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Rashida Tlaib Censure is an Attack on the Entire Movement for Palestine

The censure of Rashida Tlaib is a severe attack on democratic rights that deserves our strongest condemnation.

Sou Mi

November 11, 2023
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Late Tuesday evening, in a rushed vote, the House of Representatives voted 234-188 to censure Rashida Tlaib, Democratic Congresswoman from Minnesota, for her outspoken support for Palestine. Short of an outright expulsion, a censure resolution is the most serious form of formal public admonishment against a member of Congress.

Introduced by Republican Rep. Rich McCormick of Georgia, the resolution to censure Tlaib — the second in two weeks — passed this time after 22 Democrats joined the GOP majority voting “yes.” Three Democrats and one Republican voted “present,” while four Republicans voted against the resolution on grounds of freedom of speech. Tlaib is only the 26th member in the House’s history to be censured.

Born to Palestinian immigrants and with family still in the West Bank, Tlaib has long been a vocal critic of the Israeli government’s settler-colonial and apartheid regime, as well as the United States’ continued aid to Israel. While still clearly delimiting herself from Hamas’s October 7 attack, she has openly criticized the Israeli government’s continued siege and bombardment of Gaza, condemning Israel’s restriction of essential services like food, water, and electricity into Gaza, and to the murder of over 11,000 Palestinians, the majority of whom were women and children.

At the center of the motion to censure was Tlaib’s use of the slogan “from the river to the sea,” a slogan raised by tens of thousands of who have taken to the streets in defense of Palestinian lives, which the motion describes as 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.” This common piece of Hasbara turns reality on its head: the genocidal nature of this struggle comes not from Palestinians fighting for their right to exist with dignity in their land, but from the state of Israel. The flattening of the Gaza strip over the past month is just the latest salvo in an ongoing campaign of ethnic cleansing: Palestinians have been continually evicted and erased for 75 years by a settler colonial state that encroaches upon Palestinian lands to build a Zionist ethnostate. Contrary to this misrepresentation of the slogan, as Tlaib herself notes, it is a “call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence.” For many fighting for Palestinian liberation, the slogan expresses hope for a single, secular Palestine, where Arab and Jewish people can live in peace.

After the vote on the censure resolution, Tlaib gave an emotional speech, arguing that her criticism of the Israeli government should not be conflated with antisemitism. “It is important to separate people and governments,” Tlaib said; “No government is beyond criticism. The idea that criticizing the government of Israel is antisemitic sets a very dangerous precedent, and it’s been used to silence diverse voices speaking up for human rights across our nation.” She added, “I can’t believe I have to say this, but Palestinian people are not disposable.”

Which Side Are They On?

During the debate over the motion to censure, some Democrats spoke in defense of Tlaib. In a passionate speech, New York Democratic Representative Jamaal Bowman said, “Can we stop misrepresenting Rep. Tlaib’s words? She does not want to kill Jews. She is not in support of Hamas.” Further support came from Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, who rightfully pointed out how Ohio Republican Max Miller received no similar rebuke for saying of Gaza “we’re going to turn that into a parking lot.” Omar, who has defended the Palestinian liberation movement’s fight for national liberation, was herself issued a formal rebuke and removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this year for her criticisms of Israel. 

Despite Tlaib’s handful of defenders, the bipartisan support of Israel and Zionism remains unscathed. While Democratic Congressman Brad Schneider was the lone Democrat earlier in the day to vote to move the resolution forward, accusing Tlaib of “trying to gaslight the world,” almost two dozen Democrats voted for the motion later in the day. Though most Democrats voted against the censure resolution, many prominent party leaders have nevertheless chastised Tlaib for her outspoken support of her people and criticizing the state of Israel and the Netanyahu regime. Just before the vote, Democratic Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said in a statement that echoing “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.”

Although over 66% of Americans across party lines support the call for a ceasefire, the bipartisan regime, from the lower legislative chambers to the White House, continues to give unqualified support to the brutal Israeli occupation. Indeed, since the start of this stage of the conflict, Joe Biden has reaffirmed his support of Netanyahu, saying that the United States will always stand behind Israel and that Israel “will never be alone.” Since then, he has made a diplomatic trip to Israel, and has asked Congress for $100 billion in additional military funding, $14 billion of which is earmarked for Israel. Biden isn’t alone: from “socialist” Bernie Sanders, who rejected the call for a ceasefire by placing the responsibility for Israel’s assault of Gaza on Hamas, to progressive favorites like John Fetterman and Elizabeth Warren, who stand in lockstep behind Israel, Democrats have overwhelmingly fallen in line to support the Zionist state’s brutal bombing campaign and reaffirm Israel’s “right to self-defense.”

The current policy of the bipartisan regime, furthermore, is only a continuation of the U.S.’s ongoing unconditional support of the state of Israel. Israel has been the single largest recipient of U.S. aid since WWII, receiving $3.8 billion in funding every year. Established with the intent to give British and U.S. imperialism a stronger foothold in the region, Israel represents a key strategic partner for the U.S. in the Middle East. Thus, despite the abhorrent violence against Palestinian people, support for the Zionist state remains a high priority for U.S. imperialist interests.

