House censures Rep. Rashida Tlaib over Israel comments

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Washington — The House voted to censure Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress, after her defense of a rallying cry that is widely regarded as calling for the elimination of Israel.

The censure resolution introduced by Georgia Rep. Rich McCormick condemns the Michigan Democrat for "promoting false narratives" around the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas on Israel and "calling for the destruction of the state of Israel." 

The House passed the measure late Tuesday by a vote of 234 to 188, with 22 Democrats joining all but 4 Republicans voting in favor of her censure. Four members voted present.

Tlaib has been one of the most vocal members of Congress to demand a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war, amid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the rising death toll of Palestinian civilians.

In doing so, Tlaib posted a video Friday that included footage of protesters in Michigan chanting part of a rallying cry — "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free" — that the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish groups view as calling for the destruction of Israel and consider to be antisemitic. Tlaib defended the use of the slogan as "an aspirational call for freedom, human rights and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction, or hate."

Her defense of the slogan whipped up bipartisan backlash and renewed the GOP-led effort to fast-track a resolution to formally reprimand her. It also eroded the original opposition of some Republicans to her censure.

Nearly two dozen Republicans voted last week against advancing a separate resolution sponsored by Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. When it came time to vote on whether to stop McCormick's measure from advancing to a final vote, only six Republicans joined all but one Democrat.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib speaks during a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Washington on Oct. 20, 2023. / Credit: Jose Luis Magana / AP
Rep. Rashida Tlaib speaks during a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Washington on Oct. 20, 2023. / Credit: Jose Luis Magana / AP

In an emotional speech on the House floor after the vote, Tlaib said her comments on Israel have been directed at its government and implored her colleagues who are not supportive of a cease-fire to consider the plight of Palestinians.

"I can't believe I have to say this, but Palestinian people are not disposable," she said, pausing to collect herself. "We are human beings, just like anyone else."

Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland said Tuesday the censure vote will show who "believes in the freedom of speech, even the speech they hate." He argued that those who vote to censure Tlaib "want to impose a new political straitjacket of cancel culture" on the country.

McCormick countered that it's not about stifling Tlaib's speech, but rather to show that the House does not share her opinions.

"Rashida Tlaib has the right to spew antisemitic vitriol and even call for the destruction of the Jewish state," he said. "But the House of Representatives also has the right to make it clear that her hate speech does not reflect the opinion of the chamber, and that's what this resolution is about."

Tlaib is the second House member to be censured this year. Republicans voted to censure Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California in June for his role in congressional investigations of former President Donald Trump. Before that, the House had censured just 24 members in its history.

Censure motions have become increasingly popular in recent years as lawmakers use them to score political points when they disagree with members of the opposing party, but they typically don't advance to a floor vote.

"This isn't productive right now," Rep. Pete Aguilar of California, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, said Tuesday of the censure efforts. "We're 10 days from a government shutdown."

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