FACT CHECK: Is Rashida Tlaib The First Palestinian-American To Serve In Congress?

Aryssa Damron | Fact Check Reporter

Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar tweeted that the first Palestinian-American was sworn into Congress Thursday, presumably referencing Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who was elected in 2018.

Verdict: False

Tlaib was preceded in Congress by Palestinian-American John E. Sununu, a Republican elected to Congress in 1996. Republican Rep. Justin Amash, who also identifies as Palestinian-American, was elected in 2010.

Fact Check:

Though the 116th Congress is the most diverse in history, Tlaib is not the first Palestinian-American to serve in Congress.

The first appears to be Sununu, who was elected to Congress after defeating Democrat Joseph Keefe to represent New Hampshire in the House of Representatives. He was later elected to the Senate in 2002.

At a speaking engagement for the American Task Force on Palestine in 2006, Sununu said, “It was at a fairly young age that I recognized that my family background was somewhat unique. I was definitely the only person in my class with a Palestinian-American father.”

Amash is also Palestinian-American and was elected to Congress in 2010. He responded to Omar’s tweet, sharing his own heritage.

“My father is Palestinian, and I’ve been in Congress since 2011,” he said.

In October, Amash also shared a photo on Twitter on the 62nd anniversary of his father arriving in the U.S. as a refugee.

“My dad (center) and his family came to the United States as Palestinian Christian refugees 62 years ago this day, thanks to the compassion and generosity of their sponsors, Rev. and Mrs. Ralph Wagoner. Americans are blessed to live in a country where liberty and charity abound,” he said.

Both Sununu and Amash are Republicans, making Tlaib the first Palestinian-American elected by the Democratic Party to Congress. She joins 88 other Democratic women elected to the House in 2018.

“My mom is a woman who grew up in a small farming village in the West Bank called Beit Ur El Foka,” Tlaib said in Elle magazine. “It fills me with joy to be able to show aspects of Palestinian culture.”

Tlaib and Omar are the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress. Former Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison was the first Muslim ever elected to Congress back in 2006. He now serves as the attorney general for Minnesota, and Omar has taken his seat in Congress.

The first Arab-American elected to Congress was Democrat George Kasem, who was elected to the House in 1958. He was of Lebanese descent.

Omar’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

 
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Aryssa Damron

Fact Check Reporter

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