Washington Watch: Why did the GOP suddenly notice Steve King?

Israel has a problem with Democrats, and it is not because of two new Muslim lawmakers.

By
January 23, 2019 22:42
STEVE KING

STEVE KING. (photo credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS / REUTERS)

 
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The latest round in the “who loves Israel more” competition has Republicans using their long-overdue renunciation of outspoken racist and xenophobe, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), as a lever to pressure Democrats to punish two Muslim women who fail the Likud loyalty test.

The freshman lawmakers have been in Congress for fewer weeks than King has tallied years.

After more than 16 years of overlooking King’s bile and bigotry, it suddenly dawned on Republican leaders that their reputation as the old white boys’ party may have cost them 40 House seats in the midterm election.

Dumping King won’t change anything, nor will getting rid of Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert, widely considered to be the dumbest man in Congress, or Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama or two others under criminal indictment for corruption. But it may be the best we can expect since they’re too frightened of dealing with the real white supremacist problem that suggests last November’s debacle may be a preview of what lies ahead next year.

Washington Post conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin summed it up well. If King’s racism is so offensive why do “Republicans tolerate and extol a president who declared there to be some ‘fine people’ among neo-Nazis, called African and Caribbean nations ‘sh*thole countries,’ equated Mexican immigrants with rapists, repeatedly questioned African American critics’ IQ, asserted a federal court judge of Mexican descent to be unable to perform his job, created a conspiracy to delegitimize the first African American president, started a running battle with African American athletes who kneel to protest police brutality and fails to employ any high-level African American staffer?”

The answer to that is clear: They’re terrified he will unleash a bitter Twitter storm on them and encourage primary challenges. They also fear that their political base may be more loyal to him than to them.

So why condemn King now?

It’s not enough to take away King’s committee votes. What this is really about is an attempt to shift attention from GOP racism and smear the Democrats as being soft on antisemitism.

Republicans have long sought to use support for Israel as a wedge between their party and the Democrats. It hasn’t brought them many votes – Jews still cast 75%-80% of their ballots for Democrats, but it has reaped great benefits from wealthy Jewish conservatives who, unlike most American Jews, support the hardline policies of Likud-led right-wing Israeli governments.

In the 116th Congress, there are 34 Jews – including eight in the Senate – and all but two in the House are Democrats. There are also two Muslims, both are freshmen, women and Democrats. The GOP remains predominantly white, Christian and male. The Democratic party is more diverse and more like America.

King’s comeuppance is not so much remorse for GOP racism but an effort to say, “We got rid of our white nationalist and now Democrats have to purge these Muslim women to prove their party isn’t a haven for antisemites.”

Islamophobia has been a central theme for Trump and his followers, and Republicans are trying to make pariahs of two Muslim newcomers, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who calls herself a “Palestinian American proud Muslima,” and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Somali immigrant.

Both have been harsh critics of Israel and supporters of the BDS movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel. AIPAC and numerous Jewish groups have been pressing hard for enactment of federal and local laws outlawing BDS. Many progressive friends of Israel oppose the ban, however – notably Jewish groups like the J Street and the Reform movement – as a violation of free speech rights.

Israel has a problem with Democrats, and it is not because of two new Muslim lawmakers. As Israel moves farther to the right and becomes increasingly theocratic, it will continue losing support among American Jews and progressives, which means among Democrats. But the right will focus on the pair because of their outspoken views – and because it taps into a deep strain of Islamophobia in the nation.

Jonathan Tobin, a conservative columnist, has called on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to “discipline” Tlaib for having called Trump a “mother****er” and for her alleged antisemitism.

Her epithet is apparently more offensive than Trump’s reputation for indiscriminately firing salvos of f-bombs at lawmakers, cabinet members, the media, aides and anyone else who displeases him.

Failure to punish Tlaib, Tobin contends, will signal “growing tolerance for antisemitism on the Left.”

Criticism of Israeli policy does not constitute antisemitism, although some crosses the line. Both parties need to make clear, in word and deed, their zero-tolerance for antisemitism, which is on the rise in the US, as well as for Islamophobia, racism and all other forms of bigotry.

I’ve been reading on Facebook that the two women want to impose Sharia Law on America.

One Facebook posting, from a group identifying itself as the Israel Institute of North America, accused Democrats of harboring “bigots… racists… Jew-Haters… America-haters… white men haters.”

A Jewish Florida city commissioner has called Tlaib a “Hamas-loving antisemite” who might be “plotting to blow up Capitol Hill.” The ADL condemned the comments by Annabelle Lima-Taub of Hallandale Beach as Islamophobic and “deeply offensive,” the Sun Sentinel reported.

Tlaib has said she intends to lead a delegation of House colleagues to the West Bank, with a stop in the village where her grandmother lives, to counter a trip to Israel by a group aligned with AIPAC, which focuses on the Israeli perspective. Republican Rep. Brian Babin of Texas wants Pelosi to block Tlaib’s trip because she’s been critical of Israel and Trump.

During the 2012 war in Gaza, Omar said about “the Israeli regime” that it “has hypnotized the world” and said, “may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”

As a new member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs she can be expected to bring a new perspective to the Middle East debate. She insists her criticism applies to Israel’s government, not its people, and that she has been at least as critical, if not worse, of Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia.

Trump has been rather quiet on the King episode, apparently fearful of offending the white supremacist base he shares with King. Instead, the president has been lashing out at Pelosi and Democrats as under control of “radical socialists” and open-border “extremists.”

Democrats, in return, accuse him – more accurately – of being under the influence of the reactionary Right, Fox News, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and the Freedom Caucus.

Columnist Michael Gerson, a former George W. Bush speechwriter, said that until Republicans condemn Trump’s racism “with the same clarity and intensity that they now criticize King, they will be cowards in a time crying for bravery.”

Don’t hold your breath.

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