For years, Jon Kyl, a Republican senator from Arizona, has made himself the point man for anti-Arab and anti-Muslim initiatives in the US Senate. At times, his behaviour appears to be so motivated by negative animus that it can be described as nothing less than bizarre. In 2003, for example, Mr 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 spokesman for the government of the Israeli prime minister at the time, Benjamin Netanyahu, and 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, Mr 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, Mr Kyl invited Geert Wilders, the Dutch parliament member and demagogue to show his inflammatory video Fitna at a special reception on Capitol Hill. No mere controversial politician, Mr Wilders is under indictment for incitement to hate and discrimination in his home country. Before coming to the US, he had been denied entry to Britain to show his video before the House of Lords. Mr Wilders is not shy in promoting his views, once telling The Guardian newspaper that "Islam is something we can't afford any more in the Netherlands".
"We need to stop the Islamisation of the Netherlands. "That means no more mosques, no more Islamic schools, no more imams." Mr Kyl's invitation to Mr Wilders and the showing was especially troubling and revealing of Mr Kyl's motivation, since it was timed to conflict with a hearing convened by John Kerry, a senator and chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee. Mr Kerry's hearing was titled Engaging with Muslim Communities Around the World, and featured as witnesses Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state, Adm William Fallon, the retired Centcom commander, and a number of prominent American Muslims.
Further evidence of Mr 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 manoeuvres 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 a number of amendments to the resolution. Thirteen such amendments were introduced, three by Mr Kyl.
Mr Kyl's amendments did not focus on cutting earmarks or on wasteful spending or on big government - all objects of Republican criticism. Instead, all of Mr 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" - US law already forbids such transactions. Another required a report on whether some of the military aid the US 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 Barack Obama, the president, has issued an executive order to resettle Palestinians from Gaza in the United States, and has dedicated US$20.3 million (Dh74.5m) for this purpose. The story has grown with the telling, to the point where now conspiracy theories 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, Mr Kyl 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 Mr Kerry did Mr Kyl agree to withdraw this amendment, acknowledging that it was premised on a scurrilous rumour.