Can Multiple Truths Exist Simultaneously? Here is how one censure in the House of Representatives can pave the way for tough but critical discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict from various perspectives


Representative Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., delivered a powerful speech on the House floor on November 7th,  just moments before her colleagues were set to vote on a resolution to censure her. The resolution(s) to censure Tlaib had been introduced because of her allegedly harmful rhetoric on the Israel-Hamas war. It is important to note that Tlaib is the first, and as of right now, only Palestinian-American to serve in the United States Congress and one of the first two Muslim women elected (the other being Representative Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.). Now, after a 234-188 vote, she is the 27th member of Congress to ever be censured (Tully-McManus, 2023). 

So, was Tlaib’s censure uncalled for or appropriate? The question of whether it was justified, I might propose, essentially becomes a matter of perspective. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, understandably, remains heavy, fragile, and divisive – and the recent October Hamas attacks have only made matters more complicated. 

The act of censuring Tlaib and her associated statements has had varying impacts on individuals, as anticipated. Her censure has come to the satisfaction of some and the utter frustration of others. 

Tlaib’s censure is surrounded by convoluted details that have given rise to numerous questions. For example, was her right to freedom of speech breached? Why have her remarks (that earned her the censure) elicited such mixed reactions? How have her statements impacted Israelis and Palestinians, and their allies worldwide? Finally, why is the phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” equally loathed and revered? A detailed examination of the censure proceedings, Tlaib’s positionality, and the perspectives of local, global, and congressional individuals may facilitate a better understanding of this controversy. 

First, Here Is What Tlaib Addresses in Her Speech

  • The value of her perspective as the only Palestinian American presently serving in Congress. 
  • The sense of despair she has, which is rooted in the perceived lack of recognition from both Congress and the Biden Administration with regard to Palestinian lives. 
  • The distinct criticism she holds for Netanyahu and the Israeli government. 
  • The importance of separating people from their governments, as “no government should be beyond criticism” (Tlaib, 2023).
  • The notion that criticizing the Israeli government “sets a very dangerous precedent” (Tlaib, 2023). 
  • The alarming rate at which Islamophobia and antisemitism have escalated.
  • The recognition of Jewish and Palestinian voices. 
  • Peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians (Tlaib, 2023). 
  • The need for a shared humanity. 
  • The urgent call for a cease-fire and humanitarian aid.

Next, What Is a Censure in Congress?

A censure is an official statement of disapproval of a congressional member’s rhetoric, actions, or both (Watson, 2023). It is conveyed through a resolution that is subsequently adopted by a majority vote, provided the resolution is successfully advanced to a floor vote (United States Senate). The process of censuring members within the Senate parallels a similar procedure followed in the House of Representatives, but each is unique to its respective chamber. 

What Is the History of Censure and Other Forms of Discipline in Congress?

According to the United States Constitution (Article I, Section 5, clause 2), both the Senate and the House have the authority to discipline or “punish” their members for “disorderly behavior” based on acts that can range from criminal misconduct to violations of internal congressional rules (United States Senate). Each House of Congress can impose discipline without having to receive approval from the other. Discipline commonly comes in the forms of reprimand, censure, and expulsion (under the agreement of two-thirds of the voting majority). As of now, 21 members of Congress have been expelled, 28 have been censured, and 12 have been reprimanded.

What Warrants Disciplinary Action Against Congressional Members?

Jack Maskell, a Legislative Attorney at the Library of Congress, notes that “there is no precise listing or description… of the specific types of misconduct or ethical improprieties [that] might subject a Member to the various potential disciplines” (Maskell, 2016). Although that may be the case, Maskell explains that the House and Senate have taken disciplinary action against “its own Members for conduct [that] has not necessarily violated any specific rule or law, but [has been] found to breach… privileges, demonstrate contempt for the institution, or… discredit the House or Senate” (Maskell, 2016). This indicates that the House and Senate have the authority to discipline their members for conduct that is essentially found to undermine the integrity of the institution. 

How Does a Censure Operate in the House of Representatives?

