Friday, April 5, 2024

Republicans’ Vicious Comments on Palestinians Since October 7 | TOME


Michigan Republican Rep. Tim Walberg recently declared at a town hall that the U.S. “shouldn’t be spending a dime on humanitarian aid” in Gaza. Instead, he posed, “it should be like Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Get it over quick.” After the shocking statement went viral, his office tried to soften the blow. It provided a full transcript of Walberg’s comments to CNN, which reported that Walberg had also said that a similar logic could be applied to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “Defeat Putin quick. Instead [of] 80% in Ukraine being used for humanitarian purposes, it should be 80-100% to wipe out Russia, if that’s what we want to do.”

Walberg then attempted to walk the comment back in a statement, in which he said he was not suggesting that nukes be used to end either war. Yet there’s no denying that he invoked horrifying instances of the U.S. dropping atomic bombs in reference to Gaza — just the latest vicious, warmongering statement by a Republican lawmaker since October 7.

While Walberg’s comments received a fair amount of critical media coverage, the response from his congressional colleagues was muted — underscoring a stark double standard in the public treatment of those who advocate for Palestinian rights, and those who dehumanize them. Members of Congress like Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.; Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.; and Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., have long been pilloried — and even censured — by their colleagues for speaking out against Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestinians, while the media class has spilled boats-worth of ink on bad-faith interpretations of the progressive Democrats’ statements. Republicans who belittle, or even encourage, Palestinian suffering have typically generated no such equal, let alone proportional, response.

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson and Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries did not respond to questions about what party leadership is doing in response to lawmakers’ callous comments about Palestinians, especially as the death toll in Gaza continues to rise.

Yousef Munayyer, a political analyst and senior fellow at the Arab Center Washington DC, noted that the cost of misspeaking — or having comments misconstrued — on Israel is unparalleled. “The social and political costs of stepping on the taboos of saying anything that could be even possibly misconstrued as antisemitic are so high,” Munayyer told The Intercept. “And yet the costs of saying things that are undeniably and horrifically dehumanizing toward Palestinians are so low. I don’t know of a double standard as extreme as that on any other issue.”

Republicans’ hunger for violence began just days after Hamas’s attack against Israel on October 7. “We are in a religious war here, I’m with Israel,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., declared on October 11, in an appearance on Fox News. “Do whatever the hell you have to do to defend yourself. Level the place.” (Graham later said that no amount of civilian casualties in Gaza would prompt him to scrutinize Israel’s conduct.)

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., echoed Graham’s bloodlust on Fox in mid-October. “As far as I’m concerned, Israel can bounce the rubble in Gaza,” said the senator who famously called for the Trump administration to sic the military on protesters at the height of the George Floyd uprising. “Anything that happens in Gaza is the responsibility of Hamas. Hamas killed women and children in Israel last weekend,” he added. In the months to come, Israel would go on to kill over 25,000 Palestinian women and children.

In the House of Representatives, Republicans have taken glee in fantasizing about Palestinian suffering.

On October 11, Ohio Rep. Max Miller lambasted Tlaib for planting a Palestinian flag outside her congressional office. He refused to recognize Palestine as a state, calling it “a territory that’s about to probably get eviscerated and go away here shortly, as we’re going to turn that into a parking lot.”

A few days later, Miller’s colleague Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., took the unusual step of donning the military garb of a foreign country in the halls of Congress — wearing an Israel Defense Forces uniform he earned while volunteering for the country’s military in 2015. Shortly thereafter, he introduced an amendment that would slow down humanitarian aid to Gaza. “Any assistance should be slowed down — any assistance,” Mast said in a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the bill. “Because I would challenge anybody in here to point to me, which Palestinian is Hamas, and which one is an innocent civilian? … It should absolutely be every effort made to slow down any perceived assistance that’s going there.”

Mast later tripled down. “I would encourage the other side to not so lightly throw around the idea of ‘innocent Palestinian civilians,’ as is frequently said,” Mast said on the House floor. “I don’t think we would so lightly throw around the term ‘innocent Nazi civilians’ during World War II.”

