Recently, we lightly mocked the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for its quick condemnation of Al-Qaeda No. 2 man Ayman Al-Zawahiri's slur of President-Elect Barack Obama as a "house Negro." Way to take the hard stand, folks.
Our point was serious though. If CAIR wants to be accepted as the mainstream Muslim-American civil rights advocacy organization that it claims to be, it must take an unequivocal stand against terror from all actors, including those who kill, and those who enable the killers, in the name of Palestinian liberation.
It has never done so. And evidence unveiled at the Hamas-support trial of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) shows why. CAIR was born of an effort to support Hamas in America – its founders part of the Palestine Committee who agreed in 1993 that a prospective peace deal was bad and who saw the need for a new organization to bring their message, surreptitiously, to Washington.
HLF now stands guilty of routing more than $12 million to benefit Hamas through a series of Palestinian charities. As witnesses like Matthew Levitt and Bruce Hoffman testified, that support – even when channeled to humanitarian needs – is crucial in winning popular support for the terrorist group responsible for it.
And, as the evidence made clear, the view about HLF and the charities it supported was not merely an Israeli belief. Palestinian Authority security documents reach the same conclusion. That took away a key defense argument from the first HLF trial, which ended in a mistrial last year.
Quite simply, it is time to move past the reflexive and discredited denials. If CAIR, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) want to show that we're wrong when we consider them terror apologists, they can start by offering unequivocal endorsements of the jury's verdict and their respect for the justice system even when it disappoints them.
Don't hold your breath. On Wednesday, CAIR issued a brief statement:
"We believe this case was based more on fear-mongering than on the facts. It is particularly troubling that the government chose to use testimony from an anonymous witness, which deprives the defendants of their full right to confront their accusers. We expect the defendants to appeal this verdict and believe that it will eventually be overturned."
It took them two days for them to come up with that.
Despite CAIR's years of alleging a conspiracy of Islamophobes and Zionists plotting against them, Monday's verdict shows there is no such thing. There are, however, facts and damning exhibits that show HLF's support of Hamas was a not-so-hidden secret. When they defended HLF, they defended that agenda. That evidence has not been contested and cannot be after jurors found it to be incontrovertible.
M. Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American-Islamic Forum for Democracy, which is dedicated to combating the Islamist influence in American politics and culture, issued a statement hailing the verdict and challenging those who seek to case this as a campaign victimizing the American Muslim community:
"(S)uch victimology has no place in representing the interests of Americans and of Muslims. It was not the American government who made it into a crime, it was a jury this week of our peers who heard the same facts and unanimously convicted these criminals on all charges. Their crimes of financing and contributing to terrorism are obvious to all fair-minded individuals who heard the case fully made by the prosecutors.
This verdict proves that, in fact, the target of the Department of Justice is not the American Muslim community, but rather the target is terror promoting and facilitating criminals who in this case happen to be Muslims. Any American who knowingly finances an organization which uses terrorism as a tactic should now be warned."
The time has come as well for a renewed scrutiny of the HLF evidence as it pertains to the group's defenders and the case's many unindicted co-conspirators such as ISNA and CAIR. The same holds true for HLF defenders like MPAC and the Muslim American Society (MAS). Government agencies, both at the federal, state and local level, Jewish and Christian groups engaging in interfaith dialogue with MPAC or ISNA all need to reassess the credibility of their outreach partners. In CAIR's case, the organization remains under the leadership of Nihad Awad and chairman emeritus Omar Ahmad, the Palestine Committee members who participated in a pivotal 1993 meeting of Hamas members and sympathizers to plot a strategy to derail the American-led peace initiative. When asked about his attendance, Awad later told FBI agents he could not recall being at the meeting, a brazen lie that is also a federal crime in lying to law enforcement.
What kind of dialogue can you have with people who cannot condemn terrorist groups or embrace the product of the American justice system?
Contrast this with the response when jurors deadlocked in the first HLF trial. CAIR and other American Islamist organizations couldn't get their releases out fast enough. The lack of a verdict, we were told over and over again, was proof that terror-financing cases were misguided wastes of government money. CAIR's release last year touted the jury's verdict:
"After 19 days of deliberation, the jurors did not return even a single guilty verdict on any of the almost 200 charges against these men, whose only 'crime' was providing food, clothing and shelter to Palestinian women and children. It seems clear that the majority of the jury agreed with many observers of the trial who believe the charges were built on fear, not facts. This is a stunning defeat for prosecutors and a victory for America's legal system."
