Abcarian: Censuring the House's only Palestinian American is a cynical ploy to silence opposition to Israel

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., cries during a demonstration calling for a ceasefire in Gaza near the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades)
Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan spoke Oct. 18 at a Washington demonstration calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades / Associated Press)

Of all the wrong-headed responses to the current crisis in the Middle East, demanding that the only Palestinian American in Congress be censured for criticizing Israel is among the most cynical.

Inevitably, the war between Israel and Hamas has unmasked deep rifts among Democrats — between outspoken supporters of Israel and its steps to crush Hamas, and those who call for a cease-fire in Gaza and an end to Israel’s trampling of Palestinian rights.

But Republican efforts to expel or censure Democratic Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib for her outspoken pro-Palestinian views is nothing more than a cynical attempt to grab the spotlight and exploit Democratic divisions for political purposes.

Yes, it’s true that Tlaib has used the word "genocide" to describe what is happening in Gaza. She was among the nine Democrats who voted against a House resolution expressing support for Israel and condemning the Hamas attack on Oct. 7. She also, like many others, believed in the narrative that Israel had bombed a hospital in Gaza, which is now widely questioned. But so did many mainstream media outlets. Should she have apologized? Maybe, but her defense made sense.

“Both the Israeli and United States governments have long, documented histories of misleading the public about wars and war crimes — like last year’s Israeli military assassination of [journalist] Shireen Abu Akleh and the false claims of weapons of mass destruction that led our country into the Iraq War,” she said, adding: “This debate should not distract us from the urgent need for a cease-fire to save innocent civilian lives.”

Read more: What the U.S. is telling Israel about a Gaza ground invasion — and what Israel is hearing

On Oct. 18, Tlaib spoke at an antiwar protest organized by two left-wing Jewish groups, Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow. Standing in front of a huge banner painted with the word “Ceasefire,” an emotional Tlaib pleaded for peace, and condemned the war. She spoke of two victims, Maya Regev, a 21-year-old Israeli who is believed to have been taken hostage by Hamas at the music festival, and Shaima Akram Saidam, the top scorer in Palestine’s 2023 high school exams, who was killed by an Israeli airstrike at a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.

“Both of them — both of them — are victims,” Tlaib said, her voice breaking. “They're victims of the oppression of the violence. They both deserve to live. I don't care what their faith is or their ethnicity.”

Later that day, a little more than 300 of the protesters were arrested after they entered a congressional office building on Capitol Hill to continue their demonstration against the war. Three were charged with assaulting police, though this was in no way a violent event. Video shows most of the protesters, clad in black T-shirts with the slogan “Not in our name,” sitting in concentric circles or standing with arms linked, chanting, “Ceasefire now!”

Read more: Airstrikes flatten blocks of Gaza refugee camp, bringing rage, grief and a perilous new phase of war

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who supported overturning the results of a free and fair American presidential election, accused Tlaib of engaging in “anti-American activities.” In an Oct. 30 letter to her Republican colleagues urging them to censure Tlaib, Greene wrote, “She has advocated for pro-Hamas riots across the country, making American Jews fear for their lives, and signaling to Israel that America does not support them in their fight against evil.”

Tlaib, as far as I can tell, has unfortunately not singled out Hamas for criticism. Instead she has condemned violence and called for a cease-fire. But no one, least of all a Palestinian American elected representative with deeply felt views about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, should be punished for not marching in lockstep with the establishment view.

One of Greene’s colleagues, the ethics-challenged Montana Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke, was snarky about the pro-Palestinian Capitol demonstration, but give him credit at least for grokking the 1st Amendment: “The irony is the U.S. Constitution protects these protesters freedom to be absolute idiots,” he posted on X.

Read more: Goldberg: Will the media get coverage of the crisis in Israel and Gaza right? It all depends on the editors

Greene, on the other hand, seems to have lost touch with reality, not for the first time. In her letter to colleagues, she claimed that Tlaib had “incited a pro-Hamas insurrection at the Capitol complex” and had called for “violent terrorist rebellion inside the Capitol complex.”

“We expect our elected officials to conduct themselves in a manner that reflects the dignity of their office and upholds the trust of the American people,” wrote Greene, who once called her colleague Lauren Boebert a “little bitch” on the House floor, verbally harassed Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg, posted an anti-transgender sign outside her office across the hall from a lawmaker with a transgender child, and screamed “Liar!” at President Biden during his State of the Union speech this year.

Let’s not forget, either, her embrace of the antisemitic “great replacement theory” or her loopy claim that wealthy Jews use space lasers to start forest fires in the U.S. and Israel.

Read more: Opinion: Nothing has prepared me for the antisemitism I see on college campuses now

“The degree to which some folks only pretend to care about antisemitism when they can weaponize it never ceases to amaze,” CNN’s Jake Tapper said Sunday, during a scorching commentary about Greene’s censure resolution.

For her part, Tlaib called Greene’s resolution “unhinged” and “deeply Islamophobic.”

“I am proud to stand in solidarity with Jewish peace advocates calling for a ceasefire and an end to the violence,” Tlaib wrote in a statement released by her office. “I will not be bullied, I will not be dehumanized, and I will not be silenced.”

Our Republican-led House of Representatives, awash in chaos and dysfunction of its own making, has far better and more important things to do than to punish Tlaib for speaking her mind. Especially when she is motivated by long-held principle, and they are motivated by political theater.


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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.