Fight to defend our rights

While Tlaib faces censure, others like Rep. Max Miller and Senator Lindsey Graham, who has said that Gaza should be “flattened,” receive no reprimands. Republicans have called for the total annihilation of Gazans and threaten with the deportation of international student activists. They continue to spew the worst forms of hate speech against a whole population of people to defend U.S. imperialism’s junior partner in the Middle East.

Tlaib isn’t alone. She is part of a host of pro-Palestine voices whose basic democratic right to free expression is under attack for the crime of standing up for Palestine. For weeks, students, activists, and workers across the U.S. have been doxxed, targeted, and fired. Their support for Palestinian lives is equated with support for terrorism by colleges and universities, employers, Zionist organizations, and politicians at different levels of government. For pro-Palestine activists, the fight for the lives and dignity of Palestinians and criticism of Zionism and the settler-colonial state of Israel has been equated with antisemitism, and this lie has formed the foundations for continued attacks and censorship.

Doctors at Lenox Hill hospital and NYU have been fired or face termination, as have reporters and professors, among many others. As of last week, the U.S.-based advocacy organization Palestine Legal reported that they’ve responded to over 260 cases of people’s “livelihoods or careers” being targeted. Meanwhile, the state and other institutions have continued to persecute pro-Palestine protesters in the name of “combating antisemitism.” Just last month, with complete bipartisan support, the Senate passed a unanimous resolution condemning “pro-Hamas” groups just a day after student walkouts in major universities across the country. In New York, Governor Kathy Hochul passed a state action plan of $75 million to “curb antisemitism.” In reality, the majority of this money has gone to the police and to amping up social media surveillance on college campuses. Hochul also ordered an “independent review” of the City University of New York’s policy around antisemitism and discrimination which is, in reality, only meant to smother and punish the growing anti-Zionist student movement on campuses in solidarity with Palestine.

The censure of Rashida Tlaib, alongside other forms of censorship meted out against pro-Palestinian activists, represents a severe encroachment on our democratic rights and deserves the strongest condemnation. Despite the blatantly genocidal nature of Israel’s assault on Gaza, Washington has stood steadfast with Israel: the bipartisan regime has shown that it would rather curb democratic rights and free speech at home than stand any threat to this geopolitical alliance. While today these attacks are directed against pro-Palestine activists across the labor and social movements, the same mechanisms can and will be used to police any form of resistance against oppression and exploitation that the state sees as outside the bounds of its tolerance.

At the same time, from Arab communities to anti-Zionist Jewish activists, to the burgeoning student movement and more, tens of thousands have been mobilizing to demand an end to Israel’s brutal bombing of the Gaza strip and to fight for a free Palestine. Less than a week ago, tens of thousands flooded the streets of Washington D.C. for Palestinian liberation. Unions like SEIU Local 1021 and the American Postal Workers Union have joined the calls for a ceasefire. Just as students in the 1960s were at the forefront of the movement against the Vietnam war, fighting not just for free speech, but also against the U.S. intervention, students across the country today are organizing rallies, sit-ins, die-ins, and walk-outs against Israel’s violence. And, while pro-Palestine voices like Tlaib face increasing McCarthyist attacks, it is also evident that the mounting pressure from the streets is creating a crisis of legitimacy for the bipartisan regime, which finds itself at the receiving end of a barrage of criticism for their support and funding of the genocidal regime, as well as their attacks on the pro-Palestine movement, all of which only continue to foster deep crisis in the national sphere.

Since the start of the conflict, 13 Democratic congresspeople, including Tlaib, Omar, Cori Bush, and others have signed a resolution demanding a ceasefire. However, as the motions of censure, the slew of criticism from other Democratic party leaders, and the ongoing attacks against pro-Palestinian speech show, these motions have barely made a dent in the party line, which has been to maintain and strengthen the Israeli state. Despite the best efforts of progressives like Tlaib, the Democratic Party has thus far proven incapable of putting an end to Israel’s violence, or even defending the fundamental democratic right to free speech. 

Yet, as we continue to see, we are strongest when we are organized, taking the fight to our schools, our workplaces, and to the streets. Against the false charges of antisemitism, we need to defend the rights of any and all who are attacked for speaking out against Israeli atrocities and occupation. With our full force, we need to reject and fight every motion of censure, surveillance and retaliation made against those who speak out for Palestinian lives.

And as we organize in our workplaces, in our schools, and on the streets, we need to chart a course towards a new horizon. Against the dead end of the Democratic party, we need to fight for a real political alternative: we need to build a political organization that, instead of strengthening a violent imperialist state, will fight to defend and expand our democratic rights. We need a party that sees clearly that our interests lie not with the oppressors but with the exploited and oppressed, struggling to throw off the deadly yoke of imperialism, and for self-determination. We need to fight for a party that doesn’t just share symbolic words, but, from our workplaces to our schools and universities, organizes the working class to fight against imperialist violence and for the liberation of our class, from the heart of the imperialist core to around the world.

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Sou Mi

Sou Mi is an activist based in New York City.

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