Mary Walter: Good morning. Joining us now, Steve Emerson. He's the executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism. It's a non-profit group that investigates the threat of radical Islam. Steve, good morning. Welcome to "Mornings on the Mall."
Emerson: Good morning.
Walter: There is a special election today for the Virginia House of Delegates for the 86th District, which is a suburban area in Fairfax County, to fill a seat. Two people running for the seat are Ibraheem Samirah, who is a dentist, 27 years old. He's the favorite in this race. He's running against Greg Nelson, who is an Air Force veteran. And we're finding out now that apparently there were some comments made by Dr. Samirah about five years ago that were very anti-Semitic, comparing giving money to Israel worse than donating to the KKK; also saying that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would burn in hell; Israeli teenagers were using Tinder to cover up the murders in their names. Very anti-Semitic statements. Is this going to affect him at all though?
Emerson: I don't know whether it will affect him but I think it should affect him because the comments are undeniably anti-Semitic. Now he has said he has apologized for those comments, but he's also said that they were taken out of context and that they were part of a slander campaign. Both of those latter allegations are demonstrably false. None of them were taken out of context and to the extent that he says that he's only mitigating his apology. He also has supported two groups that are very anti-Israel in their positions. One group has supported a radical Islamic terrorist who was convicted in the killing of two Jews in a bombing in Israel several decades ago. Another group supports the movement called BDS – boycott, divestment – that is designed to strangle the economy of Israel. He has not disavowed his support for those two groups. So all in all his total position is a virulently anti-Israeli position, and more than that I would say anti-Semitic. To the extent that people vote for him they should be aware of those positions.
Vince Coglianese: Now are you of the opinion that people are aware and they're just kind of forgiving him for this, or is this just a matter of hey, no one really knows about it and they're gonna go to the polls and they're gonna vote with ignorance of where he actually stands on them?
Emerson: I think the latter. When I read the Washington Post story about it, it was almost a semi-apologetic letter. It said that he posted a letter decrying 'the Palestinian civilian death caused by Israeli missile strikes in Gaza.' What he did was actually post a letter in support of Hamas during the Israeli-Gaza war in which Hamas attacked Israel with several thousand rockets. And then he said that supporting Israel is like supporting the Ku Klux Klan. The Washington Post also did not explain the meaning of his support for those two groups that supported terrorism. So I think that if voters go on the basis of just the Washington Post story, they will be ill-informed. Our organization posted the real comments on the Investigative Project on Terrorism web site. And if people dig into the real background I think they would reject his candidacy.
Walter: Why is it that it seems to be that American Jews seem to be okay with these types of comments because they're really anti-Israel? They don't view them as anti-Semitic. Is there a disconnect there for the American Jewish population?
Emerson: I think you're right. I think we saw this with Congresswoman Ilhan Omar when she made her comments that were anti-Semitic just a couple of weeks ago. She made an apology but she actually conditioned her apology in a way that sort of negated the apology and that made her comments sort of stick that were anti-Semitic. And I think people sort of accept the fact to the extent that they say, well criticizing Israel is not the same as criticizing the Jewish community. I think that's true. You can criticize Israel without being anti-Semitic, but he didn't just criticize Israel; he criticized the Jewish community and supported Islamic terrorists who killed Jews. And I think that goes beyond the pale. Now whether it sticks, I'm not clairvoyant.
Emerson: But it should stick if one examines his actual comments because I think they're beyond the pale and beyond the pale for a candidate running for office.
Coglianese: Steve, can you explain to me why it is that you think Democrats are graded on a curve on this, because it seems like his party affiliation for whatever reason offers him a shield from these criticisms?
Emerson: I think you're 100% right and I think that's the same in the Democratic Party in the U.S. Congress. They've offered a shield for the anti-Semitic posts by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. There's an infection of anti-Semitism, I hate to say, within the Democratic Party locally and nationally. And it's similar to what we're seeing in Britain with the UK Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn that has been infected in a major way by anti-Semitism. For reasons that are inexplicable the Democratic Party does not want to go out on a limb and unilaterally condemn as anti-Semitic these comments. And I think ultimately it's gonna go down to their detriment in the elections.
Coglianese: I mean it's a bizarre double treatment. Look at the way for instance Steve King was treated recently. Congressman Steve King basically run out of Congress on a rail. All of his committee assignments taken away, all because of what he says was a misunderstanding, that he wasn't defending white nationalism or white identity politics. But whatever you think of his comments, they came down very hard on him. We don't see a similar reaction to Democrats who get into the very trouble that you're talking about.
Emerson: You're 100% right. Congressman Steven King was stripped all of his committee assignments by the Republican Party, taken off every single committee, and yet Ilhan Omar was simply castigated orally but not taken off the very prestigious and powerful Foreign Affairs Committee in the House. That should have been the reaction by Nancy Pelosi, but it wasn't. And to the extent that she continues to allow Ilhan Omar to serve on that committee is a stain on the moral level of the Democratic Party. I have called for the removal of Ilhan Omar because I think her continuation of inclusion on that committee is a national security threat because she is close to the group called CAIR – the Council on American-Islamic Relations – which itself is a front group for Hamas. And to the extent that she is close to them, speaking for them, fundraising for them, being an advisory member for them, that is a threat because the FBI itself refuses to engage in any contact with CAIR because of their contacts with Hamas.
Walter: This is very interesting. It'll be interesting to see what happens today in this election. Thank you so much. We appreciate your comments, Steve. Have a great day.
Emerson: You're welcome. Thanks a lot.