Denials Carry a Familiar Ring
October 10, 2007
With the resignation of Esam Omeish from a Virginia immigration panel last month, new questions emerged about the surgeon and the organization he leads.
Omeish, president of the Muslim American Society (MAS), was forced to resign after videos showed him at rallies defending Hizballah's actions during last year's violence with Israel and praising Palestinians for knowing that "the jihad way is the way to liberate your land."
His reference to jihad, he later explained, wasn't a call to violence, but for "exerting full effort" to liberate Palestine.
MAS' founders were Muslim Brotherhood members. And, as recently as 2004, MAS leadership acknowledged nearly half its members were part of the Brotherhood. In a news conference, Omeish acknowledged those roots but insisted it was all in the past.
If any of this rings familiar, it's because it is.
In Dallas, jurors continue deliberating the fate of five men who helped run the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF). Prosecutors say HLF was part of a Muslim Brotherhood-inspired "Palestine Committee," created to generate American support for the Islamist cause.
HLF was a key component of that committee. The defendants are accused of illegally funneling millions of dollars to Hamas after years of vehemently denying any association. In interviews and sworn statements, HLF officers not only denied a connection to Hamas, but the group's chief executive insisted he abhorred Hamas' violence.
Jurors heard a different story in secretly recorded conversations. CEO Shukri Abu Baker urged his associates not to even mention Hamas by name, but to call it "Samah" instead. He helped bring Hamas leaders into the U.S. for speeches and fundraisers and participated in a secret 1993 gathering of Hamas supporters convened to discuss ways to "derail" the new Oslo peace accord.
"War is deception," Baker said. "Deceive, camouflage. Pretend that you're leaving while you're walking that way. Deceive your enemy."
The transcripts are rife with examples in which men gathered admit they can't be straight with Americans. One concern with Oslo, they say, is its potential to cement the secular leadership of Yasser Arafat for Palestinians over the Islamists in Hamas.
But you can't say that, as outlined in a conversation between Baker and Nihad Awad, the eventual co-founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), at the 1993 meeting:
Baker: "With the American people, we must focus with it in the next stage of the issues you brought up such as human suffering and the rights (unintelligible), the issues which he understands, which suits the make-up of his brain. Once he understands that there is a personal friction between you and Abou Ammar [Yasser Arafat] … and there was some talk about PLO and stuff, I believe that he will change the issue from that of people's struggle regarding rights to that of a struggle of a faction with another. On the other hand, I say we must discredit the legitimate Palestinian leadership with the Palestinian people in particular. We have to bring down this idol called Yasser Arafat, he must fall in the eyes of every Palestinian because he, until now, represents the symbol of the Palestinian cause. If he doesn't fall in the eyes of the people, the people will still believe in him. This is an example, this is my understanding, see? SO the address with differ.
Nihad Awad: We're not in disagreement over this. Yes, there are different but parallel types of address. There shouldn't be a contradiction. Address people according to their minds. When I speak with the American, I speak with someone who doesn't know anything. As for the Palestinian who has a martyr brother or something, I know how to address him, you see?
That low opinion of American knowledge was shared in Tampa, where former University of South Florida computer scientist Sami Al-Arian spent more than a decade lying about his relationship with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. There was none, he long insisted to FBI agents, reporters and university administrators.
That line persisted even after this video was publicly released in 2000, in which a Cleveland imam helping raise money with Al-Arian described the ICP as "the active arm of the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine" and said the name ICP was used in America for "security reasons."
In a recorded 1995 telephone call, Al-Arian and Louay Safi discuss President Clinton's new executive order prohibiting financial transactions with terrorist groups including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Safi, an officer with the Islamic Society of North Americaand the International Institute of Islamic Thought (currently undergoing its own investigation for terrorist financing and ties to the Muslim Brotherhood), wanted to know if this affected Al-Arian.
Al-Arian dismissed the order as empty political posturing:
Al-Arian: By God the Almighty, when he lists names like Abu Nidal and Fathi Shiqaqi and Ahmad Yassin … Does Ahmad Yassin have accounts here? What is this nonsense?
