Nihad Awad normally presents himself as mild mannered and measured. That demeanor has helped the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) co-founder and executive director appear on national news channels and be welcomed in congressional offices.
But his true radicalism was exposed Saturday when he called Tel Aviv "occupied" and prayed for it to be freed. It is Israel's most populous city, the place where Israel declared its independence.
Awad's reference to an "occupied" Tel Aviv revealed that he does not accept Israel's right to exist.
"We have to fight. We have to take the fight to the other side. Moving the [U.S.] embassy, our embassy, from Tel Aviv which is occupied, to a city [Jerusalem] that's supposed to be protected under international law, to move that embassy we should not accept that as a de facto," Awad said. "We have to pressure the administration to take our embassy back to Tel Aviv. And inshallah [God willing], it will be free later."
Denying Jews the right to self-determination, which Awad did, meets the definition of antisemitism accepted by the U.S. State Department in 2016.
Gil Troy, a distinguished scholar in North American history at McGill University who also writes on antisemitism, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism he was "deeply grateful" for Awad's comments.
"Mr. Awad was being honest – unlike most of his comrades," Troy said. "His brutal honesty – which essentially calls for a new anti-Jewish genocide 75 years after Auschwitz – exposes the lie that Palestinian extremists like him would be satisfied with any kind of compromise. It makes it clear that the hatred against Israel has to do with what Israel is – a Jewish democratic state – not what Israel does. And it should confront many Americans – including some deluded Jews – with the uncomfortable facts that this main obstacle to peace in the Middle East is not Israel's presence in the territories, but Palestinian fanatics' rejection of Israel's presence – period."
In calling Tel Aviv "occupied," Awad uttered a truth that American Islamists have spent decades trying to keep secret.
Awad was among 25 members of what federal prosecutors described as "Hamas' support network in the United States" who met over a 1993 weekend conference in Philadelphia to strategize ways to "derail" the American-led Oslo Accords. "We've always demanded the 1948 territories," meaning all of Israel, said Omar Ahmad, Awad's co-founder at CAIR.
"Yes," an unnamed speaker replied. "But we don't say that publicly. You cannot say that publicly, in front of the Americans." Ahmad agreed: "No, we didn't say that to the Americans."
Awad just did.
At another point, the Philadelphia meeting focused on ways the group could support Hamas without being labeled as terrorists. "War is deception," Shukri Abu Baker, the leader of a U.S.-based Hamas-financing arm, told Ahmad. "... Deceive, camouflage, pretend that you're leaving while you're walking that way...Deceive your enemy."
An active civil lawsuit alleges that Awad's host Saturday, AMP, is part of a deception to continue the work of a group called the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP). The IAP was the propaganda arm of a now-defunct network called the "Palestine Committee," which was created by the Muslim Brotherhood to help Hamas politically and financially in the United States.
For years, AMP conferences have featured speeches challenging Israel's legitimacy.
Awad did just that in 2019, casting Zionism as inherently hateful. At CAIR, he said, "we deal with racism, Islamophobia and Zionism on [a] daily basis."
Billoo also spoke at last weekend's AMP gathering. Her blind hatred for anyone who supports Israel prompted her to reject overtures from and shun what she described as "polite Zionists" even on issues on which they might work together. She blasted me and Middle East Forum founder Daniel Pipes as "vehement fascists," but warned that any groups supporting Zionism "are not your friends."
"We need to pay attention to the Anti-Defamation League," Billoo said. "We need to pay attention to the Jewish Federation ... the Zionist synagogues ... Hillel chapters on our campuses."
Those who advocate for a two-state solution – one that leaves Israel intact – "are your enemies," she said moments later. "There are organizations and infrastructures out there who are working to harm you. Make no mistake of it. They would sell you down the line if they could. And they very often do behind your back. I mean, the Zionist organizations, I mean the foreign policy organizations who say, they're not Zionists, but want a two-state solution."
Billoo also repeated the antisemitic smear that police exchange programs in Israel lead to American police violence against black people.
This is a lie. No tactical training is involved in any police exchange program in Israel, an IPT investigation found. Critics have failed to produce any whistleblower to support their claims. Even the anti-Israel group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), one of the principal messengers behind that false "deadly exchange" narrative now acknowledges that "[s]uggesting that Israel is the start or source of American police violence or racism ... furthers an antisemitic ideology."
Awad's and Billoo's anti-Jewish sentiments were echoed by other speakers.
At an AMP session Friday, staunch anti-Zionist and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activist Miko Peled claimed "Zionism is terrorism." He also argued that fighting the existence of a Jewish state is good for Jews and equated Zionism with racism and white supremacy.
"Rejecting Zionism cannot possibly be antisemitic," Peled said, "because Zionism belongs in the column with antisemitism, with racism, with white supremacy." He further claimed that "Palestinian resistance is not terrorism" and blamed Zionists for bringing "violence" and "antisemitic vitriol to the Holy Land."
Peled also lauded the "[Palestinian] uprising" in May that saw Hamas and other terrorists indiscriminately fire rockets toward Israeli civilians. "They stood together as one nation and they showed the world that Palestine is a single country," Peled said. "It is not Israel/Palestine, it is not Israel and the occupied territories. It's a single country occupied where Palestinians are oppressed.
The "1948 territories" also were on the mind of Ahmad Abuznaid, executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. During a speech to the AMP conference Friday, he praised Palestinian steadfastness.
"And so whether in [Palestine] in '48, in the occupied territories, in the refugee camps, or here in the U.S., we know we will continue to resist, we know we will continue to organize until one day we all go home."
"This kind of essentialist, irrational hatred, certainly fits Professor Judea Pearl's definition of 'Zionophobia,'" Troy said, "meaning the irrational, obsessive hatred of Israel, reflecting a desire to destroy the Jewish State (which would kill 7 million Jews and 2 million Arabs). And it sits on centuries of more traditional Jew-hatred, resonating with haters obsessed with Jews and now the collective Jew, Israel. So I thank Mr. Awad for this Hanukkah 'present,' this reminder that Jews, who fought for their freedom against a brutal dictator 2,000 years ago, still face brutal dictators today, who show as much contempt for Jewish life in Tel Aviv (and elsewhere) as they do for democracy itself."
Steven Emerson is executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, 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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