 In accordance with House regulations, a reprimand is applied for “serious violations”, a censure is applied for “more serious violations”, and then expulsion is reserved for the “most serious violations” (Maskell, 2016). A censure is merely a public condemnation that registers “deep disapproval” (United States House of Representatives Archives). In order for a censure resolution to obtain floor consideration, it must have the support of the House majority party leadership and the House Committee on Ethics; otherwise, garnering buy-in will most likely be a challenge (Research Congressional Service, 2021). 

If approved by the majority, the censured member “is required to stand in the well of the House while the Speaker or presiding officer reads aloud the censure resolution and its preamble as a form of public rebuke” (United States House of Representatives Archives). 

Tlaib was not obligated to do so. A Congressional Research Service Report clarifies that the term censure must be included in the proposed resolution for the offending member to stand in the well; otherwise, the action will not be pursued (Congressional Research Service, 2021). 

The question of whether Tlaib received a censure or a formal reprimand remains a topic of dispute. Many news outlets have acknowledged her to have received a censure, but others contend that she was only formally reprimanded (which is not deemed as severe as a censure or expulsion), as she was not required to stand in the well. Given the ambiguity surrounding the issue, it is challenging to discern which interpretation holds greater merit. 

What Types of Consequences Can a Censure Lead To?

A censure will not result in the removal of the member from Congress nor the elimination of their rights or official privileges. Still, it can have a significant “psychological impact” on the individual and potentially strain their relationships with colleagues, according to Staff Writers Lauren Sforza and Julia Shapero of The Hill (Sforza & Shapero, 2023). Sforza and Shapero explain that “a censure alone would not remove a member from their committee assignments, but stripping a member from their committees could be an additional punishment”, among other sanctions (Sforza & Shapero, 2023). Maskell also shares that certain members, under scrutiny for potential censure or other disciplinary action, have even opted to resign before facing charges (Maskell, 2016). 

At present, Tlaib has not been subjected to any sanctions other than a censure or a reprimand (depending on how one interprets it). Yet that does not mean she has not experienced challenges elsewhere. There have been no reported instances of an alarming or potentially dangerous conflict between Tlaib and her colleagues (unlike the most recent GOP conflict that has, ironically, emerged between the two Representatives who filed competing resolutions against Tlaib), but it is still evident that direct conflict now lies between Tlaib and some of her democratic adversaries. As demonstrated by the 243-188 vote, 22 Democrats voted in bipartisan favor of the GOP-endorsed resolution, while, in a surprising turn, four Republicans voted against it – based on First Amendment rights rather than explicit support for Tlaib’s statements. 

Tlaib (like many other House Democrats) has been subject to intense criticism by various GOP party members, which is not surprising. Division within any political party is also expected. Still, the noticeable rift between Tlaib and her fellow Democrats (as evidenced by her statements on Israel and Palestine) remains a crucial point of interest. The division is particularly noteworthy, as just in October, the party was able to maintain a united front for the removal of Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., from his speakership role. (Of course, it is important to acknowledge that this censure circumstance differs entirely and that party affairs in the House can turn on a dime). 

The censure vote was laden with anomalies. In one corner were Democrats who shared Tlaib’s stance regarding an immediate cease-fire and vehemently opposed the censure resolution throughout. In another corner were Democrats who firmly believed that Tlaib’s comments were harmful and merited reproval (for varying reasons). 

In between these two groups were those, like Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-NY., who voted against the censure resolution due to a belief in the freedom of speech, even if it was speech that they did not agree with, or may have even “‘hate[d]’”, as cited by Representative Jamie Raskin, D-Md. (Yilek, 2023). To Raskin’s point, he even felt that the “‘[censure] resolution not only degrade[d]… [the] Constitution, but… cheapen[ed] the meaning of discipline… for people who actually commit wrongful actions like bribery, fraud, [and] violent assault’” (Amiri, 2023). 

