US House votes to censure Rashida Tlaib over Israel-Hamas war comments

House votes 234-188 to reprimand Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress, who said she would not be silenced.

Rashida Tlaib standing on the steps of the US House of Representatives. She is wearing a black top and burgundy jacket and is smiling. The sky behind her is blue.
Rashida Tlaib is a third term congresswoman [file: Michael Reynolds/EPA]

The United States House of Representatives has voted to censure Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress, over her comments on the Israel-Hamas war.

The House voted 234 to 188 on Tuesday night to censure the three-term Democratic congresswoman from Michigan.

Some 22 members of her own party joined the Republicans in backing a resolution that claimed Tlaib had been “promoting false narratives regarding the October 7, 2023, Hamas attack on Israel and for calling for the destruction of the state of Israel”.

The punishment is one step below expulsion and follows a failed censure resolution last week.

More than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israel began its bombardment of Gaza a month ago after the armed group Hamas killed at least 1,400 people and took more than 200 captive in an attack on Israel.

The US, long Israel’s most fervent supporter, has resisted calls for a ceasefire, despite growing global anger over the humanitarian crisis in the densely-populated territory of 2.3 million people.

While criticising the Israeli response and US support for it, Tlaib has also repeatedly condemned Hamas’s assault.

Ahead of the vote, defended her position saying she would “not be silenced” or allow her words to be distorted.

With some progressive Democrat colleagues by her side, she stressed her criticism had always been directed towards the Israeli government and its leadership under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“It is important to separate people and government,” she said. “The idea that criticising the government of Israel is anti-Semitic sets a very dangerous precedent. And it’s been used to silence diverse voices speaking up for human rights across our nation.”

The debate on the censure resolution, introduced by Rich McCormick, a Republican from Georgia, was emotional and intense, with some representatives focusing on the slogan “from the river to the sea“, which Tlaib has used frequently, calling it an “aspirational call for freedom, human rights and peaceful coexistence”.

As she defended her position, Tlaib was overcome.

“Palestinian people are not disposable,” she said, taking a long pause. Her grandmother lives in a village in the occupied West Bank.

A view of the screen showing the House votes on the censure of Rashida Tlaib
A number of Democrats joined the vote to censure Tlaib [House Television via AP Photo]

Brad Schneider, a Jewish Democrat from Illinois, said he believed it was important to debate what the words meant.

“It is nothing else but the call for the destruction of Israel and murder of Jews,” he said. “I will always defend the right to free speech. Tlaib has the right to say whatever she wants.”

He added, “But it cannot go unanswered.”

It was unclear if Schneider supported the resolution’s final passage.

Other Democrats warned of the risks to free speech from the censure and the precedent it would set.

“This resolution not only degrades our constitution, but it cheapens the meaning of discipline in this body for people who actually commit wrongful actions like bribery, fraud, violent assault and so on,” said Jamie Raskin, who defended Tlaib against the resolution.

Lawmakers who are censured are asked to stand on the floor of the House as the censure resolution is read aloud to them.

With the vote, Tlaib will become the second Muslim-American woman in Congress after Ilhan Omar to be formally admonished this year over criticism of Israel.

Republicans voted in February to remove Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Source: Al Jazeera, The Associated Press