This report was produced in partnership with Important Context.
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted to censure one of its own, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), over comments she’d made about the Israeli war in Gaza. The Republican-led effort had the support of a number of Democrats, almost all of whom received funds from the nation’s top pro-Israel lobbying group last election cycle.
Tlaib, the only Palestinian member of Congress, is an advocate for an immediate ceasefire to end the violence, which has already claimed the lives of 39 journalists and more than 10,000 Palestinians, including at least 4,300 children, according to Palestinian health authorities. This position is supported by a majority of Americans and a number of prominent organizations and individuals including Doctors Without Borders, the World Health Organization, and Pope Francis. Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that Gaza is becoming a “graveyard for children.”
The resolution, introduced by Rep. Rich McCormick (R-GA), accuses Tlaib of "promoting false narratives" about the October 7 terror attack on Israel by Hamas and "calling for the destruction of the state of Israel." The measure took specific aim at Tlaib for a remark in her response to the attack, that Israel’s “apartheid system [...] creates the suffocating, dehumanizing conditions that can lead to resistance.” Multiple human rights groups have called Israel an apartheid state over its treatment of Palestinians, which includes restrictions on their movement and settlement expansion.
Other statements highlighted in the resolution include Tlaib’s blaming of Israel for a hospital bombing in Gaza last month, which the Pentagon later attributed to a misfired rocket from Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as well as her defense of the chant "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Pro-Palestinian advocates, including Tlaib, say the slogan, which has been in use by Palestinians since the 1960s and was later adopted on by militant groups like Hamas, is a demand for liberation and equality. But many supporters of Israel, including the Anti-Defamation League, say the slogan is a call for the forced removal of Jews from Israel and a denial of the Jewish state’s right to exist.
The final vote count was 234 to 188 in favor of censure, with 22 Democrats joining the Republicans in support. According to available data from OpenSecrets, a D.C.-based nonprofit that tracks political spending, all but four of those Democrats accepted money from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most prominent pro-Israel lobby group in the U.S., during the 2022 election cycle.
AIPAC is listed by OpenSecrets as among the top 20 contributors in the 2022 cycle for 13 of the 22 Democrats. It was the largest donor for six of the 22—Reps. Frankel, Gottheimer, Manning, Moskowitz, Torres, and Wasserman Schultz. For Manning, Pro-Israel America PAC, a pro-Israel group founded by former top AIPAC staffers, was the third top donor.
Additionally, AIPAC was among the top three contributors for Reps. Golden, Pappas, and Wilson, among the top five donors for Ryan and Schneider, and among the top 20 donors for Nickel.
All but eight of the 22 Democratic representatives received contributions from the PAC of Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), a pro-Israel dark money group linked to AIPAC that has been running attack ads against Tlaib.
Gottheimer, Moskowitz, and Torres also got funds from the US Israel PAC, a nonpartisan political action committee founded in 1980 to support pro-Israel lawmakers.
The pro-Israel lobby has long targeted leftist Democrats. Tlaib and her colleague, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), the first and only Muslim members of the House, have been two of its favorite targets. In the summer of 2021, Omar accused AIPAC of endangering her life after the group ran a series of incendiary ads against her.
Pro-Israel groups are already spending on attack ads targeting lawmakers who are seen as insufficiently supportive of Israel. United Democracy Project, a pro-Israel super PAC, is targeting Reps. Summer Lee (D-PA) and Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), as well as Republican Thomas Massie (R-KY), over their stances on Israel. All three lawmakers refused to vote for a House resolution standing with Israel and condemning Hamas. Lee and Bowman have called for a ceasefire, along with Tlaib.
While AIPAC has seemingly had it in for progressives, it has been willing to embrace far right politicians. For example, it endorsed 37 Republicans who voted on January 6, 2021 to sustain objections to the 2020 presidential election results .
In a recent post on X calling out the group after it criticized her stance on Israel, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) accused AIPAC of being “racist and bigoted,” declaring “they are an extremist organization that destabilizes US democracy.”
“AIPAC endorsed scores of Jan 6th insurrectionists,” she wrote. “They are no friend to American democracy. They are one of the more racist and bigoted PACs in Congress as well, who disproportionately target members of color.