Safi: He just wants to please them.
Al-Arian: Of course.
Safi: Nobody understands these things in America.
Al-Arian: True, people don't understand anything. They don't understand anything.
It fell to defense attorneys to try explaining away the lies once they were discovered in both Dallas and Tampa.
Telling the truth, argued attorney William Moffitt, would have killed Al-Arian's intellectual and charitable work on behalf of the Palestinian cause:
"Ask yourself now, what would you do if you were asked, you see? Because once Sami was asked and once he admitted that he had a relationship with the PIJ, the story was never going to be about the abuse of people inPalestine; the story was going to change. It was going to be about this relationship and why had he come here to discuss that abuse.
So, he lied. Confronted with the same thing, what would you do? Is it evil? Is there a time that a lie is not evil? Is there a time where a lie is expedient and you could consider it the right thing to do? You lie to thenewspapers. There's no question about it. And I'm not going to stand here and tell you there's a question aboutit, but I want you to think a little bit more sophisticated with me about it. Confronted in the same way, what would you do?"
In Dallas, defense attorney Nancy Hollander took a similar track. She didn't directly address the denials by her client, Shukri Abu Baker, to the Dallas Morning News, or in a sworn declaration given in a civil suit.
"He did use the word ‘Samah,'" Hollander conceded in her closing argument. Baker, she said, feared governments like Israel where what you say can get you arrested. "It appears we've become like those countries because now these words have come back to haunt them."
Now we have Omeish denying his organization, MAS, is anything more than a Muslim grassroots civil and educational organization. Perhaps. And while Omeish should not be judged by the actions of others, the track record of other Islamists indicates, at a minimum, skepticism should be employed.
An internal memo from the HLF trial calls on MAS to be tapped "to educate the brothers in all work centers, mosques, and organizations on the necessity of stopping any contacts with the Zionist organizations and the rejection of future contacts."
To sum it up, MAS is an organization with acknowledged roots in the Muslim Brotherhood. Many of its members still belong to the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood's Palestine Committee wanted MAS to block outreach efforts with Zionists groups. But Omeish says those days are over, right?
Similarly, CAIR has asked the presiding judge to be removed from a list of unindicted co-conspirators in the HLF case, arguing the designation is unsubstantiated and hurting fundraising. Prosecutors say CAIR was created in the wake of the secret 1993 Philadelphia meeting and is "affiliated with Hamas." Co-founders Nihad Awad and Omar Ahmad participated in the Philadelphia meeting, then as part of the Islamic Association for Palestine, another member of the Brotherhood's Palestine Committee.
In part of the meeting, Ahmad utters a familiar refrain, acknowledging the futility of being straight with Americans, telling the group they could not share with Americans their true ultimate objective:
Unidentified Speaker: There are some points. A historical point is that we as IAP or Islamists call for our right, or the rights of Palestine. Most of the talk revolves around Gaza and the occupied land, Gaza and the West Bank. No one talks about the 1948 territories. I mean, here in America, no one will accept it from you, to say the 1948 territories.
Shukri Abu Baker: They don't care.
Unidentified Speaker: Therefore, we're limited to the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Okay, you gave us Gaza and the West Bank, what do you want? This is a point I believe we've become besieged in. Now, if we say: No, you must give them the [West] Bank, that is if they give the entire [West] Bank to Yasser Arafat. What are we going to say? Are we going to say that we demand the 1948 territories?
Omar Ahmad: We've always demanded the 1948 territories. I mean, we demanded …
Unidentified Speaker: Yes, but we don't say that publicly. You cannot say it publicly. In front of the Americans…
Omar Ahmad: No, we didn't say that to the Americans.
He has a point. Americans might view someone differently if they knew their definition of Middle East peace began and ended with the Israel's elimination.
None of this means jurors will choose to convict the HLF defendants. Al-Arian's jury acquitted him of eight charges and hung on nine others. But the cases remain instructive. In each, the principals had no trouble lying to Americans, be they friend or curious investigators. And in each case, those lies continued until they were dragged into a courtroom, their freedom on the line.
Not exactly trust-inducing, is it?