisemitism not only to silence criticism of Israel, but to equate the very existence of Palestinians with antisemitism," he wrote on Twitter.

Journalist Mehdi Hasan asked whether McCarthy was engaging in cancel culture.

Meanwhile, Hatem Bazian, co-founder of American Muslims for Palestine, accused McCarthy of "celebrating apartheid while censoring American voices on Capitol Hill!"

A number of human rights groups, including B'Tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have in recent years - following similar statements by Israeli and Palestinian activists - labelled Israel an apartheid state.

Tlaib has not commented on the event cancellation. However, on Wednesday she introduced a piece of legislation that called on Congress to recognise "the ongoing Nakba and Palestinian refugees' rights".

The measure, first reported by The Intercept, calls on Congress to also “condemn all manifestations of Israel’s ongoing Nakba against the Palestinian people", including ongoing displacement and home demolitions, and Israeli settler violence against Palestinians.

The legislation has received support from Betty McCollum, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman, and Cori Bush, who all supported a similar bill introduced by Tlaib last year.

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