Last week, the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) identified charitable organizations that recently showcased radical Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) activists with a history of bigoted and anti-Semitic views. Philanthropic organizations and foundations should be held accountable for failing to do their due diligence and looking into the backgrounds of the members they promote publicly. U.S. politicians, however, must be held to an even higher standard while representing their constituencies.
Unfortunately, state and local officials participated in several events co-hosted by CAIR's Philadelphia chapter (CAIR-PA) earlier this month.
On June 6, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., organized a town hall meeting at Dickinson College and invited CAIR-PA Advisory Board member Aaysha Noor to moderate, according to a CAIR-PA update. Another town hall, taking place June 13 in Devon, Pa., "was co-sponsored by the offices of [state] Rep. Joe Webster and Rep. Melissa Shusterman." On June 19, CAIR-PA co-hosted a second town hall meeting in Carlisle, Pa. including state representatives Movita Johnson-Harrell and Patty Kim. Both meetings focused on "Islamophobia" and condemning anti-Muslim bigotry.
Either these politicians support CAIR's radical agenda, or their staff failed to do their homework on the organization. Like other U.S.-based Islamists, CAIR-PA's leaders have a long history of making bigoted allegations.
In a 2010 op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Moein Khawaja, then executive director of CAIR-Philadelphia, leveled dual allegiance accusations at a pro-Israel lobby group. Khawaja argued that "CAIR is concerned about America, not Palestine, Pakistan, or any other foreign land – unlike the Emergency Committee for Israel and its supporters, who place Israel first and America a distant second."
This view is similar to recent comments by U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who leveled dual loyalty allegations against American supporters of Israel. Accusing Jews of holding more allegiance to the Jewish state than to their home nation is a form of anti-Semitism.
In addition, Khawaja's claim about CAIR's focus is false. CAIR and its officials routinely insert the organization into the debate over Israel and Palestine. After angrily rejecting a question about Hamas in 2013 as a bigoted effort to drag CAIR "into the Middle East affairs," CAIR-Los Angeles leader Hussam Ayloush attacked Mayor Eric Garcetti for endorsing the U.S. decision to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The move was offensive "not only to the 12 million Palestinian Christians and Muslims, but also to the 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide," Ayloush said last month.
CAIR-PA's current executive director, Jacob Bender, has since issued some outlandish statements of his own in recent years. For over a year, Israeli forces have been containing violent demonstrations on the Israel-Gaza border, which continue to this day. The vast majority of the Palestinian casualties in these confrontations are either formal members or affiliates of terrorist organizations like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In fact, Hamas is in complete control of the tempo fueling these violent protests. Yet Bender, like other Hamas apologists, frames the ongoing border conflict as an Israeli "massacre."
"Here in the US, however, Israel's massacre is met with either silence, or worse, open support for Israel in driving back what they deem to be barbaric Arab hordes bent upon visiting another Holocaust upon the innocent Jews and their 'Jewish State.' Shockingly, many Israelis and their supporters in the US are almost euphoric at the number of Arab dead," Bender wrote in May 2018.
Without any evidence, Bender claims that many pro-Israel supporters are elated when presented with Palestinian deaths. This is a bigoted assumption that blanketly paints pro-Israel Americans as evil. Bender has not rescinded his initial statement after Palestinian terrorist leaders acknowledged that most of the casualties were their operatives.
It's tough to hear how Bender "wanted to play a role as a bridge builder" when he has a history of demonizing the Jewish state and its supporters.
In a 2014 letter, Bender explained that he works for CAIR "because this is a courageous organization that repeatedly denounces injustice and violence around the world, no matter the victim, no matter the perpetrator. Whether it is ISIS beheading American journalists in Iraq, or Israeli troops killing hundreds of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, or the Taliban murdering over 150 school children in Pakistan."
