(January 7, 2019 / JNS) You may have read that Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib has become the first Palestinian member of Congress.
That, of course, is wrong. It was corrected to “first Palestinian female elected.” Cannot anything connected with “Palestine” and “Arab” be correct factually?
The first Palestinian to become a Congressman was J.H. Krebs. He lived in the Palestine Mandate 1933-1946, and I would presume he had Palestinian citizenship as his previous German citizenship would have been invalidated by the Nazi regime.
He was Jewish. Even served in the Haganah.
Through as associate, I reached out to his widow, Hannah.
“I have been hunting for John’s passport when he first came to the U.S. from Israel in Nov. 1946 with his passport marked ‘Palestinian.’ Yes, he was that before the state was founded and probably the first former Palestinian in Congress, by then an American citizen. Obviously, not an Arab Palestinian, like Rashida Tlaib.”
(thanks to AbuYehuda)
As I try to be as professional as possible in my journalism, I reached out to the Library of Congress.
Here is the copy of the form request I sent:
Thank you for submitting your question to Library of Congress – Digital Reference Team
Question ID: 14197950
Your question: Was JH Krebs not the first “Palestinian” to serve in Congress?
You will receive acknowledgment of question receipt and an answer to your question at the e-mail address you provided.
The answer arrived and surprised me. Here it is:
John Hans Krebs was born in Berlin, Germany, although he did live in Israel from 1933 to 1946 before moving to the United States. Krebs served in the House of Representatives from 1975 to 1979. It appears that John Sununu was the first Palestinian-American to serve in Congress. John Sununu is of Lebanese-Palestinian ancestry, and was first elected to the House in 1997 and the Senate in 2003. Also, Rep. Justin Amash has a Palestinian father. Amash was elected to the House in 2011.
A bit, admittedly, stunned, I quickly wrote back:
“To pursue the issue further, Krebs did NOT live in ‘Israel’ between 1933-1946.The territory at that time was a League of Nations Mandate, assigned to Great Britain for the purpose of reconstituting the historic Jewish national home. Israel came into existence in 1948. Palestine, incidentally, never became an independent geopolitical entity.
“Like Krebs, Sununu was born outside of Palestine proper, in Havana, Cuba. His father’s family had already come to the United States from the Middle East at the turn of the 20th century. His father, John, was born in Boston. Sununu’s mother, Victoria Dada, was born in El Salvador. So there is no direct first or second generation connection with Palestine. In fact, he never, unlike Krebs, ever lived in the area.
“As for Amash, he is indeed the son of a Palestinian Christian father whose family immigrated to the United States in 1956 from Bethlehem, I think. Congressman Amash, too, was not born in the territory of Palestine, but in Grand Rapids, and never lived in the Palestine Mandate, which ended in 1948. Between 1948-1967, the former Mandate territory of Palestine outside of the boundaries of Israel, was under the occupation/annexation of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. As I do not know when Attalah Amash, his father, was born, but if it was post 1948, it was not in Palestine but Jordan.”
And, I added:
“I think you are mixing up ‘ancestry’ with actual diplomatic nationality. If that is your standard, though, dozens of Jews who have served in the House of Representatives and the Senate are, in a sense, ‘Palestinians,’ as that is where all Jews originated before being dispersed due to the conquest and occupation of Judea.”
I’m waiting for further correspondence.
Yisrael Medad is an American-Israel journalist and commentator.