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Ayanna Pressley says censure of Rashida Tlaib is evidence of ‘obsession in Congress with policing progressive women of color’

From left to right, Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York; Ayanna Pressley, Democrat of Massachusetts; and Rashida Harbi Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, are known as "The Squad," a group of progressive politicians. Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota is another member of The Squad.JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Representative Ayanna Pressley delivered a passionate defense of Representative Rashida Tlaib as the House voted on a Republican-led resolution Tuesday to censure Tlaib over her comments critical of Israel and its war with Hamas, condemning the measure as an effort to “silence and attack a progressive woman of color.”

In a rare rebuke, the resolution passed 234-188 after a number of Democrats voted in support of censuring Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat and the only Palestinian American member of Congress.

Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat, criticized the resolution as “blatantly Islamophobic, anti-democratic, and an utter waste of time” before offering a full-throated backing of Tlaib and her politics.


Emotions ran high as members weighed the resolution pushed by Representative Rich McCormick, a Georgia Republican who claimed Tlaib promoted “false narratives regarding the October 7, 2023, Hamas attack on Israel” and labeled her rhetoric about the war as “dishonest and antisemitic.”

On Wednesday, Pressley said in a statement that the vote to censure Tlaib “is more evidence of the obsession in Congress with policing progressive women of color.”

“With the death toll of Palestinian civilians over 10,000 and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza worsening daily, it is damning that my colleagues — on both sides of the aisle — would be more concerned with silencing the first Palestinian-American elected to Congress than pushing for a ceasefire and saving lives,” she said.

Pressley and other progressive women of color, including Representatives Cori Bush of Missouri, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, sat behind Tlaib in a show of solidarity as she spoke on the House floor, her voice wavering at times as she appeared to hold back tears, saying “Palestinian people are not disposable.”

The serious disciplinary measure is rarely invoked in the House, falling just below expulsion, and has historically been reserved for egregious offenses. Tlaib, now in her third term, has previously faced criticism for her outspoken views on the long-standing Israeli–Palestinian conflict.


Since Hamas attacked Israel last month, Democrats — many of them Jewish — have joined the criticism, taking particular umbrage with Tlaib’s defense of the pro-Palestinian chant “from the river to the sea,” considered by some to be a call to destroy the state of Israel.

Tlaib said during her remarks that her criticism has “always been of the Israeli government and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s actions.”

“It is important to separate people and governments,” she said. “No government is beyond criticism. The idea that criticizing the government of Israel is antisemitic sets a very dangerous precedent, and it’s being used to silence diverse voices speaking up for human rights across our nation.”

“From the river to the sea is an aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction, or hate. My work and advocacy is always centered in justice and dignity for all people no matter faith or ethnicity,” Tlaib wrote last week on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The Anti-Defamation League calls the chant “an antisemitic slogan” and describes it as a “rallying cry [that] has long been used by anti-Israel voices, including supporters of terrorist organizations such as Hamas.”

Pressley, who has called for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, castigated Republicans for the censure resolution, calling it “as dishonest as it is unproductive” during her remarks.


“Any member who denies that Congresswoman Tlaib has opposed the killing of civilians — Israeli, Palestinian, and Americans alike — is willfully ignoring the truth,” she said. “She leads with love, speaks truth to power, and seeks justice even when her life and that of her family and her staff are threatened.”

“She has been a much-needed voice in an institution that has too often failed to listen,” Pressley said of Tlaib before taking aim at Republicans for the resolution. “Another shameful, but predictable ploy of distraction from the real traffickers of hate, who are obsessed with policing progressive women of color.”

Representative Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat who is Jewish, said the resolution amounted to “the punishment of speech” and warned that the vote could set a precedent moving forward, adding that it would reveal who “believes in the freedom of speech, even the speech they hate.”

Pressley agreed, saying, “Republicans are again attacking a Democratic colleague just because they don’t like what she has to say.”

Ultimately, 22 Democrats — including several from New England — voted to censure Tlaib after a failed attempt to table the measure. Tlaib is now the 26th person to ever be censured by the House. In June, Democrat Adam Schiff of California was censured for comments he made several years ago about investigations into former president Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, the Associated Press reported.


Watch remarks below:

Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her @shannonlarson98.