In the ongoing debate surrounding the ethics of Tlaib’s censure, it may be valuable to consider the last two censures of House members Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Paul Gosar, R-Ariz. Through a GOP resolution and party-line vote, Schiff was censured (in June of this year) for allegedly making unproven allegations and misrepresenting intelligence on Russian collusion with President Trump during the 2016 presidential election. Prior to Schiff, Gosar, in 2021, was censured through a Democratic resolution and a party-line vote for posting an animated video that illustrated him killing Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY., and assaulting President Biden. Now, following Tlaib’s censure, Representative Jamaal Bowman, D-NY., was censured for pulling the fire alarm while the House was in session. Due to the arguably, incomparable nature of these censure resolutions, it is apparent that the censure proceeding requires a thorough reevaluation to ensure legitimacy, fairness, and consistency. However, it remains unclear whether such an assessment will ever be undertaken. When evaluating the grounds for censure in the House, it is critical to consider the gravity of the actions that warrant such a measure. For example, when compared to offenses such as assault, harassment, unparliamentary language, inappropriate conduct, and financial mismanagement, it becomes essential to gauge the true severity of Tlaib’s statements and Bowman’s actions. Were their censures deserved, or were they solely part of a larger trend to, as cited by Luke Broadwater, Reporter for The New York Times, “punish those whom Republicans have deemed the party’s enemies” (Broadwater, 2021)? 

Then there were individuals like Representative Dean Phillips, D-MN., who had major concerns over Tlaib’s statements but still opted to vote against the resolution out of an allegiance to Tlaib. (it is worth mentioning that Phillips was not present for the vote, but clearly expressed that he would have voted against censuring Tlaib, despite his opposition to the language she used). Comparatively, representatives like Brad Schneider, D-IL., recognized that a censure may not have been the most prudent course of action but felt that “‘it [was] the only vehicle available to formally rebuke the dangerous disinformation and aspersions’ that Tlaib use[d]” (Al Jazeera, 2023). Finally, in addition to several other representatives, Pete Aguliar, D-Calif., Chairman of the Democratic Caucus, while declining to support the censure resolution (but in disagreement with Tlaib), felt that the censure was “‘not productive’” and instead directed concern onto more pressing matters in the House, like nearing another shutdown, as at that point in time, the government was only 10 days away from experiencing one (Yilek, 2023). (It is important to note that the following perspectives are representative of a select few among 213 Democrats in the House. Thus, it is understandable that there are contrasting opinions, especially on an issue as fragile and provocative as the Israel-Palestine conflict). 

Upon formal and public introduction of GOP plans to censure Tlaib, many shared Aguliar’s concern. Was it possible for the resolution to take priority over the fiscal budget impasse? According to James V. Saturno, a Specialist on Congress and the Legislative Process, yes. Saturno clarifies that a censure resolution can be introduced as privileged, which forces a vote within two legislative days, thereby taking precedence over regular House business (i.e., determining the 2024 fiscal budget) and creating further delay in the appropriations process. 

Considering Aguliar’s legitimate concern, Congress averted the November 17 deadline by passing a two-tiered stopgap, as per the proposal made by House Speaker Johnson. The stopgap passed in the House on November 14 and subsequently in the Senate on November 15. However, it should be noted that yet another short-term spending bill was passed, which still indicates an imminent risk of another shutdown in late January or early February. Despite having avoided two previous shutdowns, it must be determined whether the passage of a stopgap measure has truly resolved the larger issue of establishing an official spending budget for 2024. Given that the House may encounter a similar challenge in January (unlike the Senate, whose members have maintained amicable bipartisanship), this arguably, raises concerns about the practicality of such measures. Although there are no limitations in which stopgaps can be proposed and passed, a budget must be established – there are only so many timelines that can be put into effect until they are exhausted. Nonetheless, to be fair, the challenges that underlie this current budget impasse have been overshadowed by an intense divide, as seen in the House, which cannot be easily resolved or fixed. However, that is a story for another day. 

Now, Who Introduced the Resolution To Censure Tlaib, and Why Exactly Was She Censured?

Two separate GOP resolutions were proposed by Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Rich McCormick, R-Ga., based on what they believed was Tlaib’s use of antisemitic rhetoric. Tlaib has since asserted that “the [official] resolution distorts her positions, attempts to police her speech, and is filled with ‘obvious lies’” (Zhou, 2023). Despite the initiation of two resolutions by Greene, the House ultimately voted to advance McCormick’s measure (Guo, 2023). Greene’s initial proposal was rejected after both Democrats and Republicans were unanimous in their concern that Greene’s language was “too incendiary”, and she was advised to amend and reintroduce it for consideration (Wong et al., 2023). According to Kayla Guo, Reporter for the New York Times, the House planned to consider Greene’s amended resolution until she withdrew it once McCormick’s was approved for a floor vote (Guo, 2023). Provided below are significant details on both resolutions. 

