The House on Tuesday voted to censure Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), punishing the only Palestinian American member of Congress over her comments related to Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.
In a 234-188 vote late Tuesday night, the House passed a censure resolution put forward by Rep. Richard McCormick (R-Ga.), who accused Tlaib of “promoting false narratives” regarding the Hamas attack on Israel in October and for “calling for the destruction of the state of Israel.” Twenty-two Democrats voted for the censure, while four Republicans voted against it.
It was the second time in two weeks Tlaib had faced an effort to censure her. This time, the resolution was prompted by a video Tlaib posted to social media last week accusing President Biden of supporting the “genocide” of Palestinians and calling on him to support a cease-fire or risk losing support in 2024. The video included footage of a crowd chanting the phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which has often been interpreted as a call for the eradication of Israel.
Tlaib defended her use of the phrase as “an aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence” and refused to retract it. But the incident immediately sparked bipartisan criticism, as well as two new Republican-led efforts to censure Tlaib in the House.
McCormick said the phrase “from the river to the sea” was a “genocidal call to violence to destroy the state of Israel and its people,” and he dismissed Tlaib’s defense of her use of the video, saying the phrase entails “Israel’s destruction and the denial of its fundamental right to exist.”
A censure is less severe than expulsion from the House but more severe than a reprimand.
Defending herself on the House floor Tuesday afternoon, Tlaib did not address the specific phrase but said her focus was on a cease-fire, and urged others not to conflate her criticism of Israel’s government with criticism of Jewish people. Breaking down in tears, she said more than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed, including thousands of children, in the weeks since Israel began its bombardment in Gaza.
“I can’t believe I have to say this, but Palestinian people are not disposable. We are human beings just like anyone else,” Tlaib said, holding up a framed photo of her Palestinian grandmother. “The cries of the Palestinian and Israeli children sound no different to me. Why? What I don’t understand is why the cries of Palestinians sound different to you all.”
Arguing against the censure resolution Tuesday, Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) defended Tlaib’s right to free speech, even if one does not agree with her remarks.
Raskin noted that, historically, lawmakers have been censured for their actions, not for their speech. Cases of the latter, he added, were centered on violent threats against other members, fighting words on the House floor and speech inciting insurrection.
“The resolution … is all about censuring her for her political speech and literally, literally nothing else. No actions, no conduct is being alleged or punished,” he said.
Six Republicans voted to table the resolution earlier Tuesday, while one Democrat voted against doing so and another voted present. Two Republicans, Reps. Ken Buck (Colo.) and Thomas Massie (Ky.), had previously lambasted the House’s increased use of censures against lawmakers from the opposing party and have not supported some past measures. Rep. Brad Schneider (Ill.) was the only Democrat who voted against the motion after leading roughly 70 of his colleagues in issuing a statement condemning Tlaib’s use of the phrase “from the river to the sea.”
“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 said. “… We are grateful for President Biden’s extraordinary leadership, for his steadfast support of our ally Israel, and for his unwavering commitment to pursuing a lasting solution to the conflict.”
On Tuesday night, Schneider was one of the Democrats who voted to censure Tlaib. After the vote, Schneider said in a statement that he does “recognize the pain and emotion of all people who are watching events of the past month in Israel and Gaza, especially those with a personal connection.”
“I hold fast to my dream that Israelis and Palestinians will one day live in peace and prosperity side-by-side,” he said. “I believe that both the Congresswoman and I share in a desire to bring the conflict to an end.”
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who voted to table the censure resolution, issued a statement afterward that urged people not to echo slogans “widely understood as calling for the complete destruction of Israel — such as from the River to the Sea.”
McCormick was one of about two dozen Republicans last week who voted to table a previous censure resolution against Tlaib because he said the language in that resolution — which accused the congresswoman of inciting an “insurrection” — was not accurate.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who introduced that resolution, brought forth another version Monday, this time saying Tlaib had “incited an illegal occupation” of the Capitol on Oct. 18, referring to Tlaib’s participation in a protest organized by Jewish advocacy groups demanding an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.
In a statement to The Washington Post on Monday, Tlaib said her colleagues are “much more focused on silencing me — the only Palestinian American voice in Congress — than they are on ending the horrific attacks on civilians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank right now.”
“Instead of attacking me and distorting my words, they should listen to their constituents and call for a ceasefire to save innocent lives,” she said.
In a subsequent statement Monday evening, she added, “I have repeatedly denounced the horrific targeting and killing of civilians by Hamas and the Israeli government, and have mourned the Israeli and Palestinian lives lost.”
Tlaib also said she would continue to call for a “mutual cease-fire, for the release of hostages and those arbitrarily detained, for the immediate delivery of humanitarian aid, and for every American to be brought home.”
Marianna Sotomayor and Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report.