In yet another example of political expediency overcoming better judgment, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other top Democrats are all slated to speak Jan. 17 to help the Council on American-Islamic Relations' (CAIR) Chicago chapter raise money during its annual banquet.
CAIR, as we have reported many times, has roots in an American-based Hamas-support network, a conclusion reached by the FBI and upheld by a federal judge. CAIR was "a participant in an ongoing and ultimately unlawful conspiracy to support a designated terrorist organization," federal prosecutors wrote in 2007, "a conspiracy from which CAIR never withdrew."
The Chicago chapter is led by Ahmed Rehab, who last year took to social media to write "F*** Zionism." Rehab was angry that the French National Assembly adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) anti-Semitism definition. "Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination," the crux of Zionism, is among the main examples of anti-Semitism cited. The definition specifically states that criticizing Israeli policies or actions like "any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic." It is the rejection of the Jewish state that crosses the line.
CAIR officials reject the distinction.
CAIR was created in 1994 by Omar Ahmad and Nihad Awad, who were listed as members of the Muslim Brotherhood's "Palestine Committee." Internal records seized by the FBI show that the Muslim Brotherhood established the committee to support Hamas "with what it needs of media, money, men and all of that." Other internal documents placed CAIR among the Palestine Committee's branches.
CAIR's Palestine Committee connections led the FBI to cut off outreach – non-investigative contact with the organization – in 2008. "CAIR was named as an unindicted co-conspirator" in the Hamas-financing trial against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), then-FBI Assistant Director Richard Powers wrote. Evidence in that trial "demonstrated a relationship among CAIR, individual CAIR founders (including its current President Emeritus and its Executive Director) and the Palestine Committee," which was connected to Hamas.
"[U]nless we can resolve whether there continues to be a connection between CAIR or its executives and HAMAS," Powers wrote, "the FBI does not view CAIR as an appropriate liaison partner."
The policy remains in effect.
CAIR isn't the only unindicted co-conspirator the Illinois politicians will join at the banquet. Kifah Mustapha, imam and director at the Prayer Center in Orland Park, Ill., also is slated to speak. Like CAIR, Mustapha made the co-conspirator list as a member "of the US Muslim Brotherhood's Palestine Committee and/or its organizations."
In fact, the Illinois State Police in 2010 rescinded Mustapha's credentials as the agency's first volunteer Muslim chaplain after the Investigative Project on Terrorism exposed his work raising money for HLF, the committee's official fundraising arm.
Mustapha sued the Illinois State Police claiming violations of his 1st and 14th Amendment rights, but in 2013, the state won a motion for summary judgment.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Ronald A. Guzmán cited a deposition by then-ISP Deputy Director Thomas Keen, who said he was particularly motivated to keep Mustapha out after seeing a video showing Mustapha "up on the stage singing about Jihad and martyrdom and . . . with children in view of the camera and they're passing around the rifle and dancing and kind of celebrating the rifle and appearing to celebrate . . . Jihad and martyrdom."
Mustapha is still raising money. On Jan. 17, he'll do it for CAIR.
CAIR co-founder Omar Ahmad was a driving force within the Palestine Committee, FBI Agent Lara Burns testified in 2008. He planned, convened and moderated an October 1993 Palestine Committee meeting in Philadelphia where members discussed ways to "derail" a U.S.-led peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.
A witness told the FBI that Ahmad, who also went by the name Omar Yehya, became the Palestine Committee's president after founder Mousa Abu Marzook's deportation from the United States.
In addition, CAIR provides unflinching support for the authoritarian, journalist-jailing, military interventionist Turkish government led by Islamist Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan has provided refuge for Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas operatives, including Hamas operatives plotting terrorist attacks.
All of this information has been in the public domain for years, long enough that elected officials can't claim ignorance. But Pritzker, who did not respond to a request for comment, apparently chooses to ignore CAIR's troubling record.
"I commend CAIR-Chicago for all its hard work and continued efforts in pursing cross-cultural exchange and understanding in our communities," Pritzker said in January, endorsing the 2020 banquet.
We've written before about Durbin's close relationship with CAIR, which came after a more suspicious start. During a 2003 Senate hearing, Durbin described CAIR as "unusual in its extreme rhetoric and its association with groups that are suspect..."
Other speakers have their own record of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric, including U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, and former Congressman and current Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.
It's difficult to imagine so many elected officials happily overlooking an organization's checkered history if it was affiliated with another religious or ethnic group. CAIR has been able to maintain its influence thanks to too many people – especially in politics and in the media – failing to confront the organization and its leaders about their often extreme rhetoric and the documented link to a terror-support network. This CAIR-Chicago banquet is just the latest example.
Steven Emerson is Executive Director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism (www.investigativeproject.org), the author of eight books on national security and terrorism, the producer of two documentaries, and the author of hundreds of articles in national and international publications.
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