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GOP reps aim to censure Tlaib, Squad over comments critical of Israel

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Three Republican lawmakers introduced a resolution Monday in the U.S. House to censure and condemn Detroit Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib and other members of the progressive "Squad" over comments critical of Israel. 

The text of the censure resolution targets Tlaib and three Democratic colleagues and accuses them of "defending foreign terrorist organizations" and "inciting anti-Semitic attacks across the United States."

The resolution follows a tweet last week by Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar about "unthinkable atrocities committed by the United States, Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan and the Taliban," which referred to probes by the International Criminal Court and was interpreted by some as equating the U.S. and Israel to terrorist organizations. 

Omar later clarified her statement after questions were raised by a group of a dozen Jewish Democrats, with Omar saying she wasn't making a "moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the U.S. and Israel." 

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, left, D-Mich., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.

Tlaib and Omar are the first two Muslim women in Congress, and she defended Omar. She said she's tired of colleagues in both parties "demonizing" Omar, saying "their obsession with policing her is sick."

"She has the courage to call out human rights abuses no matter who is responsible," Tlaib tweeted. "That's better than colleagues who look away if it serves their politics."

Tlaib also slammed House Democratic leadership after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and her team issued a statement critical of Omar's remarks and praising her clarification.

"Freedom of speech doesn't exist for Muslim women in Congress," Tlaib tweeted Thursday. "The benefit of the doubt doesn't exist for Muslim women in Congress. House Democratic leadership should be ashamed of its relentless, exclusive tone policing of Congresswomen of color."

Tlaib's office did not immediately comment Monday on the censure resolution, which was filed by GOP Reps. Michael Waltz of Florida, Jim Banks of Indiana and Claudia Tenney of New York.

The GOP lawmakers said the four Squad lawmakers "continually lie to the world in attempting to equate Israel’s right to defend itself with the attacks coming from Hamas."

A "fact sheet" released with the resolution also objects to a resolution co-sponsored by Tlaib opposing the sale of $735 million in American-made weapons to Israel, a U.S. ally.

The resolution, which also names Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, notes that all four Democratic congresswomen each have referred to Israel as an ‘‘apartheid state."

The resolution also notes that Tlaib accused the Israeli government of "ethnic cleansing" against Palestinians and of "promoting racism and dehumanization."

"We cannot turn a blind eye to Members of Congress openly defending terrorist attacks by Hamas against our close ally Israel nor their dangerous rhetoric which has contributed to anti-Semitic attacks across the country,” Waltz said in a statement, referring to the recent uptick in anti-Semitic incidents. 

Banks criticized Democratic leaders for responding to Omar's remarks last week with a news release.

“Actions speak louder than squishy words," Banks said. "Speaker Pelosi can let members vote on our resolution, or she can cover for the Hamas Caucus and their anti-Israel and anti-American rhetoric. We’ll see.”

Pelosi's office did not comment Monday on the resolution. 

Tlaib is not alone in defending Omar. Another Michigan lawmaker, U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, also has come to her defense, saying Monday that she was calling for accountability.

"I believe it is my duty to raise hard questions like whether we believe in accountability for everyone, inc. friends like Israel & ourselves. No honest observer can say the US didn't commit war crimes in Vietnam, Iraq & Afghanistan," tweeted Levin, who is Jewish. 

"Can we really expect to get to a world of peace and justice for all if we are not willing to hold everyone accountable for war crimes & human rights violations? I will continue to join @Ilhan in asking these questions and condemn these attacks against her."

Tlaib, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, has long been critical of Israel, especially during the recent fighting in Gaza that killed over 250 people over 11 days, most of them Palestinians. 

She has urged that the Israeli government, military and police be held accountable for respecting people's human rights, including those of Palestinians, and blasted the U.S. for blocking a United Nations resolution calling for a cease-fire amid the fighting. 

Two days before the cease-fire agreement in late May, Tlaib greeted President Joe Biden on the tarmac as he arrived in Metro Detroit for a Ford Motor Co. event. In a roughly eight-minute exchange, she pressed him to do more to protect Palestinian lives and questioned the planned weapons sale to Israel.

President Joe Biden speaks with by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., left, and Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich, as he arrives at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Detroit, Tuesday, May 18, 2021.

An aide later said that Tlaib reiterated “the status quo is enabling more killing, that the U.S. approach of unconditional support for the Israeli government is not working."

Tlaib later told The Detroit News she wouldn't reveal what she and Biden talked about, but that her response to Biden several times in their conversation was, "Mr. President, but it's not working."

"I looked him straight in the eye, and I implored him to recognize Palestinian humanity," said Tlaib, who has family living on the West Bank. "I think he knew I was, again, coming from a place of love and wanting my country to do better."

Later, during his speech at a Ford plant in Dearborn, Biden publicly responded to Tlaib: "I want to say to you that I admire your intellect, I admire your passion, and I admire your concern for so many other people.

"And from my heart, I pray that your grandma and family are well, and I promise I'm going to do everything to see that they are on the West Bank. You're a fighter, and God thank you for being a fighter."

mburke@detroitnews.com