Posted on February 20, 2009 in Washington Watch

For years now, Jon Kyl (R-AZ) has made himself the point person for anti-Arab and anti-Muslim initiatives in the U.S. Senate. At times, his behavior appears to be so motivated by negative animus that it can described as nothing less than bizarre.

In 2003, for example, Kyl used his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security to hold “informational hearings” on Saudi Arabia. The hearing was timely, to be sure, but it was most definitely not informative. The three witnesses he called to testify had all written books on the Kingdom: Dore Gold (former spokesperson for then- Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government), author of Hatred’s Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism; Steven Schwartz (a former Trotskyist who converted to Sufism) had written The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa’ud from Tradition to Terrorism; and Robert Baer (a former CIA officer who had served in the Gulf region during the 1990s), author of Speak No Evil: The Truth About Saudi Arabia and Their Crude Threat to the West. What all of them had in common was a dislike for all things Saudi and the fact that none had ever been to the Kingdom!

This year, however, Kyl has taken things to a new level. Last month, for example, at the behest of the Center for Security Studies (a notorious anti-Muslim outfit), Kyl invited Dutch Member of Parliament and demagogue Geert Wilders to show his inflammatory video “Fitna” at a special reception on Capitol Hill. No mere controversial politician, Wilders is under indictment for incitement to hate and discrimination in his home country. Before coming to the U.S., he had been denied entry to Britain to show his video before the House of Lords. Wilders is not shy in promoting his views, once telling the Guardian Newspaper that Islam “is not a religion, it’s the ideology of a retarded culture.” He went on to add, “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but almost all terrorists are Muslims. Islam is something we can’t afford any more in the Netherlands. I want the fascist Qur’an banned. We need to stop the Islamisation of the Netherlands. That means no more mosques, no more Islamic schools, no more imams.”

Kyl’s invitation to Wilders and the showing was especially troubling and revealing of Kyl’s motivation, since it was timed to conflict with a hearing convened by Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Kerry’s hearing was titled “Engaging with Muslim Communities Around the World,” and featured as witnesses Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, retired and former Centcom Commander Admiral William Fallon, and a number of prominent American Muslims.

Further evidence of Kyl’s penchant for the bizarre anti-Arab or anti-Muslim gesture came this week when the Senator sponsored three amendments to his chamber’s efforts to pass a budget bill. Republicans who had been using parliamentary maneuvers to block a vote on the fiscal 2009 budget reached a compromise with the Democrats, which would allow a vote if the Republicans could introduce number of amendments to the resolution. Thirteen such amendments were introduced, three by Kyl.

Kyl’s amendments did not focus on cutting “earmarks” (the target du jour), or on “wasteful spending,” or on “big-government” – all objects of Republican criticism. Instead, all of Kyl’s amendments targeted Palestinians. One was redundant, insisting that “none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act …[be] diverted to Hamas or entities controlled by Hamas” – as U.S. law already forbids such transactions. Another required a report on whether some of the military aid the U.S. provides to Egypt should be set aside “to improve efforts…to counter illicit smuggling, including arms smuggling, across the Egypt Gaza border.”

It was the third Kyl amendment that left many observers baffled. This amendment would require that “None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be made available to resettle Palestinians from Gaza into the United States.” What, you might be asking, is this about?

It appears that a scurrilous story is circulating on right-wing websites, claiming that President Obama has issued an Executive Order to resettle Palestinians from Gaza in the United States, and has dedicated $20.3 million for this purpose! The story has grown with the telling, to the point where now conspiracy theorists exist that suggest there is a Presidential Order that will allow hundreds of thousands of Palestinians with ties to Hamas to resettle in the United States. Enough fringe groups have pushed this baseless story so hard that it has gotten a page of its own on a website that debunks “urban legends.”

Nevertheless, Kyle used his prerogative as the second-ranking Republican in the Senate to potentially hold up the entire budget so that the Senate may vote on an amendment based on a hoax! Only after being rebuked by Senator Kerry did Kyl agree to withdraw this amendment, acknowledging that it was premised on a scurrilous rumor.

There are those in Washington seeking to restore sanity to our national discourse on the Middle East, and our relations with the Islamic and Arab worlds. It would appear that these efforts will continue to have to contend with the likes of Jon Kyl, the self-appointed leading promoter of the “Clash of Civilizations.”

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