After more than a year of pretending that President Donald Trump was fomenting anti-Semitism, it’s been a bad month for some on the left. The fact that supporters of Louis Farrakhan lead the Women’s March, the movement organizing protests for the anti-Trump “resistance,” has proven deeply embarrassing.
Responsible liberals and conservatives understand that the only thing to do about hate is to oppose it—no matter where its advocates fall on the margins of the political spectrum. But the focus on Farrakhan and his apologists has unsettled some on the left. The result has been a desperate attempt to either change the circumstances or engage in egregious bouts of “whataboutism,” in which a bad thing done by someone on the left is countered by reminding us of the sins of others on the right, even if the two examples aren’t remotely comparable.
The latest example of this lamentable practice can be found in the Forward, where editor Jane Eisner has written a column chiding the Jewish world for being silent about the nomination of CIA Director Mike Pompeo to be secretary of state. According to Eisner, the former member of Congress and West Point graduate isn’t fit to serve at the State Department because he is “an anti-Muslim bigot.”
Eisner is upset that outside of the Anti-Defamation and J Street, Jewish groups have either been silent about the nomination or are lauding Pompeo for his record of support for Israel, opposition to the Iran nuclear deal and close ties to the Jewish community. She thinks it’s an example of Jews only being able to see hate when it is being directed towards us, but being willfully blind when others are put at risk.
If true, that would be a grave sin indeed. But the problem is that her indictment of Pompeo doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Comparing Pompeo to Farrakhan is an egregious smear.
The problem with the argument starts with the fact that the two figures aren’t remotely comparable. Farrakhan is the leader of a thuggish hate group whose beliefs are rooted in racist theories about white people, as well as Jews. A comparison to him can be easily found in David Duke, though Farrakhan has far more followers and influence than the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
Eisner’s claim rests on the notion that “Pompeo has long worried Muslims” because of his stands on Islamist terror. But the Muslims she references are themselves extremists, and the positions he has taken are rooted in common sense about terrorism, not bigotry.
The principle source of criticism for Pompeo comes from the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which is often treated by some liberals as a civil-rights group. Instead, it was founded by radical Islamists in the 1990s as the political wing of Hamas in the United States and supported fundraising for that terrorist group, as the U.S. Treasury’s investigation of its now-closed Holy Land Foundation revealed. CAIR has expanded its reach since then, but it counsels Muslims not to cooperate with federal investigations of terror. Its purpose is to flip the narrative about Islamists from the ongoing fight against radicals who make war on the West to one about Western oppression of Muslims.
While real anti-Muslim bigotry should be condemned, what CAIR and like-minded organizations encourage is to delegitimize anyone who speaks out against the radicals. In that way, they have sought to treat any legitimate inquiry—either on the political or scholarly front—into the spread of radical Islam as a libel against Muslims. In so doing, their goal is to rationalize the radicals and marginalize those who call attention to the threat.
Their attacks on Pompeo fit into this pattern. They claim that he smeared American Muslims after the Boston Marathon bombing, but the statements in question were about the need for American Muslims to condemn terrorism—a stance that makes sense.
Eisner also takes at face value the assertion that Pompeo’s stand in favor of treating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization is the act of a bigot. The Brotherhood, which spawned Hamas, is a threat to the West, in addition to nations like Egypt, whose people rose up to reject their rule when they realized the Brotherhood’s totalitarian goals might be realized there.
She also raises the question of his association with Frank Gaffney and Birgitte Gabriel as proof of his bigotry. I don’t agree with either about the danger Sharia law poses to the United States and some of their other positions. Those who fail to make the distinction between ordinary, law-abiding American Muslims and Islamists are wrong. But while both strike conspiratorial tones at times, the attempt to designate them as hate-mongers is an attempt to shut down any discussion on the subject of Islamism. The same people who call them bigots say the same about mainstream figures like scholar Daniel Pipes, who also writes and speaks on this same subject. You don’t have to be fans of either Gaffney or Gabriel to understand that while they are not Farrakhans, some of their most vocal opponents share the Nation of Islam’s hatred for Jews, as well as their antipathy to efforts to combat the influence of radical Islamists.
Mike Pompeo’s only sin is that unlike much of the foreign-policy establishment and mainstream media, he chooses to look at the world as it is and not through a filter of wishful thinking about the Middle East. It isn’t bigotry to condemn radical Islamists or to call these radicals, as the Obama administration consistently refused to do, by their rightful names. To do so—and to be vigilant against the threat from Iran and other Islamists—is not the same as thing being prejudiced. Far from making him unfit for his post, Pompeo and his realism make him an ideal candidate to guide U.S. policy abroad.
Those who compare a responsible conservative like Pompeo to a hate-monger like Farrakhan do not make an argument that deserves to be taken seriously. Sadly, it is one more example of our dysfunctional contemporary culture in which political foes must be demonized rather than merely opposed. The Senate should dismiss these complaints with the contempt they deserve and swiftly confirm Pompeo.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — the Jewish News Service. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.