Iowa Pol: I Said Holocaust, Not the Holocaust

By Ori Nir

Published July 07, 2006, issue of July 07, 2006.
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WASHINGTON — A Republican congressman from Iowa alleges that the Anti-Defamation League defamed him over claims that he compared illegal immigrants to Nazis.

The ADL has been highly critical of a May 27 speech delivered by Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, in which he argued that illegal immigrants have killed many more Americans since September 11, 2001, than were killed in the Al Qaeda attacks that day. King, who was speaking to a gathering of anti-immigration activists in Las Vegas, warned that “we have a slow motion holocaust on our hands.”

In response, the ADL’s director, Abraham Foxman, sent King a June 6 letter arguing that it was “inappropriate and insensitive” for him “to suggest that the conduct of undocumented individuals in America in any way resembles the systematic, genocidal actions taken by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.” King, who has referred to Senator Joe McCarthy as a “great American hero,” countered that he used the word “holocaust” in a generic sense, meaning a great destruction, and that he was in no way referring to World War II.

King has flirted with notoriety in the past. Recently he said that the abuses committed by American soldiers against inmates in Iraq’s Abu-Ghraib prison amounted to “hazing.” Last month, in a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives defending America’s achievements in Iraq, King said that his wife was “at far greater risk being a civilian in Washington, D.C., than an average civilian in Iraq.”

The Iowa Republican also drew criticism earlier this month over remarks he made after the June 8 killing of arch-terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Referring to the popular Islamic belief that 72 virgins await Muslim “martyrs” in heaven, King told delegates to the state Republican convention that the virgins — assuming they really do exist — “probably all look like Helen Thomas,” the veteran White House reporter. The Arab American Institute demanded an apology — Thomas is of Lebanese descent — and King promptly complied (the congressman’s press secretary told the Forward that Thomas had forgiven him).

King’s flap with the ADL comes as a bitter debate over illegal immigration rages across the country and in Washington. Both chambers of Congress have passed different versions of immigration-reform bills, with the House backing a bill that deals only with enforcement and the Senate voting for a measure that includes provisions legalizing the status of some undocumented immigrants, as well as provisions allowing for a guest-worker program. Not only has the ADL joined with several other influential Jewish organizations to press for a measure along the lines of the more comprehensive approach passed by the Senate, but it also has issued a report and several statements condemning the rhetoric of anti-immigration activists.

In an earlier letter, dated May 3, the ADL criticized an essay by King posted on his congressional Web site under the title “Biting the Hand That Feeds You.” In the essay, King criticized the May 1 “A Day Without Immigrants” strike that some pro-immigration organizations and activists initiated. Mocking the theme of the protest, King asked readers to imagine what a day without illegal immigration would look like, concluding that “there would be no one to smuggle across our southern border the heroin, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamines that plague the United States, reducing the U.S. supply of meth that day by 80%.

“The lives of 12 U.S. citizens would be saved who otherwise die a violent death at the hands of murderous illegal aliens each day. Another 13 Americans would survive who are otherwise killed each day by uninsured drunk driving illegals. Our hospital emergency rooms would not be flooded with everything from gunshot wounds, to anchor babies, to imported diseases to hangnails, giving American citizens the day off from standing in line behind illegals. Eight American children would not suffer the horror as a victim of a sex crime.”

In his letter to King, Foxman called on the GOP lawmaker to “repudiate and apologize” for his remarks.

King, however, asserts that he’s the one entitled to an apology — since he never meant to compare illegal immigrants to Nazis. In a defiant June 14 letter to the ADL, King demanded “an apology for the false and defamatory letters” that the organization sent to him. “I never capitalized the word ‘Holocaust,’” King wrote to Foxman.

“In fact, the remarks were part of a speech, so I am at a loss to explain why you would have changed my words,” King wrote, adding, “I believe we disagree on one important point: I do not believe that the word ‘holocaust’ is limited only to describe the unspeakable atrocities of World War II. The dictionary’s first definition is ‘great destruction resulting in the extensive loss of life, especially by fire.’ I believe that my use of the phrase ‘slow motion holocaust’ accurately depicts the thousands of unnecessary deaths at the hands of criminal aliens.”

In a second letter to King, sent last week, Foxman rejected the lawmaker’s explanation, saying that it “rings hollow.”

“This is not a question of semantics. Since World War II, the first image that comes to the minds of many is the atrocity of the Nazi Holocaust,” Foxman wrote. “We hope that you will be more sensitive in your choice of words in the future.”

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