Its leaders won't condemn terrorist groups like Hamas or Hizballah, but the founder and executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) says his organization deals with "Zionism on [a] daily basis."
NIhad Awad, who co-founded CAIR in 1994 and is the only person to run it, cast Zionism as inherently hateful Friday in a speech to the anti-Israel group American Muslims for Palestine (AMP).
"For me, at CAIR, as the executive director of CAIR, the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, we deal with racism, Islamophobia and Zionism on [a] daily basis," Awad said.
AMP is a radical group that opposes Israel's existence. It is suspected of being the alter ego of a defunct Hamas propaganda arm in the United States called the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP). Osama Abuirshaid, now AMP's national policy director, has said the organization seeks "to challenge the legitimacy of the State of Israel."
Awad and others who spoke at AMP's national convention held in Chicago during Thanksgiving weekend happily obliged. You won't find references to "deal[ing] with Zionism" on any CAIR web page. To the general public, CAIR casts itself as a civil rights organization focused solely on protecting the rights of Muslim Americans. But the record tells a far more disturbing story.
Awad and his CAIR co-founder Omar Ahmad previously worked at the IAP. It was part of a network created by the Muslim Brotherhood to support Hamas politically and financially in the United States. CAIR was added to the "Palestine Committee" roster as soon as it was created. That's why CAIR was included in a list of unindicted co-conspirators in a 2008 Hamas financing trial, and why federal prosecutors say CAIR was "a participant in an ongoing and ultimately unlawful conspiracy to support a designated terrorist organization, a conspiracy from which CAIR never withdrew."
The conspiracy was to support Hamas in its efforts to destroy Israel. In saying CAIR deals with Zionism daily, Awad puts that assertion in a new light. It also could help explain his praise for fellow speaker, anti-Semitic Islamist activist Linda Sarsour.
She "is one of our best examples in the community," Awad said. "Not only she stands up for Muslims, but she stands up for other people. She fights Islamophobes. She fights Zionism. And she fights racism and xenophobia. And that's how we Muslims should lend our voices to other causes."
The program cast Israel as an inherently racist, colonial state.
In that vein, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., made a pitch for intersectional politics, equating problems facing Palestinians to systemic oppression facing black people in the United States.
"Every time I see ... the police going after, killing innocent people, innocent, treating African American brothers and sisters like they're disposable, I think of Filastine and what happens to our brothers and sisters in the occupation," Tlaib said. "... This othering, this dehumanization, is painful. But if we don't speak up for each other, we give each other credibility, we grow this movement into something stronger. So when you see these things understand how interconnected it is. Because when I'm fighting for clean water in the city of Detroit and all throughout Wayne County that I ever represent, I'm fighting for clean water in Gaza, access to water there. So all of it is so interconnected."
None of the AMP speakers criticized Israeli policies. Each took issue with Zionism, the ideal that calls for a state for Jewish people in their ancestral homeland. "Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor" is among the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)'s working definition of anti-Semitism, which has been adopted by 20 countries, including the United States.
The rhetoric ignores political and demographic realities within Israel, where Israeli Arabs serve on courts, as military leaders and in Knesset. The Joint List, a coalition of Israeli-Arab parties, won 13 Knesset seats in the most recent elections and tried to help form a governing coalition with liberal Israeli parties.
Hatem Bazian, a University of California, Berkeley lecturer who runs an Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project, delved into anti-Semitic conspiracy theories he cast as inhibiting Muslim political power in the United States.
Former U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., lost his bid to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 2017, shortly after the Investigative Project on Terrorism exposed his past anti-Semitic comments about Jewish political power. But to Bazian, Ellison's loss is an example of Islamophobia pushed by powerful Jewish interests.
The American Jewish Committee attacked "Keith Ellison when ran for the chairmanship of Democratic Party two weeks before the election and they unleashed a barrage of anti-Semitic attacks on him – that he's an anti-Semite, and so on," Bazian said. "And basically disrupted, or managed or worked to disrupt his campaign to be the chairman of the Democratic Party. If there's a time where the AJC needed to be on the record with the ADL and the JCLC, with AIPAC, on the record in countering Islamophobia, it would have been the moment for them to act in support of Keith Ellison's chairmanship of the Democratic Party. But they acted to support Zionism and Israel as the priority over actually defeating and countering Islamophobia."
Those Jewish and pro-Israel groups, Bazian continued, "constantly attacked Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and – again, if you listened to Linda Sarsour – she's been getting incoming barrages from all of these organizations because it is not for them. The ability of Muslims to stand on their own feet and represent our issues without it being censored or modified or regulated by these major organizations. So no Muslim figure on a national level, or organization, is to be allowed to have his or her own path toward empowering" Muslims.
