GOP called out for censuring Rashida Tlaib while Republicans spew "genocidal rhetoric" about Gaza

22 Democrats joined Republicans to censure Tlaib over her comments about Israel

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Staff Writer

Published November 8, 2023 11:48AM (EST)

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The House on Tuesday voted to censure Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., over remarks she made regarding the war between Israel and Hamas. Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress, drew criticism for a statement she made after Hamas' deadly attack on Oct 7.

"I grieve the Palestinian and Israeli lives lost yesterday, today, and every day," Tlaib wrote a day after the attack. "I am determined as ever to fight for a just future where everyone can live in peace, without fear and with true freedom, equal rights, and human dignity. The path to that future must include lifting the blockade, ending the occupation, and dismantling the apartheid system that creates the suffocating, dehumanizing conditions that can lead to resistance. The failure to recognize the violent reality of living under siege, occupation, and apartheid makes no one safer. No person, no child anywhere should have to suffer or live in fear of violence. We cannot ignore the humanity in each other. As long as our country provides billions in unconditional funding to support the apartheid government, this heartbreaking cycle of violence will continue.”

Proposed by Rep. Rich McCormick, R-Ga. the resolution to censure Tlaib accused her of having "defended" terrorist organizations and underscored her alignment with the pro-Palestine phrase, "from the river to the sea," calling it "a genocidal call to violence to destroy the state of Israel and its people to replace it with a Palestinian state extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.” As noted by the New York Times, the slogan has been dubbed antisemitic by the Anti-Defamation League and is widely understood to be advocating for the erasure of Israel as a country. 

Twenty-two Democrats sided with GOP lawmakers in approving the censure, which passed by a vote of 234 to 188. "The Democratic support for reprimanding one of their own reflected an increasingly intense division in the party over the Israel-Hamas war," wrote Kayla Guo of the New York Times. "While many Democrats are staunchly supportive of Israel, there is mounting pressure from the progressive left to call for a cease-fire and focus on the suffering of the Palestinian people in the face of ballooning civilian deaths and a worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Ms. Tlaib has been by far the most vocal member of Congress to do so."

“I can’t believe I have to say this, but Palestinian people are not disposable,” Tlaib said from the House floor during a discussion of the measure, becoming emotional as she called for a cease-fire and affirmed that her frustration is aimed at the Israeli government and not its people. “The cries of the Palestinian and Israeli children sound no different to me. You can try to censure me, but you can’t silence their voices."

The decision to censure Tlaib exposed deep divides both within the Democratic Party and along party lines. Last week, GOP firebrand Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Green, R-Ga., proposed a separate censure of Tlaib, calling her out for "antisemitic activity," sympathizing with terrorists, and leading an insurrection at the United States Capitol. The House struck down Greene's proposal, which she reintroduced after amending it.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said in a statement before the vote was held that “slogans that are widely understood as calling for the complete destruction of Israel — such as ‘from the river to the sea’ — does not advance progress toward a two-state solution. Instead, it unacceptably risks further polarization, division and incitement to violence.”

Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill. claimed that Rep. Tlaib was “trying to gaslight the world and give cover” to individuals using the “from the river to the sea” phrase. 

“I will always defend the right to free speech,” Schneider said in a statement. “Tlaib has the right to say whatever she wants. But it cannot go unanswered.”

Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., asserted that the censure was “blatantly Islamophobic, anti-democratic and an utter waste of time," and created by Republicans “obsessed with policing progressive women of color.” 

“It’s not our job to censure somebody because we don’t agree with them,” said Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., who opposed the censure proposal. "Let the Ethics Committee look at it. Let others look at it, but I will not be voting for a motion to censure unless it’s very serious conduct.”

Tlaib's censure has sparked significant discourse, drawing comparisons to instances in which Republican lawmakers made comments that were not met with similar outcry. 

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., condemned Rep. Max Miller, R-Ohio, for telling Fox News that Palestine was going to be "eviscerated" and "turned into a parking lot." Omar last week reposted a video of Miller's recent interview, in which he was denouncing Tlaib's hoisting of a Palestinian flag outside her office. “I don’t even want to call it the Palestinian flag because they’re not a state, they’re a territory, that’s about to probably get eviscerated and go away here shortly, as we’re going to turn that into a parking lot,” Miller said.

“For once, can people say they condemn calls to completely wipe out Palestinians?" Omar wrote in her repost of the clip. "It shouldn’t be hard to condemn genocidal rhetoric.”

Omar singled out Miller's remarks again on the House floor during the debate over Tlaib's censure, calling it "glaring hypocrisy."

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Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., in his efforts to see humanitarian aid being sent to Gaza curbed, referred to Palestinian civilians as Nazis, HuffPost reported. Speaking on the House floor last week about his bill, the Hamas International Financing Prevention Act, Mast said, “I think when we look at this, as a whole, I would encourage the other side to not so lightly throw around the idea of innocent Palestinian civilians, as is frequently said."

“I don’t think we would so lightly throw around the term ‘innocent Nazi civilians’ during World War II.” 

IfNotNow, a Jewish American organization focused on ending U.S. support for the Israeli government, tweeted that “Every member of Congress should be condemning this vile rhetoric & taking action," in response to Mast's comments adding that "It’s dangerous, wrong, and a craven attempt to justify more bombings & more killings.

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“Racist and bigoted comments like this are why 6-year-old Palestinian-American Wadea Al Fayoume was murdered by being stabbed 26 times. Disgusting and disgraceful,” tweeted Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla., referring to the slaying of the Illinois child, which some have labeled a hate crime.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., faced backlash after a Fox News appearance last month in which he seemingly advocated for violence toward Palestine, saying that Israel should "level the place."

"We are in a religious war here, I am with Israel," Graham said. "Whatever the hell you have to do to defend yourselves; level the place."

Approximately a week after Hamas' surprise attack claimed the lives of hundreds of Israeli civilians, Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., tweeted, "As far as I'm concerned, Israel can bounce the rubble in Gaza. Anything that happens in Gaza is the responsibility of Hamas."

As The Arkansas Times noted, "bounce the rubble" is a reference to a quote from Winston Churchill during the Cold War, in which he said, "If you go on with this nuclear arms race, all you are going to do is make the rubble bounce.”

"It is not lost on anyone how many offensive, violent, and racist things people regularly hear members of Congress say, yet virtually the only one that gets censured for her political speech also happens to be the only Palestinian American," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted on Wednesday. "It does not reflect well. At all."

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., accused the House GOP of "cancel culture."

"This resolution is about one thing and one thing only: the punishment of speech,” Raskin said. “We don’t punish people for their political ideas, no matter how wrongheaded or offensive we think they are. The punishment of political viewpoints will mean members will be censured just for being in the minority rather than in the majority,”

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Gabriella Ferrigine is a staff writer at Salon. Originally from the Jersey Shore, she moved to New York City in 2016 to attend Columbia University, where she received her B.A. in English and M.A. in American Studies. Formerly a staff writer at NowThis News, she has an M.A. in Magazine Journalism from NYU and was previously a news fellow at Salon.

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Aggregate Ayanna Pressley Hakeem Jeffries Hamas Ilhan Omar Max Miller Palestine Politics Rashida Tlaib