Sunday, November 12, 2023

The Censure of Rashida Tlaib

By a vote of 234 to 188, the House of Representatives voted to censure Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Dearborn, Michigan, for remarks she made, including advocating a Palestinian state "from the river to the sea."

The good news is that Representative Jamie Raskin did not claim, as others implausibly have, that "from the river to the sea" or "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free" does not refer to abolishing Israel. The bad news is that he's wrong here.

Raskin stated

So I rise here not in spite of the fact that I'm a Jewish-American who supports the Constitution and Jewish democratic state and hates all the anti-Semitic rants and terrorists around the world from Putin in Russia and Mohammad bin Salman in Saudi Arabia to Hezbollah and Hamas. 

Referring to "anti-Semitic rants," the congressman could have added "such as now appearing on college campuses," but that would have been a risky Sister Souljah moment. Also, there are no more "Jewish-Americans" than there are "Protestant -Americans" or "Catholic-Americans." Still it was a pretty good start, followed by

I am here because of these things and because of everything I believe in and stand for. At this moment when democracy is under siege all over the world, America must stand tall for the Constitution of the United States and this resolution is about one thing and one thing only, the punishment of speech. So we have a chance to show the world what the American Constitution means and how we hold fast to our core principles, even when we're drawn away from them by our own passions and our righteous anger. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land the very hear of it is the First Amendment, which protects every citizen's freedom of speech and says "Congress shall make no laws abridging it."

H. Res. 845 proposed "censuring Representative Rashida Tlaib for promoting false narratives regarding the October 7, 2023 Hamas attack on Israel and for calling for the destruction of the State of Israel." As noted by NBC News, on November 3 the congresswoman had posted a video to a tweet of hers "featuring footage of pro-Palestinian protests from across the country, as well as remarks from President Joe Biden expressing his support for Israel. The video ended with Tlaib saying, “We will remember in 2024,” followed by the text: “Joe Biden supported the genocide of the Palestinian people.'”

Later that day, Tlaib posted a tweet defending "from the river to the sea," neglecting to admit that the full slogan is "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free." For those following at home, that would be from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, which would obliterate Israel.

Raskin seems to understand that. However, his claim that the censure violates the First Amendment falls short for several reasons. A censure is not a law abridging freedom of speech or anything else. If a censure were a law, it would be called a law and be referred to as legislation rather than as a resolution. The action taken by the House is not punishment for speech because it's not punishment, but rather is an individual's colleagues expressing disapproval. As The Hill explains

A censure is a formal vote of deep disapproval of a member's conduct taken by either chamber of Congress....

A vote to censure another member of Congress does not hold any other power beyond a public condemning of that member's behavior. It does not expel a member from Congress or deny the rights or privileges of that member within Congress.

In fact, a censure has no power. It is an expression of disagreement, not a punishment for speech because it effects no punishment.  Most employment carries with it an understanding that statements unacceptable to the employer will not be tolerated. There are standards for speech, even outside the workplace, for the vast majority of jobs in society, including many even in the public sector.

Advocating disposal of our most loyal ally in the world, Tlaib added in her video "Joe Biden supported the genocide of the Palestinian people." It is a damnable lie, directed against both the President and Israel, and surely worthy of censure by colleagues of the individual promoting it.

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