Greene’s Resolutions 

Part of Greene’s first resolution targeted a series of statements made by Tlaib on social media, wherein she expressed her support for Palestinians and condemned the Israeli government. Greene primarily accused Tlaib of actions such as (Shabad & Kaplan, 2023):

  • Engaging in antisemitic activity.
  • Sympathizing with terrorist organizations. 
  • Leading an insurrection at the United States Capitol on October 18th. 

As mentioned, at the request of those in favor of the censure, Greene modified her use of the term insurrection and replaced it with “illegal occupation” (Irwin, 2023). Note that the “insurrection” that Greene attempted to classify was, in fact, “organized by far-left Jewish activists groups, including Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow, who were advocating for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas conflict” (Shabad & Kaplan, 2023). (Both groups have been interestingly deemed as radical and anti-Israel by the Jewish NGO Anti-Defamation League). News Reporters Rebecca Shabad and Rebecca Kaplan disclose that though Tlaib was not present for the protest indoors, she did, however, deliver remarks at a rally with demonstrators outside the Capitol (Shabad & Kaplan, 2023). 

When one compares the recent cease-fire event, which Greene labeled as an “insurrection”, with the January 6th insurrection (that Greene has defended on multiple occasions), it raises the question of how similar these incidents truly are. 

McCormick’s Resolution

McCormick accused Tlaib on the basis of:  

In addition to these charges, Tlaib was under fire for accusing President Biden of supporting genocide in Gaza. The information above, however, is what she was officially accused of. 

The first two charges reflect a public statement she issued (on October 8th) in response to the prevailing violence between Israel and Palestine. In her statement, Tlaib expresses her sorrow for the destruction wrought upon both Palestinian and Israeli communities and articulates her vision for a “future [that] must include lifting the blockade, ending the occupation, and dismantling the apartheid system that creates the suffocating, dehumanizing conditions that can lead to resistance”, among other points of interest (Tlaib, 2023). Tlaib then proceeds, “as long as our country provides billions in unconditional funding to support the apartheid government, this heartbreaking cycle of violence will continue” (Tlaib, 2023). 

The censure charges levied against Tlaib were largely attributed to her emphasis on the conditions that can lead to resistance, as well as her critique of the United States’ role in supporting an apartheid government (Tlaib, 2023). With regard to her statement, Tlaib’s critics point to her failure to immediately denounce Hamas (compared to most of her congressional allies who also openly support a cease-fire) and appropriately represent the Jewish communities she serves. 

Such accusations have reverberated throughout one of the largest Jewish communities, which Tlaib now represents as part of Michigan’s 12th Congressional District due to a “redistricting shake-up”, as recognized by Charles Homans, Reporter for The New York Times and The Times Magazine, (Homans, 2023). She, coincidentally, also represents one of the largest Arab American communities in the country, within that same district (Homans, 2023). 

The act of censuring Tlaib for her deployment of antisemitic rhetoric is somewhat paradoxical, given the antisemitic conspiracy theories that Greene has entertained in the past, as well as the QAnon outlets that both she and McCormick have been allegedly linked to. (QAnon is understood to have particularly deep-seated roots in conspiracy theories, some with antisemitic associations). 

If Tlaib was initially censured on the basis of engaging in antisemitic activity and rhetoric, then wouldn’t that raise questions regarding the grounds for which Greene or McCormick introduced their measures, as both have been linked to antisemitic activity? Given Greene’s prior association with QAnon and McCormick’s low-profile involvement (with the same organization), it is hard to understand why they would introduce a censure for antisemitic rhetoric. (It is important to mention that during her first term in 2021, under Pelosi’s speakership, Greene was subjected to disciplinary action for her engagement in several instances of racism, antisemitism, conspiracy theories, and her advocacy for political violence. She was removed from her committee assignments as a result. However, when Republicans regained the majority of the House, and with Kevin McCarthy taking the speakership, her committee assignments were restored). 

