Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Top Democrats like Howard Dean and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi used the occasion of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s visit to Washington last week to put forth a fairly adamant zero tolerance policy toward those who harbor anti-Semitic views or who refuse to condemn Hezbollah. We wondered if they would show similar outrage at members of their own party, particularly the seven House Democrats who voted last month against a resolution supporting Israel.

One of those Democrats, Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, is in line to become chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce should Democrats retake the House in November. Here’s what Mr. Dingell had to say to a reporter in Detroit the other day during a television program: “I don’t take sides for or against Hezbollah; I don’t take sides for or against Israel.” When asked if he really wasn’t “against Hezbollah,” Mr. Dingell replied, “No.”

Part of what’s behind Mr. Dingell’s appalling refusal to condemn Hezbollah are the tens of thousands of Muslims, mostly Shi’ites, living in his Michigan district. The city of Dearborn especially is one of the largest Arab communities outside the Middle East. One neighborhood of Dearborn, which is just to the west of Detroit, has a population that is over 90 percent Muslim. As the New York Times reported, “it seems nearly everyone [in Dearborn] has relatives trapped in Lebanon by the attacks or knows someone who does.”

In other words, when Mr. Dingell refuses to denounce Hezbollah, he’s simply catering to a large segment of his constituency. Only in his case, the constituents aren’t farmers or steelworkers; some are open supporters of a group the State Department labels a terrorist organization. Indeed, since the hostilities began in southern Lebanon, protests thousands strong have been held at Dearborn’s Islamic Center of America, which is the largest mosque in the United States, condemning Israel and criticizing the Bush administration for its support of Israel.

In floor speeches, Mr. Dingell is careful to iterate Israel’s right to defend itself, while saving his criticism for the loss of civilian life on both sides. And we would also add that there’s a clear distinction between criticizing U.S. or Israeli foreign policy and open support of terrorist organizations. So, it’s important to note how Mr. Dingell acts back home, out of the national spotlight, where it’s obviously politically expedient for him not to denounce Hezbollah, or at least remain neutral.

And yet, nothing but silence from the Democratic leadership, which only last week publicly humiliated Mr. Maliki. It seems that the Democrats’ defiance in the face of Hezbollah terrorism goes only so far as electoral considerations permit.

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