The U.S. House voted late Tuesday to censure Democratic member Rashida Tlaib, Congress’s lone Palestinian-American lawmaker, for comments she made regarding Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.
Twenty-two Democrats joined with most Republicans in the chamber to censure Tlaib for allegedly “promoting false narratives” on Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack in Israel and “calling for the destruction of the state of Israel.”
The motion was sponsored by Republican Richard McCormick of Georgia. The final vote tally in the Republican-controlled chamber was 234-188 in favour of censure. Four Republicans voted against the motion, while three Democrats and one Republican abstained.
I am the only Palestinian American serving in Congress, and my perspective is needed here now more than ever. I will not be silenced and I will not let anyone distort my words.<br><br>I’m from Detroit, where I learned to speak truth to power, even if my voice shakes. <a href=”https://t.co/bXhGPCcKat”>pic.twitter.com/bXhGPCcKat</a>
The measure specifically cited a video Tlaib published on social media containing the phrase “from the river to the sea,” a pro-Palestinian rallying cry that is viewed by many Jews as one that is antisemitic and calls for Israel’s eradication.
The member from Michigan also enraged many fellow Democrats on Friday when she posted a video accusing President Joe Biden of supporting “the genocide of the Palestinian people.” Israel vehemently rejects accusations of genocide.
‘Palestinian people are not disposable’
Tlaib rejected accusations of antisemitism during a speech on the House floor on Tuesday.
“I am the only Palestinian-American in Congress, and my perspective is needed more than ever,” Tlaib said.
“My criticism has always been of the Israeli government and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s actions …The idea that criticizing the government of Israel is antisemitic sets a very dangerous precedent,” Tlaib said.
“Palestinian people are not disposable,” Tlaib added, taking a long pause as she became overcome with emotion. Her grandmother lives in a village in the occupied West Bank, territory Israel captured in a 1967 war.
Democratic member from Florida on his vote:
I voted for the censure resolution. Calling for Israel to be eliminated crosses a line. Any member can spew antisemitic vitriol and call for the destruction of the Jewish State. But the House also can make it clear that speech does not reflect the opinion of the chamber. <a href=”https://t.co/s9d3FD7m4n”>https://t.co/s9d3FD7m4n</a>
Democrats initially stood by Tlaib and helped defeat the first censure resolution against her last week. But since then, many of her colleagues, including prominent Jewish members, have become more conflicted about her rhetoric about the war.
Brad Schneider of Illinois, the lone Democrat to vote with Republicans on Tuesday to advance the censure resolution, said he believed it was important to debate the slogan “from the river to the sea.”
“I will always defend the right to free speech,” said Schneider. “Tlaib has the right to say whatever she wants.”
But Pete Aguilar of California, a top-ranking Democrat in the House, told reporters on Tuesday that while he “strenuously disagreed” with Tlaib’s remarks about Biden, he believed the censure motion was not productive.
He added, “But it cannot go unanswered.”
Washington Democrat Pramila Jayapal, in a response to a reporter she reposted on the social media site X, rebuked members of her party who were in favour of the censure.
“It is outrageous,” she said. “I am embarrassed for those Democrats who voted to censure their own colleague, who voted against free speech.”
Censures rarely approved
The symbolic rebuke has no specific punishment. Although it was previously a rare measure used against members, it has become increasingly common in recent years.
Tlaib is now the 26th person to ever be censured by the chamber.
She is the second Muslim-American woman in Congress to be formally admonished this year for her criticism of Israel. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota was removed from the House’s foreign affairs committee in February for comments she made about Israel.
Democrats censured Republican Paul Gosar of Arizona in 2021 for posting an animated video that depicted his character murdering New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Republicans censured Adam Schiff of California for what they said were false statements when he was investigating former president Donald Trump while he was in power.
The House has expelled only five members in its history — three during the Civil War and two after their convictions on public corruption charges. Last week, an expulsion measure failed against New York Republican George Santos, who currently faces a campaign-related indictment and a House ethics committee probe over his legal issues and frequent misrepresentations to his constituents and the media.