In late January, when asked about the babies Israeli forces have killed in Gaza, Mast responded coldly: “These are not innocent Palestinian civilians.” Confronted with the idea that Israel has destroyed more infrastructure in Gaza than was destroyed in Dresden during World War II, Mast said, “There’s more infrastructure that needs to be destroyed,” repeated the line, and promised “there will be more that gets destroyed.” Finally, he vowed to do everything he could to stop the government from supporting the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. Mast described the creation of UNRWA as “moronic”; last month, Congress voted to defund the agency for a full year, even as a widespread famine looms over Gaza.

In late February, Tennessee Republican Andy Ogles vilely dismissed protesters who took issue with their taxes going toward killing children.

“I’ve seen the footage of shredded children’s bodies — that’s my taxpayer dollars going to bomb those kids,” a protester said.

“You know what, so, I think we should kill ’em all,” Ogles responded. “If that makes you feel better.” (His spokesperson later claimed to The Tennessean that he “was not referring to Palestinians, he was clearly referring to the Hamas terrorist group.”)

The protesters cited Israeli forces starving women and children, killing over 300 health care workers, and “sniping Christian women in churches” as war crimes. Ogles, however, instead responded only to being called an “AIPAC zombie” with “Death to Hamas.”

In early March, a flustered Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, also of Tennessee, yelled at a Palestinian American protester from Gaza, who has now lost over 100 family members in Israel’s war.

“They are not guilty of genocide,” the Republican said of Israel, which the world’s highest court and a U.S. district court have both said is plausibly committing genocide in Gaza. “You can tell the Palestinians — I will never support them!”

“I am a Palestinian myself,” a protester responded.

“Then I will tell you, I will never support you,” Fleischmann screamed back. “I will tell you to your face: Goodbye to Palestine!”

After months of this behavior from Republicans, not one has been censured by their colleagues, not one has been savaged by the media for days on end, not one been cast as a poster child of the virulent anti-Palestinian racism flowing through American institutions.

Meanwhile, last year, Jayapal was pilloried by Republicans and thrown under the bus by fellow Democrats for suggesting that Israel — which has for decades committed human rights abuses, engaged in land dispossession and home demolition, and maintained separate systems of law and a militarized police state against Palestinians — is a “racist state.” Jayapal walked back her comments after the pile-on, singling out Benjamin Netanyahu’s government for its racist practices instead. Still, Ogles and his colleagues Randy Weber and Jeff Duncan filed a resolution seeking to censure Jayapal for what they said was antisemitism, though the resolution did not name a single instance of Jayapal saying anything negative about Jewish people.

The attacks were familiar. Tlaib — the only Palestinian member of Congress — was attacked last year for supporting an event raising awareness about the Nakba, the series of events beginning in 1948 that led to the mass displacement of Palestinians. The smears massively escalated as she was censured — with the help of 22 Democrats — in November after she criticized the Israeli government and called for Palestinian liberation.

Omar likewise has been subject to constant scrutiny by her own party for her criticism of Israel, accused of antisemitism for allegedly singling Israel out — even though she has been a consistent critic of other human rights-violating governments from Saudi Arabia and China to El Salvador and Russia. Those attacks paved the way for Republicans to boot her from the Foreign Affairs Committee last February after they retook control of the House.

“Democrats too often are willing to go along with what are obviously bad-faith smears against other Democrats whereas Republicans simply don’t give a shit. And that creates this situation where you can easily bait Democrats into this issue repeatedly,” Munayyer said. “That’s a choice that Democrats are making and they don’t have to make that choice.”

That’s not to mention the Democrats who have made anti-Palestinian remarks themselves from Rep. Brad Sherman accusing a Palestinian American of “trying to kill every Jew” to Rep. Dan Goldman discounting the death toll of children killed in Gaza. Beyond Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman’s continued insistence on supporting Israel’s mass civilian killing campaign unconditionally he has repeatedly dismissed and mocked protesters calling for a ceasefire in Gaza or mobilizing voters against Biden’s Gaza policy.

Lara Friedman president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace said that the question of acceptable language on Israel and Palestine often

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