When Republicans finally acted to disassociate their caucus from Representative Steve King (R., Iowa) because of his extremism, his defenders claimed he was an innocent victim of political correctness. Of course, King was guilty of statements and actions that, in addition to crossing a moral line, tarnished the good name of the GOP. But even if King’s punishment was appropriate — a House resolution passed almost unanimously that condemned white nationalism, as well as the Republican leadership stripping him of his committee assignments — it demonstrated a double standard.
Only days after the GOP banished him from House committees, Democrats rewarded one of their own with a coveted assignment despite her record of hate speech: Representative Ilhan Omar’s (D., Minn.) embrace of anti-Semitic stereotypes and a BDS movement that is steeped in hatred of Jews wasn’t enough to dissuade Democratic leadership from giving her a spot on the House Foreign Relations Committee.
Omar was a featured member of the 2018 freshman class, in which a record number of women were elected to Congress. She also became the first Somali-American immigrant elected to the House of Representatives, and did so alongside Representative Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.), who similarly became the first Palestinian-American woman to enter Congress. Omar, a religious Muslim, also drew attention and praise for prompting a change in the rules of the House that enabled her to wear a hijab on the floor of the chamber.
The pair’s political success is a tribute to American democracy, continued proof that neither religion nor immigrant background of any kind is a barrier to congressional office in the United States.
But while both seem to exemplify the American dream, they also demonstrate that expressions of hatred and prejudice are not the exclusive preserve of middle-aged white males such as King. And Omar and Tlaib’s status as trailblazers for women, immigrants, and Muslims seems to have also given them a pass for bad behavior that bodes ill for the future of American public discourse.
King’s supporters on the far right claim he was treated unfairly when the House voted to rebuke him after he was quoted in the New York Times as questioning why terms such as “white nationalism” and “white supremacy” or “Western civilization” had become offensive. While one can parse his quotes in a manner that might be defensible, he has a long history of hateful comments as well as associating with hatemongers, such as his endorsement of white supremacist Faith Goldy for mayor of Toronto. His offensive suggestion that “other people’s babies” — non-whites or those who weren’t — couldn’t preserve Western civilization also deserved condemnation, representing as it does a not-so-subtle attempt to say that the survival of Western values requires white children to outnumber those who are not white.
It was high time for House Republicans to make it clear that King’s brand of nativist hate had no place in their party. But while Democrats may think that Republicans should also upbraid President Donald Trump for some of his offensive comments, their silence about Omar and Tlaib exposes them as shameless hypocrites.
Tlaib made headlines for using profanity when vowing to impeach Trump. She received less attention from the mainstream press for tweeting that those who support an anti-BDS bill being debated in the Senate were guilty of dual loyalty, a classic anti-Semitic smear intended to brand supporters of Israel as part of a nefarious conspiracy.
Like Omar, Tlaib is a supporter of BDS, a movement that aims to single out the one Jewish state on the planet for pariah status via boycotts, divestment, and sanctions. Opponents of the bill have falsely attempted to assert that the bill would ban criticism of Israel or even of Zionism. It is possible to oppose the anti-BDS bill on those grounds without embracing hate, of course. Yet advocacy for BDS treats Jews differently than others and inevitably leads to expressions of prejudice against Jews, making it almost indistinguishable from anti-Semitism. That conclusion is reinforced by Tlaib’s willingness to play the dual-loyalty card against Israel’s supporters.
But support for BDS is not the only proof of Omar’s hate. In 2012, she invoked classic anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about the nefarious powers of Jews when she tweeted that “Israel has hypnotized the world. May Allah awaken the people and make them see the evil doings of Israel.”
When given a chance to disavow that comment last week in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, she refused. Instead, she merely said Jews shouldn’t be offended by her attacks on the Israeli “regime.”
The problem here is that far from being pilloried for her hate, Omar is still being feted as a progressive heroine in the mainstream media, as Amanpour’s softball interview demonstrated. While, as Amanpour prompted Omar to say, criticism of Israel’s government isn’t anti-Semitic, accusing Jews of hypnotizing the world and supporting the elimination of the only Jewish state is anti-Semitic.
But instead of being placed in the dock alongside King, Omar (who, in a separate CNN interview given last week, also spread slander about Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) without providing any evidence) is being rewarded by her party with a seat on the Foreign Relations Committee. She will be just one voice on a panel whose new chairman, Representative Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.), is an ardent supporter of Israel. But she will be able to use her place there as the sort of bully pulpit for attacks on the Jewish state that a BDS movement that is dedicated to its destruction has lacked up until now.
Democrats dismiss complaints about either Omar or Tlaib as merely diversionary tactics by Republicans who have largely shrugged their shoulders at Trump’s various offensive comments about a wide variety of targets. But that sort of “whataboutism” is as disingenuous as attempts to excuse King. If he doesn’t deserve any committee assignments — and he doesn’t — then neither do they.
Omar and Tlaib’s seeming immunity from accountability for their anti-Semitic comments and position stems from the Democratic leadership’s fear of offending their left-wing activist base. The Left’s embrace of intersectional ideology that falsely conflates the struggle for civil rights in the United States with Third World conflicts such as the Palestinian war against Israel has made anti-Semites like Women’s March leaders Tamika Mallory a leader in the anti-Trump resistance.
Since the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre in October, many on the left have — in spite of the president’s close connections to Jews and exemplary support for Israel — attempted to connect the dots between Trump and anti-Semitism on part of far-right extremists. But the same people who blame Trump for Jew-hatred have placed partisanship over principle and effectively exempted Democrats from the same scrutiny even when it involves, as is the case with Omar and Tlaib, overt expressions of anti-Semitism. Those who rail at Trump or King but are willing to tolerate Omar and Tlaib’s hate in the name of inclusiveness for immigrants or solidarity with fellow progressives aren’t merely being hypocritical. The Democrats’ fear of their left-wing base is so great that they aren’t willing hold anti-Semites on their side of the aisle accountable in the way that Republicans have just done with King.