WASHINGTON: The US House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to censure Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian-American in Congress, over her comments on the Israel-Hamas war, US media reported.
The Democrat was censured by Republicans and some members of her own party in a resolution that passed by 234 votes to 188.
The resolution said Tlaib was “promoting false narratives regarding the October 7, 2023, Hamas attack on Israel and for calling for the destruction of the state of Israel.”
The censure identified a series of statements made by Tlaib, including a video posted on social media in which she accuses President Joe Biden of supporting what she described as the “genocide” of Palestinians and calling on him to back a ceasefire, according to the text of the motion.
The video also shows a crowd chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which the motion said “is widely recognised as a genocidal call to violence to destroy the state of Israel.”
Tlaib had said on X, formerly known as Twitter: “From the river to the sea is an aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction, or hate”.
She defended herself in an emotional address after the vote, US media reported.
“It is important to separate people and governments,” Tlaib said.
“Palestinian people are not disposable,” she said, taking a long pause. Her grandmother lives in a village in the occupied West Bank.
She is the eldest of 14 children from a working class family of Palestinian immigrants in southwest Detroit.
She made history in 2018 as the first Muslim woman ever elected to the Michigan Legislature, one of the first two Muslim women in the US Congress, and the first Palestinian-American woman to serve in Congress.
Guided by the belief that everyone — not just the wealthy and privileged — deserves access to opportunity and a better quality of life, Rashida Tlaib has dedicated her life to amplifying and addressing the concerns of everyday people in her district, across Michigan, and around the country.
While serving in Lansing for 6 years as a Michigan State Representative, Rashida was instrumental in restoring and securing millions of dollars for free health clinics, lead abatement programmes, Meals on Wheels delivery for seniors, before- and after-school programmes, and bilingual education.
She authored laws to protect homeowners from fraudulent mortgage bankers, stop predatory tax preparers, and prevent scrap metal thieves from destroying our communities. And she successfully took on corporate polluters such as the Koch brothers and Marathon Oil, forcing them to remove toxic pollutants from Detroit’s riverfront.
“No government is beyond criticism. 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,” she said.
Israel launched a massive campaign in the Gaza Strip after Hamas militants staged an unprecedented attack on October 7 that killed more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians.
According to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, Israel’s relentless bombardment has killed more than 10,300 people, many of them children.
Second time in two weeks
Calls for a halt in the fighting have gone unheeded, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisting there would be no pause until the more than 240 hostages seized by Hamas are freed.
A censure does not equal an expulsion from the House but carries more weight than a reprimand.
It was the second time in two weeks Tlaib has faced formal disapproval over her criticism of Israel.
Last week, Republican representative Marjorie Taylor Greene brought forward a more strongly worded resolution against Tlaib, which was blocked by the House, CNN reported.
Tlaib is part of the progressive wing of the Democratic party, which includes representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ayanna Pressley.
Tlaib and Ilhan Omar were elected as the first US Muslim congresswomen.
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.
Tlaib, who has family in the West Bank, came under heavy reproval after she failed to immediately condemn Hamas after the attack.
All Democrats initially stood by Tlaib and helped defeat the first censure resolution against her last week. But since then, many of her colleagues, including prominent Jewish members, have become more conflicted about her rhetoric about the war, especially because of a slogan she has used frequently that is widely seen as calling for the eradication of Israel.
Dramatic vote amid political tensions
Ultimately, more than 20 of them joined Republicans on Tuesday night to censure her after an effort to shelve the measure failed earlier in the day.
The latest censure push resulted in a dramatic vote on the House floor amid political tensions over the ongoing, deadly Israel-Hamas war. While the majority of both parties have historically stood firmly on the side of Israel, divisions have emerged in the Democratic Party about the American response.
Brad Schneider, the lone Democrat to vote with Republicans on Tuesday to advance the censure resolution, said he believed it was important to debate the slogan “from the river to the sea.”
“It is nothing else but the call for the destruction of Israel and murder of Jews,” the Jewish Democrat 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.”
While the censure of a lawmaker carries no practical effect, it amounts to severe reproach from colleagues, as lawmakers who are censured are usually asked to stand in the well of the House as the censure resolution against them is read aloud. But the resolution against Tlaib did not call for the public admonishment.
With the vote, Tlaib will become the second Muslim-American woman in Congress to be formally admonished this year for her criticism of Israel. Ilhan Omar was removed in February from the House Foreign Affairs Committee for similar comments she made about Israel.
Some on the left have criticised President Joe Biden’s stance and urged him to put conditions on US support for Israel as its aggressive military campaign drives the Palestinian death toll higher.
Punishment of last resort
Censure had long been viewed as a punishment of last resort, just one step below expulsion and to be triggered only for the most egregious wrongdoing.
But censure resolutions are quickly becoming routine in the chamber, often wielded in strikingly partisan ways.
Many Democrats and some Republicans who opposed censuring Tlaib cited free speech and warned of the precedent it would set.