Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) is the poster child for the Republican Party’s problem with right-wing extremism. His fate also provides an object lesson in how American democracy has always dealt with people who challenge the nation’s basic values.
Unfortunately, Democrats aren’t prepared to apply the same standards to their own caucus.
In the same week that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) stripped King of all of his committee assignments for making a series of statements that seemed to endorse white supremacy, Democrats rewarded one of their own extremists when they gave Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) a coveted seat on the House Foreign Relations Committee.
Omar was one of the 2018 midterm elections’ most uplifting stories: among the election of a record number of women to Congress, she became the first Somali-American immigrant elected to the House of Representatives, and with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the first Palestinian-American woman to enter Congress, the first Muslim women.
The pair’s success is a tribute to American democracy, which continues to prove that neither religion nor immigrant background is a barrier to high office in the United States.
However, while both exemplify the American dream, they also demonstrate that hatred and prejudice are not the exclusive preserve of middle-aged white males like King. But Omar’s and Tlaib’s status as groundbreakers for women, immigrants and Muslims seems to have given them a degree of impunity.
King’s defenders on the far-right claim that he was unfairly pilloried when the House voted to rebuke him last week after he was quoted in The New York Times questioning why terms like “white nationalism,” “white supremacy,” or “Western civilization” had become offensive.
King has a long history of hateful comments, as well as association with hatemongers. He endorsed white supremacist Faith Goldy for mayor of Toronto. His suggestion that “other people’s babies” cannot preserve Western civilization was hateful as well as inaccurate — as I pointed out in National Review at the time, so-called “other people’s babies” have been fighting and dying to preserve American democracy since before Iowa became a state. It was high time House Republicans made it clear that King’s brand of nativism hate had no place in their party.
But Democrats’ silence about Tlaib and Omar exposes them as hypocrites.
Tlaib made headlines for using profanity as she vowed to impeach Trump. She received less attention 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 Tlaib, Omar is a supporter of BDS — a movement that aims to single out the Jewish state for pariah status. While it’s possible to oppose the anti-BDS bill without embracing hate, advocacy for BDS is an expression of prejudice against Jews and indistinguishable from anti-Semitism.
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.”
Given a chance to disavow that comment this week in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, she refused. Instead she said they “were the only words I could think about expressing at the moment,” and that Jews shouldn’t be offended by her attacks on the Israeli “regime.”
But far from being pilloried for her hate, Omar is still being feted as a progressive heroine, 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 most definitely is.
But instead of being placed in the dock alongside King, Omar has been rewarded with a seat on the Foreign Relations Committee. While she will be just one voice on a panel whose new chairman, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), is an ardent friend of the Jewish state, she will nevertheless be able to use her position as a bully pulpit that Israel-haters have lacked until now.
There are those who dismiss complaints about either Omar or Tlaib as merely diversionary tactics by Republicans who aren’t as fastidious about Trump’s offensive comments. 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.
More to the point, it ill behooves those who, in spite of the president’s close connections to Jews and exemplary support for Israel, attempt to connect the dots between Trump and anti-Semitism to decide that the same scrutiny shouldn’t apply to Democrats.
Those who are willing to tolerate Omar’s and Tlaib’s hate in the name of inclusiveness or solidarity, which appears to be the party’s official position, are in no position to criticize King or, for that matter, the president.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS.