Democrats join GOP in censuring Rashida Tlaib over Israel-Palestine comments

Democrats have criticised the sole Palestinian-American congresswoman for repeating the slogan ‘from the river to the sea’

Eric Garcia
Washington, DC
Wednesday 08 November 2023 00:03 EST
Rep. Rashida Tlaib chokes up condemning resolution to censure her

The House of Representatives voted to censure Rep Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) for her remarks about Israel and Palestine on Tuesday evening, with some Democrats joining Republicans.

The censure resolution formally criticised Ms Tlaib for her comments after the 7 October attack on Israel when Hamas militants killed 1,400 people in Israel and took at least 230 hostages.

Ms Tlaib, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress in 2019 and the House’s sole Palestinian-American member of Congress, has come under fire for saying that Israel was behind the bombing of the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital when US and Israeli intelligence said that a misfired Hamas rocket caused the destruction of the hospital.

In addition, many Democrats in her home state of Michigan, a state with a large Arab-American population, criticised her for using the slogan “from the River to the Sea.” Ms Tlaib, along with many supporters of Palestinian rights, say the slogan “is an aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction, or hate.”

However, others argue the phrase is essentially calling for the dismantling of the state of Israel.

Ahead of the censure vote, Ms Tlaib defended herself from accusations of antisemitism.

“I will not be silenced and I will not let you distort my words,” she said. Ms Tlaib criticised the fact that more people were focused on her remarks than military attacks in Gaza. “The idea that criticising the government of Israel is antisemitic sets a very dangerous precedent, and it’s being used to silence diverse voices speaking up for human rights across our nation.”

Ms Tlaib also criticised President Joe Biden for disputing the death toll in Gaza.

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

But some supporters of Israel disputed her claims about the phrase.

“I would hardly define that as aspirational,” Rep Mike Lawler (R-NY) said in a floor speech, saying Ms Tlaib has “parroted the talking points and the message of Hamas.” The censure legislation also criticised Ms Tlaib for calling Israel an “apartheid state.”

“If you want Palestinians to be free, reject Hamas, reject the Palestinian authority, demand Hamas surrender,” Mr Lawler said to Ms Tlaib.

Along with 212 Republicans, 22 Democrats – including many Jewish-American Democrats and as well as Democrats from swing districts – joined the resolution censuring her. Only four Republicans – Reps Ken Buck (R-CO), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Tom McClintock (R-CA) and John Duarte (R-CA) – opposed the resolution. Four members – Reps Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Susan Wild (D-PA) and David Joyce (R-OH) – voted “present.”

Rep Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) criticised Democrats who voted to censure a member of their own party.

“It is outrageous,” she told CNN’s Manu Raju. “I am embarrassed for those Democrats who voted to censure their own colleague, who voted against free speech. It is an embarrassment.”

But Rep Ritchie Torres (D-NY), an ardent supporter of Israel who voted for the censure resolution, defended his decision.

“Calling for the end of Israel as a Jewish State, through the insidious phrase ‘from the river to the sea,’ crosses a line of hate speech that no public official should ever cross,” he said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Congress has a right to take a principled stand against hate speech calling for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish nation-state.”

The vote comes a month to the day since the deadly attack in Israel. But Congress has been unable to pass a proper aid package to Israel. Last week, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives passed a bill that would have stripped money from the Internal Revenue Service to pay for funding for aid to Israel.

The bill has little likelihood of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a report last week saying that the legislation would cause net increase in the deficit of $12.5bn within a decade.

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