Omar, who succeeded Ellison in the U.S. House, has repeatedly crossed into anti-Semitic rhetoric about Jewish mind control, dual loyalty and financial influence in politics. Bazian even tried to raise money for Omar's campaign after one outburst.
As we've reported, Sarsour has a long history of anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Sarsour, an official surrogate in U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, continued a pattern of tailoring the tenor of her message depending on her audience. At the 2018 Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) conference, for example, she blamed Jews for police shootings of unarmed black people because of an Anti-Defamation League program that takes police executives to Israel to learn about fighting terrorism and riots.
But during a talk at New York University last March, she put on a softer face, saying she is "cool with" people who don't share her views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as long as they can work together on other causes.
"I never went to a movement and asked people to fill out a form and say, 'please tell me all your political views.' I mean, that's not how it works," she said. Other people are trying "to pin up Jewish Americans and Muslim Americans," she claimed, asking "Who benefits from dividing these communities? ... It actually makes us all vulnerable. So I don't play into that."
But at AMP on Friday, Sarsour played into that in a big way. Progressive Zionists, she argued, cannot be allies.
"You tell me, 'Oh, I'm with you. You can't push me out of the movement because I'm also against white supremacy,'" Sarsour said. "Ask them this: How can you be against white supremacy in the United States of America, and the idea of living in a supremacist state based on race and class, but then support a state like Israel that is built on supremacy? That is built on the idea that Jews are supreme to everybody else. How do you, then, not support the caging of children on the U.S.-Mexican border, but then you support the detainment and detention of Palestinian children in Palestine? How does that work, sisters and brothers?"
For starters, there aren't terrorist groups running the government on the other side of the Mexican border – terrorist groups which call for America's destruction and build attack tunnels and launch rockets at civilians in pursuit of that goal.
Sarsour might in turn be asked how she can stay silent when that terrorist group – Hamas – puts Palestinians in Gaza in harm's way, or prioritizes building a terrorist infrastructure over building an economy that enhances to the quality of life for those Palestinians?
She also could be asked why, as a "progressive" activist, she is so eager to alienate a reliable, allied voting bloc. An American Jewish Committee survey released in June showed 72 percent of respondents believe "a thriving State of Israel is vital for the long-term future of the Jewish people." A nearly identical number, 71 percent, had an unfavorable view of President Trump. The most recent Gallup poll data finds 95 percent of American Jews view Israel favorably.
More than 70 percent of American Jews voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. In the 2018 mid-term elections, nearly 80 percent of American Jews voted for Democratic candidates.
But Sarsour was joined by CAIR San Francisco chapter director Zahra Billoo in shunning any alliances with Zionists. Billoo, who last year told AMP, "I am not going to legitimize a country [Israel] that I don't believe has a right to exist," spoke at an AMP session Saturday, criticizing what she saw as unfair sacrifices needed to engage in interfaith dialogue.
"I agree, more polarization is good," she said. "For so long in Muslim interfaith conversations we talked about the 'Israel litmus test.' If a Muslim shows up to an interfaith space, we need to be willing to compromise on Israel's right to exist for us to be able to participate in that conversation. I'm done with that. If there's anything I learned from the Women's March debacle, it's that we give and we give and we give, and it's not enough. We change the name, we acknowledge the right to exist and ... it's not enough. And so let me state unequivocally, that I am now applying the Palestine litmus test to any interfaith space that I am in. If you want to be in community with me, my people and the Palestinians I work in solidarity with, then let's have a conversation about how Israel as it exists today is an illegitimate state ... I am not going to support its right to exist. And I'm not going to say that just so people feel better about it. If you want to be in community with me, if you want to work with me, where are you on Palestine?"
Billoo spent about 48 hours in September on the board of the national Women's March, only to be removed by March leaders who said "some of her public statements incompatible with the values and mission of the organization."
She joined the board as Sarsour left it. During Sarsour's tenure, the March endured a series of anti-Semitic controversies which prompted several prominent sponsors to cut off support for the movement.
AMP speakers spent a lot of time lamenting the hatred and bigotry they see as inherent in Zionism and in anyone who supports Israel. But their implicit, and sometimes explicit, goal is to eliminate a nation of 9 million people. They want to remove the world's only Jewish state to create the 58th Muslim majority country. No other country is discussed in remotely existential concerns. And that does not seem to have given anyone pause.