The past use of antisemitic rhetoric by Greene and McCormick, while not directly linked to calls for destruction – which is an accusation currently leveled against Tlaib – nevertheless could constitute antisemitic conduct. Given that these GOP members have utilized their freedom of speech to propagate antisemitic rhetoric, it prompts the question as to whether or not Tlaib should be subject to censure, at least through their doing. 

The situation between Greene and McCormick, regarding their censure resolutions against Tlaib, is fascinating for another reason entirely. Despite their shared objective, Lauren Irwin, Staff Writer for The Hill, suggests a lack of communication, competition, and (potential) contention between the two. According to Irwin, Greene and McCormick did not communicate with each other when they decided to file their resolutions (Irwin, 2023). Irwin notes that McCormick had even voted to “hold off on… [Greene’s] resolution because he opposed the language in the bill” (Irwin, 2023). Irwin highlights Greene’s frustration in response to McCormick’s positioning on her resolutions, but notes how Greene has not allowed it to affect her resolve. As per Irwin, Greene even asserts that “‘it’s not about Rich McCormick, nobody cares about Rich McCormick… most people have no idea that he’s even doing this, [and] most people think it’s [her] resolution’” (Irwin, 2023). The lack of collaboration between Greene and McCormick serves as a microcosm of the issues that plague the House Republican party. 

The expeditious censure of Tlaib by 234 of her colleagues has raised speculation surrounding the absence of similar action taken in response to the provocative statements made by Representative Brian Mast, R-FL. Representative Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., introduced a resolution to censure Mast for drawing parallels between Palestinian civilians and Nazi civilians and emphasizing that there are “very few innocent Palestinian civilians” (Yilek, 2023). However, the resolution was tabled and went unaddressed due to concerns about freedom of speech. The major discrepancy between the two situations is perplexing, particularly because one of the main points of contention in Tlaib’s case is whether she was allowed to exercise her right to free speech. If that was indeed the case, then wouldn’t that make her censure unwarranted, as seen in Mast’s statements? On the other hand, if Mast’s comments have been determined to undermine the integrity of the institution, shouldn’t he have been held accountable for the same disciplinary process? 

Caitlin Yilek, a Politics Reporter for CBS News, reports how McCormick has undergone intense scrutiny for “stifling Tlaib’s speech” (Yilek, 2023). As per Yilek, McCormick expressed how his censure resolution was not about curtailing her speech but rather sought to demonstrate that her “‘hate speech does not reflect the opinion of the chamber’”, as he found her behavior to be “‘entirely unbecoming of a member of the House’” (Yilek, 2023). His statements have raised questions regarding the consistency in the House’s application of its censure standards, particularly with regard to the treatment of Mast’s speech. As of now, no follow-up action has been taken against Mast, but instead, the potential resolution to censure him, as stated, has been pulled – the question of whether the House condones Mast’s speech is presented through their lack of action. The disparity in treatment between Tlaib and Mast critically challenges what constitutes unbecoming behavior and whether the House is applying its standards fairly and consistently because, in all seriousness, shouldn’t assimilating Palestinians and Nazis be considered unbecoming behavior? Why is the House letting that go unanswered? As evidenced by Mast’s circumstance, it is becoming increasingly common for members of the Republican party to make controversial statements, even about Democrats, without facing any repercussions. Within just one month, two Democrats have been censured – it is concerning considering that there have only been 28 censures in the existence of the House and 37 in Congress in total. 

Despite the irreconcilable differences between House members, 234 of Tlaib’s colleagues were able to reprimand her immediately. Yet they failed to pay equal attention to Mast’s inflammatory statements. Regardless of the extent to which Tlaib’s conduct may have been controversial, the difference in treatment suggests an inconsistent disciplinary process in the House, and it is disheartening. 

