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formal rebuke

House censures Tlaib for anti-Israel comments, with support from 22 Democrats

The vote represents a tougher line from those Democrats, who have been resistant to supporting formal rebukes of Tlaib and others over anti-Israel and antisemitic comments

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) attends the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday, March 29, 2023.

The House voted to censure Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) over comments she has made in the weeks since the Hamas attack on Israel, including describing the attack as “resistance,” refusing to retract debunked claims that Israel bombed the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza and defending a phrase seen by many as calling for the destruction of Israel. Twenty-two Democrats voted with most Republicans in favor of censuring Tlaib.

The vote represents a tougher line from those Democrats, many of whom have been resistant to supporting formal rebukes of Tlaib and others over anti-Israel and antisemitic comments. Earlier this year, for instance, they voted in lockstep against removing Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from a committee seat over her own anti-Israel and antisemitic comments.

Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Jim Costa (D-CA), Angie Craig (D-MN), Don Davis (D-NC), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Jared Golden (D-ME), Dan Goldman (D-NY), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Greg Landsman (D-OH), Susie Lee (D-NV), Kathy Manning (D-NC), Jared Moskowitz (D-FL), Wiley Nickel (D-NC), Chris Pappas (D-NH), Marie Glusenkamp Perez (D-OR), Pat Ryan (D-NY), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Kim Schrier (D-WA), Darren Soto (D-FL), Ritchie Torres (D-NY), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Frederica Wilson (D-FL) voted in favor of the censure.

The phrase Tlaib defended, “From the river to the sea,” the full phrase being “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” is a slogan “used by the PLO in 1964 before there was an occupation of the West Bank or Gaza, of Hamas when it was founded in 1987, of so many people who seek the destruction of the state of Israel,” Schneider told Jewish Insider on Tuesday. “They know exactly what it means and any effort to try to persuade or gaslight folks that it means something else needs to be called out.”

He added in a statement after the vote that the censure resolution is “not perfect” but is “the only vehicle available to formally rebuke the dangerous disinformation and aspersions that Rep. Tlaib continues to use and defend,” also describing her comments about the hospital explosion as “blood libel” and “amplifying Hamas propaganda.”

GOP Reps. Ken Buck (R-CO), John Duarte (R-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Tom McClintock (R-GA) voted against the resolution; Buck had cited free speech concerns. Reps. David Joyce (R-OH), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) and Susan Wild (D-PA) voted present.

This was the second attempt by House Republicans in the past two weeks to censure the Michigan congresswoman.

Some lawmakers who voted against censure had offered direct rebukes of Tlaib over her comments. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), who did not vote for censure, offered a direct condemnation of Tlaib in a statement to JI.

“Rep. Tlaib’s comments are reprehensible. No amount of explaining detracts from the fact that the phrase means eradicating Israel,” Gallego said. “Securing peace and saving civilian lives will be done only through the returning of hostages and the elimination of Hamas.”

Earlier Tuesday, Schneider and Torres, along with Reps. Hillary Scholten (D-MI) and Norma Torres (D-CA), led 64 other Democrats on a statement rejecting the “river to the sea” slogan without specifically naming Tlaib.

“We reject the use of the phrase ‘from the river to the sea’ — a phrase used by many, including Hamas, as a rallying cry for the destruction of the State of Israel and genocide of the Jewish people,” the statement reads. “ Hamas started this war with a barbaric terrorist attack on October 7, 2023, and neither the Palestinian nor Israeli people can have peace as long as Hamas still rules over Gaza and threatens Israel.”

The statement also endorses a humanitarian pause “of limited space and time”; and calls for the end of Hamas rocket attacks, the release of hostages and the “release of all Palestinian civilians being detained by Hamas as human shields in Gaza”; and condemns Hamas’ “complete disregard” for humanitarian law.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) released his own statement in which he also condemned the slogan without naming Tlaib. He also called for “respect” for fellow members of Congress and President Joe Biden, whom Tlaib accused of supporting genocide. Democratic leadership urged lawmakers not to support censure.

“Israel, a safe haven for Jews, was viciously attacked on October 7. Echoing slogans that are widely understood as calling for the complete destruction of Israel — such as from the River to the Sea — does not advance progress toward a two-state solution,” Jeffries said. “Instead, it unacceptably risks further polarization, division and incitement to violence.”

Jeffries also rejected “ad hominem attacks against colleagues.” He said that “the ongoing effort to decisively defeat this brutal terrorist regime must succeed” in order to achieve peace and said, “people of goodwill should unequivocally condemn this vile terrorism, as well as the deeply disturbing rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia in America.”

In a heated, bitter House floor debate yesterday, which included shouted barbs from multiple lawmakers, Tlaib tearfully accused colleagues of trying to silence her and any criticism of Israel, and of distorting her words, which she said are in support of a cease-fire.

“Let me be clear, my criticism has always been of the Israeli government and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s actions,” she insisted, describing herself as speaking for “millions of people across our country who oppose Netanyahu’s extremism, and are done watching our government support collective punishment” and “war crimes.” She did not address the “river to the sea” slogan or her comments about the Gaza hospital.

“I can’t believe I have to say this, but Palestinian people are not disposable. We are human beings just like anyone else,” she continued.

Her campaign doubled down after the censure vote, sending out a fundraising email alleging the House “just voted to censure Rashida for calling the Israeli military’s attacks on Palestinian civilians what it is: genocide.”

Several Democrats who spoke in Tlaib’s defense, led by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), argued that she should not be censured for protected free speech, which they said would set a dangerous precedent for the House. Others also defended her comments and accused Republicans of trying to silence Palestinian perspectives in particular.

Republicans, led by Rep. Rich McCormick (R-GA), argued that Tlaib’s rhetoric had undermined U.S. interests, incited antisemitic hatred in the U.S., downplayed the horrors of the attack on Israel and offered support for Hamas.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) said that Republicans, “because of your lack of diversity… lack the cognitive and emotional ability to recognize diverse opinions when they speak truth to power.”

Rep. Pat Fallon (R-TX) taunted Bowman to “pull a fire alarm,” referencing recent criminal charges against him. At another point in the debate, as Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) continued her shouted remarks after the expiration of her speaking time, Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH) yelled at her to “shut up.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) ultimately pulled from consideration a competing censure resolution that would likely have faced an uphill battle to passage. She accused House leadership of failing to properly coordinate the efforts.

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