false equivalence

McCarthy Demands Democrats Treat Two Muslim Members As Bigots Like Steve King

Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar are convenient targets for Republicans seeking to spread the guilt for their tolerance of Steve King. Photo: Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Having chuckled and nodded and otherwise tolerated Steve King’s racist antics for many years, House Republicans finally got shamed into denouncing the old nativist recently when he began identifying himself with global bigotry as a sort of movement of conscience. But now their leader, Kevin McCarthy, is trying to turn this around via a bold false equivalency claim, as the Washington Post reports:

The top House Republican leader slammed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats on Friday for refusing to denounce what the GOP is characterizing as the anti-Semitic views of some freshman Democratic lawmakers.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters that he viewed the situation as being directly comparable, if no “more so,” to the firestorm over the racially charged comments of Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who was quoted last month questioning whether white supremacy was offensive.

This attack is without question focused on the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Their principal sin, it seems, has been to support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement aimed at pressuring Israel into fundamentally changing its policies towards Palestinians and occupied territories. BDS, of course, is a red flag to many supporters of Israel, particularly those who identify with the current Israeli government’s drift toward abandoning any possible two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the idea that BDS equals anti-Semitism – or even anti-Zionism — is ludicrous on its face. And so those seeking to go after Ilhan and Tlaib have to toss in random questionable comments and plenty of guilt-by-association:

In 2012, Omar sent a tweet saying that “Israel has hypnotized the world,” and referred to “the evil doings of Israel.” Under pressure last month, Omar disavowed “the anti-Semitic trope I unknowingly used, which is unfortunate and offensive” but stood by her criticism of Israeli policy.

Tlaib came under fire last month after a Daily Caller report identified a campaign supporter, Maher Abdel-Qader, as having posted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Facebook — including to a group that included Tlaib. Another campaign ally, Abbas Hamideh, also made comments critical of Israel in social media posts, referring to “Zionist terrorists” and asserting that Israel “does not have a right to exist.”

But here’s my favorite attack on Tlaib:

Last month, Tlaib attacked the sponsors of a Senate bill that would undermine the BDS movement by tweeting, “They forgot what country they represent.” That prompted criticism from Republicans and a few Democrats, who saw in that comment a frequent anti-Semitic insinuation.

Yes, “dual loyalty” is a common insinuation aimed at Jews who go out of their way to advocate for Israel, though calling it “anti-Semitic” is a stretch (Irish-Americans, for example, have been legitimately criticized over many decades for letting their antipathy towards England dictate their worldview). But since Tlaib was talking not about Jews, but mostly about gentile United States senators (100 percent gentile United States senators, in the case of the Republicans taking umbrage at her comments), this criticism seems displaced. I consider myself a Zionist, but levied the same criticism at Mitt Romney and other Republicans in 2012 when they went after Barack Obama for failing to simply outsource his Middle East policies to their friend Bibi Netanyahu. Anyone in Congress who favors unconditional support for the policies of any foreign nation has indeed forgotten “what country they represent.”

The case that Omar and Tlaib are anything like Steve King is, to put it mildly, very weak. But it’s worth the effort to McCarthy and his allies to make this weak case because aside from spreading the guilt for their tolerance of white nationalist bigotry, it’s a two-fer, undermining Jewish support for Democrats, and pleasing conservative evangelicals who place an expanding Israel at the center of their world-view and really don’t like Muslims. The odds of these two women finding defenders in the circles where Republican Members of Congress travel are vanishingly low.

McCarthy Demands Democrats Treat Muslim Members As Bigots