In that statement alone, Bender reveals two of CAIR's most prominent and disturbing worldviews. First, that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is morally equivalent to jihadist groups who indiscriminately target civilians using the most brutal methods. CAIR officials Hussam Ayloush and Zahra Billoo have repeatedly compared Americans who move to Israel and join the IDF to ISIS terrorists. Second, Bender's argument shows that CAIR and its officials are incapable of denouncing Hamas or Hizballah as militant organizations that engage in terrorism solely because those groups' primary targets are Israelis and Jews.
This type of sentiment should be condemned, not rewarded with ongoing political engagement from Pennsylvania officials.
Philadelphia is no stranger to radical Islamist propaganda. In April, IPT first exposed the Muslim American Society (MAS)'s Philadelphia chapter for hosting children performing songs that explicitly call on the next generation of Palestinian youth to embrace terrorism and glorify suicide bombers. Some songs featured overtly radical lyrics: "The blood of the martyrs is calling us. Paradise, men desire it."
In another video from the same event, one young girl declared that "we will defend the land of divine guidance with our bodies, and we will sacrifice our souls without hesitation. We will chop off their heads, and we will liberate the sorrowful and exalted Al-Aqsa Mosque. We will lead the army of Allah fulfilling His promise, and we will subject them to eternal torture."
Only after significant public backlash, U.S.-based Islamists were forced to respond and condemn the MAS event. Instead of addressing the systematic bigotry emanating from high-profile Islamist groups, Bender shrugged off the incident as "a stupid decision by an untrained pedagogue and volunteer teacher."
In an ironic twist, CAIR-PA issued a statement in the wake of the video controversy condemning anti-Semitism. Bender said that his organization was asked to host a "workshop on diversity and religious tolerance" to help "members of the immigrant Muslim community have a better understanding of Jewish sensitives and anti-Semitism."
These developments unfolded as CAIR actively worked to stifle an "Anti-Semitism Awareness" bill that directs the U.S. Department of Education to adopt a widely accepted working definition of anti-Semitism.
Elements of this working definition encompass modern anti-Israel sentiment that "crosses the line into anti-Semitism." That includes denying the Jewish people's right to self-determination, claims that Israel was founded as a racist entity, and applying double standards against Israel not expected of other democracies.
Numerous governments, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, and many other European states, have embraced and promoted this working definition.
CAIR's efforts to derail this bill are not surprising given the organization's record for spreading anti-Israel views that often transcend into the realm of anti-Semitism.
Ayloush has referred to "zionazis" and openly called for Israel's termination, while Florida director Hassan Shibly refused to condemn Hamas and vilified "Israel [and] its supporters" as the "enemies of God and humanity."
Billoo acknowledged in November that she is "not going to legitimize a country [Israel] that I don't believe has a right to exist." She also has denounced Muslim leaders who oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
BDS – which seeks to isolate Israel economically and culturally – is considered anti-Semitic because it singles out the world's only Jewish state and ignores countries with far worse human rights records.
Billoo, like other U.S. Islamist figures, consistently opposes any type of engagement or interfaith dialogue with individuals or organizations that have ties to Israel. These include more liberal-minded Muslim leaders.
This is the organization politicians, like those in Pennsylvania, repeatedly turn to for guidance on public policy.
Muslim Americans hold a variety of opinions toward Israel and the Palestinian conflict. Some, like Zuhdi Jasser, Asra Nomani and Anila Ali are supportive. Others, like Wajahat Ali and Rabia Chaudry, criticize Israel but are open to peaceful solutions and to dialogue with pro-Israel voices. For that, they are blacklisted by Islamist groups including CAIR.
Combatting anti-Muslim bigotry at town hall meetings is important, but not aligning with organizations that promote anti-Semitism and that decide who is a legitimate community leader and who is not. Elected officials – from Pennsylvania and beyond – should consult the public record before engaging with radical groups like CAIR. Empowering CAIR and other Islamist organizations only sow divisions among the constituencies these politicians seek to unite.