"Against heavy odds, the American justice system has prevailed once again," then-CAIR Chairman Parvez Ahmed wrote after the mistrial.
When the Treasury Department shut HLF down in 2001 for its support of Hamas, CAIR joined with ISNA, MPAC, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and others to blast the move as "an unjust and counterproductive move that can only damage America's credibility with Muslims in this country and around the world and could create the impression that there has been a shift from a war on terrorism to an attack on Islam."
ISNA and MPAC issued their own releases following last year's mistrial. ISNA hailed "the hard work and diligence that the jury has put into deliberating the evidence presented in the federal prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation and other defendants." MPAC took a more nuanced, wait-and-see approach, but said shutting down HLF contributed to "the lack of relief and aid organizations operating in the Palestinian territories [which] directly exacerbates the humanitarian crisis. In effect, the US government is oftentimes seen as turning a blind eye to the economic, medical and political crises in Palestine."
If a retrial led to acquittals, MPAC called for prosecutors to reconsider "naming over a hundred individuals and organizations as un-indicted coconspirators in the case."
Now that a different outcome is in hand, MPAC issued a statement cautioning "against allowing the case's outcome to undermine the partnership Muslim American organizations have built with government agencies to promote Muslim American political participation, improve global U.S.-Muslim world relations, and enhance our national security."
There was no endorsement of the verdict or the rule of law. "The verdict came as a surprise," the statement said.
The Muslim American Society (MAS) issued a statement that questions the jury's overwhelming decision.
"It is amazing how two different juries can hear the same evidence and come up with a different conclusion," said MAS Freedom Executive Director Mahdi Bray.
Not exactly a "we respect the jury's decision" moment, is it? Let's be generous and assume Bray wasn't paying attention to the retrial, because this jury saw very different evidence from the first. This trial featured a former HLF insider, who told jurors he knew his support for HLF would benefit Hamas. They heard from Hoffman, a renowned terror expert, who told jurors that a social support network like that supported by HLF was pivotal in the history of all successful terrorist movements.
And it saw the PA evidence that HLF was a financier of Hamas and that the Palestinian charity committees it supported were Hamas controlled.
Government officials should treat CAIR the same way they treat Hamas. No negotiation and no recognition until it denounces terrorism and the specific organizations that carry it out in the name of Palestinian liberation, denounce Hamas by name and endorse a peaceful solution that founders Nihad Awad and Omar Ahmad so clearly opposed in Philadelphia.
Finally, a note about courage. We congratulate federal prosecutors Barry Jonas, Elizabeth Shapiro and James Jacks and the FBI agents on the case for their perseverance and the series of key adjustments they made. We congratulate Department of Justice officials who saw that the HLF case – and the millions of dollars sent to a terrorist group that actively seeks to thwart American policy and, by extension, American security – was worth fighting for, despite a well-oiled public relations campaign by HLF's Islamist friends.
But last week's verdict would not have been possible without the heart of Kristina Williams, the juror in last year's mistrial who refused to cave in to bullying and brow-beating from a fellow juror intent on acquitting. Williams had no stake in the case but she refused to compromise on her values and her focus on what the evidence showed. Americans owe this woman a debt of gratitude.
The verdict Williams helped make possible proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the evidence of support for terrorism against the HLF defendants was incontrovertible and not the results of a "US-Zionist" conspiracy as their defenders alleged.
To CAIR, MPAC, MAS and ISNA, the bad image problem for Muslims that you so often complain about is not the result of bad media or racism or terrorist experts like me, who you constantly blame as the source of Islam's image problems in the U.S. The image problem is a product of Islamic extremism and terrorism that you fail to genuinely condemn. It is most focused on CAIR. When NBC journalist Jim Popkin asked Ibrahim Hooper in a telephone interview whether Hooper or CAIR condemns Hamas or Hizballah as terrorist groups by name, Ibrahim simply hung up the phone. When FOX News reporter David Lee Miller asked a CAIR official if they would condemn Hamas and Hizballah by name, the CAIR official pointedly refused.
You do not have an image problem. You have a problem documented in the foundation of your organization and the continued leadership provided by people who worked to derail hopes for peace and lie to the American people about it. You cannot change that reality or truly serve the cause you espouse until you come clean.