The right's revealing hypocrisy over Rep. Ilhan Omar's comments is painful to watch

Sally Kohn
The right wing's response to Rep. Ilhan Omar's comments show it is the single greatest source of hypocrisy in modern American life.

Right wing radio host and commentator Ben Shapiro wrote a book in 2014 called, “Bullies: How the Left's Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences Americans.”  Praising the book Sean Hannity said, “Ben Shapiro shows once and for all that the left is the single greatest source of bullying in modern American life.”

Shapiro and Hannity are now among those bullying Congresswoman Ilhan Omar — smearing her as anti-Semitic because of her criticism of the state of Israel and calling for her to face official penalties by loosing her committee assignments. Omar, it bears pointing out for the conservative set, is an American — and Hannity, Shapiro and the right are trying desperately to silence her.

The right wing is the single greatest source of hypocrisy in modern American life.

Criticism of Israel is no more inherently anti-Semitic than criticism of the United States is anti-American. And there is much, in both regards, worthy of criticism. For instance, just yesterday, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the Israeli Defense Forces use disproportionate force against Palestinian protesters in Gaza.

Of course, conservatives may feel the United Nations is some global conspiracy in service of the ridiculous agenda to protect the people of the globe from wanton hunger, violence and abuse, but in June of 2018, 120 member states of the UN passed a resolution to condemn Israel for violence against Palestinians. Pointing out the human rights abuses of the Israeli government, including the daily occupation and subjugation of Palestinians — who literally have less rights in their own homeland than, for instance, I did just as a foreign visitor — isn’t anti anyone or anything. It’s pro justice. 

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., on Capitol Hill on March 6, 2019.

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Yes, some of Ilhan Omar’s statements evoked anti-Semitic tropes, but she apologized, explained herself and is learning. You’d think those on the right who routinely suggest the left is too quick shout about political correctness and read the worst intentions between the lines of every utterance would be the ones rushing to give Omar the benefit of the doubt. But the benefit of the doubt is, like everything else in the United States today, subject to partisanship. We only give the benefit of the doubt to our own side. 

The fact is that all sides tend to silence legitimate criticism of their positions not by responding on substance to the critiques but rather smearing the character of those doing the criticizing. I’ll cop to this, for instance, in the case of marriage equality — accusing, for instance, people who didn’t want to bake cakes for gay weddings of being bigoted homophobes. Maybe some were, and maybe some weren’t — but pushing that blanket accusation to the fore served to shame the other side and silence debate, rather than encouraging it. Nuance is dying in America, and we’re all killing it. We now all prefer trolling to thoughtful debate.

The Right's hypocrisy is painful

In this case hypocrisy is the disease, and selective outrage is the symptom. Hannity, Shapiro and others on the right aren’t anywhere near as offended let alone outraged by actual hateful comments made by people on their “own team.”

Congressman Steve King has repeatedly demonstrated overt white nationalist sympathies but has been greeted with open arms and defended by the right. In 2017, when King tweeted, “We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies,” Fox News host Tucker Carlson had King on his show and Carlson said, “Everything you said I think is defensible and probably right.” Fox News host Laura Ingraham said about King’s racist tweet, “I understand his point,” calling his tweet “a mathematical fact.” King as still a regular guest on Hannity until this past January, when King explicitly endorsed white nationalism and white supremacy, that Republicans finally removed him from his committee assignments and subcommittee chairmanship. Indeed, in light of King’s white nationalism and white supremacy remarks, Ben Shapiro wrote that his own article defending King’s “someone else’s babies” comment was “far too generous” to King. 

The difference, of course, is clear. Omar’s missteps evoking anti-Semitic tropes were called out by her colleagues on the left and the right. And Omar apologized or tried to clarify her intent. Whereas King not only was rarely asked to apologize for his many many overtly racist and anti-immigrant and Islamophobic statements over the years but was actively defended by the right. Yet now those same perpetual defenders of hate on their side want America to believe that a Democratic congresswoman, who just happens to be a black Muslim, is the hateful one. She’s now getting death threats

Who the right wants to bully and silence, versus who — and what — they defend, is painful. And painfully obvious. 

Sally Kohn is author of "The Opposite Of Hate: A Field Guide To Repairing Our Humanity." You can find her online at sallykohn.com and on Twitter: @SallyKohn

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The right's revealing hypocrisy over Rep. Ilhan Omar's comments is painful to watch