Like many, I have been highly critical of the statements made by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) accusing Israel of bombing the hospital in Gaza and other inflammatory comments.
However, I also opposed the effort to censure Tlaib on free speech grounds. I was impressed by the comments of Speaker Mike Johnson on the measure and the 23 GOP members who took the unpopular step of voting against the measure even though they disagreed with her viewpoints.
The 23 Republicans joined all House Democrats in a 222-186 vote to block the disciplinary measure pushed by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) for her criticism of Israel after Hamas launched a deadly attack against the country last month.
Tlaib has spread what many would declare “disinformation.” However, that rationale has been used extensively by many to censor and ban opposing views on social media and in academia. It should not be used to censor elected representatives in Congress.
In an appearance with Fox Host Sean Hannity last night with other GOP members, Johnson explained that he opposed such measures in the interests of free speech. He noted that members say controversial things “all the time” and that it is a slippery slope to use such disciplinary measures in a tit-for-tat pattern.
I have previously raised concerns over the threats to free speech in this period of great tension in Congress and on our campuses. I have denounced Hamas as a terrorist organization, but the solution is not to curtail free speech rights on our campuses.
That is not true about conduct like tearing down posters and threatening others. Recently, Harvard students (including Ibrahim Bharmal who is an editor of the Harvard Law Review) was implicated in a disturbing incident involving Jewish protesters who were shoved and pursued on campus. At Cornell, a student, Patrick Dai, was arrested after threatening Jewish students.
Our campuses and our Congress have a shared value as forums for the expression of political viewpoints.
They serve as important spaces for the exchange of opposing views, including some views that may enrage or insult many of us. Yet, if we are to find any resolution of these issues, it will be through the use of free speech, not through its denial.