Did Tlaib make controversial statements on the Israel-Hamas war? Yes. Yet has there been slight truth to some of her statements? Many would argue yes. As the only Palestinian American (with family living in the West Bank) serving in Congress, was it within Tlaib’s right to insert herself into this issue, even if her statements were likely to cause contention? Yes. Her comments and stance may be polarizing, but it is essential to acknowledge that she is not the first, nor will she be the last, to express challenging opinions on the ongoing violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Considering that this particular conflict has endured for several generations, it is highly likely that its polarization would continue to persist, even in the absence of Tlaib’s activism for a cease-fire and Palestinian rights. Communities across various domains are divided, and it is not because of Tlaib’s doing. This includes students, politicians, academics, families, and cities, not just at the local and national levels but globally. Although her comments may not have been delivered in what some may deem to be the most appropriate manner, the question remains as to whether there exists an appropriate time to weigh in on the matter. In reality, no matter what is said about this conflict, someone is bound to take issue with it.

Finally, the third charge arose as a result of Tlaib’s explicit endorsement of the Palestinian phrase “from the river to the sea”. It is understood just how much weight the phrase carries, especially when used by a member of the United States Congress.

So what does “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” actually mean? Well, it depends on who you ask and the context in which it is adopted. The phrase (which recognizes the land between the Jordan River, bordering eastern Israel, and the Mediterranean Sea to the west) remains another topic of intense debate. Some view it as a call for the destruction of the state of Israel and consider it to be inherently violent and antisemitic. Others interpret it to be a message of solidarity, liberation, and strength.  From the speaker’s delivery and tone to the listener’s reception and interpretation, it will always be perceived differently. The message also appears to shift to support the zeitgeist or paradigms of particular generations and cultures. Some, like Andy McDonald, Labor MP, have even amended the phrase to recognize justice for all Israelis and Palestinians, as follows: “‘between the river and the sea [so that they] can live in peaceful liberty’” (Boffey, 2023). (Note that McDonald was penalized through suspension). Its subjectivity (like Tlaib’s censure) helps explain why those on opposite poles believe they are right and the others are wrong. 

Amid the controversy concerning the partition of the state, Dov Waxman, a Professor of Israel Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Maha Nassar, an Associate Professor of Middle Eastern History at the University of Arizona, characterize the varying perspectives and offer several of their own. Waxman describes that “‘the reason why [the] term is so hotly disputed is because it means different things to different people’” and considers how “‘the conflicting interpretations have kind of grown over time’” (Demirjian & Stack, 2023). Comparatively, Nassar works to clarify the phrase, explaining that it holds personal significance for Palestinians, acknowledges Palestinian life, and represents a desire for unity (Demirjian & Stack, 2023). Even Jewish Professor Peter Beinart, at the City University of New York, feels that “‘if it’s coming from an armed Hamas member, then yes, [he] would feel threatened… [but] if it [were] coming from someone who [he] kn[e]w ha[d] a vision of equality and mutual liberation, then no, [he] would not feel threatened’” (Demirjian & Stack, 2023). These insights highlight the complexity of this global conflict and emphasize the need for a contextual understanding of the differing perspectives involved.

Yes, the potential harm of the statement is present for many “members of the Jewish and pro-Israel community”, as identified by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL, 2023). Still, Waxman and Nassar indicate that the phrase means something entirely different for most Palestinians and their cease-fire allies. Karoun Demirjian and Liam Stack, Reporters for The New York Times, also remind us that the phrase had been in use for approximately a quarter century prior to Hamas’ appropriation of it. They emphasize how its original purpose was to call for the “returning of the borders under British control of Palestine, where Jews and Arabs had both lived before the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state in 1948” (Demirjian & Stack, 2023).

Both groups share harrowing histories of persecution and occupation. Now, they deserve nothing more than the opportunity and freedom to live peacefully with one another. 

Ultimately, is there a correct answer to resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict? Can anyone truly be “right” in this context? What seems unquestionably right is to condemn the sanctioning of violence under Sinwar and Haniyeh, as well as the perpetuation of violence under Netanyahu and Gallant. As for the rest, it appears to be a matter of personal interpretation. 

Quick Article Facts Tlaibs Censure within the Context of the Israeli Palestinian Conflict

Quick Article Facts Pt. 2 Tlaibs Censure within the Context of the Israeli Palestinian Conflict


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