A former employee who alleged rampant sexual discrimination and harassment inside the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) was using "disturbingly false allegations" in a "systemic and continuous internet smear campaign" to get people to stop donating to, or working with the organization, CAIR said in a lawsuit filed last spring.
Lori Saroya's "public lies are damaging CAIR and the American Muslim community in ways that are significant and long lasting," CAIR's lawsuit claimed. But CAIR may have seen that damage as less harmful than a discovery process which could expose organizational secrets.
CAIR abruptly filed a stipulation to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning it cannot be refiled, on Friday. CAIR had told the federal court in Minnesota that it would file an amended complaint by then.
Throughout the fall, the two sides fought over CAIR's refusal to answer a series of defense interrogatories. While CAIR claimed it had provided much of the information, some requests "were interposed solely to annoy, oppress, harass and unduly burden CAIR."
The resulting discovery, Saroya's attorneys argued, would show she was not lying about "sexual harassment, gender discrimination, retaliation against those who raised these issues, gross financial mismanagement, disregard of basic governance requirements and duplicity about its raising of foreign funds, and at whether CAIR has been disingenuous with its Board, donors, chapters and volunteers, as well as the Muslim community at large."
For example, CAIR objected to her request for internal investigative reports involving misconduct within CAIR's national chapters because they "are distinct from the National organization."
But Saroya already produced a sampling of internal communications which challenged CAIR's assertion. In her initial response to CAIR's lawsuit, Saroya claimed that Executive Director Nihad Awad nixed the Dallas chapter's decision to hire a non-Muslim to run the chapter. Awad "found her to be not pro-Palestine enough and [indicated] that her writing on domestic violence was 'vulgar and disgusting.'"
Awad "threatened to dis-affiliate" the Dallas chapter if the job offer was not rescinded.
To keep the incident from becoming public, a CAIR staff attorney suggested paying the applicant $10,000 in two payments spaced five months apart, "with a non-disclosure agreement."
"The most serious risk she presents right now is in the form of public pressure and defamatory speech against" the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter, Danette Zaghari-Mask wrote.
CAIR, Saroya's response claimed, "spends substantial amounts of donors' money in order to threaten, intimidate and sue those who have the courage to speak about CAIR's culture of discrimination and misogyny," and pay settlements in exchange for their silence.
While CAIR denies this claim, National Public Radio reported last spring that it spoke with "18 former employees at the national office and several prominent chapters who said there was a general lack of accountability when it came to perceived gender bias, religious bias or mismanagement. Many of those interviewed, both men and women, asked NPR not to use their names for fear of legal or professional retaliation."
Saroya ran CAIR's Minnesota chapter before moving to Washington to work as its chapter development director.
In a Facebook post Sunday, Saroya said it was clear that CAIR "dropped its lawsuit before it was forced to produce the documents that demonstrated the truth of what many of us have been saying about the organization, and before its officers and board members had to answer questions, under oath, from my attorneys."
"There should be no mistake about what happened here," she added. "The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) tried to silence those of us who have spoken out, and to frighten others into silence.
"But CAIR failed. It lost. We won."
Who Funds CAIR?
In its lawsuit, CAIR claimed that Saroya slandered the organization by saying it "is funded by foreign governments or terrorist organizations."
"CAIR cannot have it both ways," Saroya's attorneys wrote in the November motion. "[I]f it maintains that Saroya has made false statements about its foreign donors, or has been deceptive about its funding, it must disclose the evidence about its solicitation of foreign funds, including those from whom it solicited those funds, and its receipt of foreign funds, including those from whom it has accepted funds, whether in the form of donations, grants or loans."
CAIR moved to dismiss the suit instead.
It has operated and grown with significant foreign funding, public records show. And that support continues.
"CAIR has made clear that it does not dispute that it accepts funding from individuals and entities located outside the United States," a November court filing said.
In a 2001 news release, CAIR insisted it does "not support directly or indirectly, or receive support from, any overseas group or government."
In 2005, for example, CAIR reported $1.67 million in donations. Its tax filing shows that 76 percent of that haul – $1.26 million – came from donors in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. That includes $600,000 from a Saudi businessman and $219,563 from the UAE embassy in Washington.
The following year, a CAIR delegation led by Executive Director Nihad Awad and national spokesman Ibrahim Hooper traveled to Saudi Arabia and the UAE seeking more donations to create an endowment. "Talal Khoori (UAE national of Iranian origin), is believed to have donated one million dollars to CAIR," said a State Department cable summarizing a meeting with the delegation.
CAIR's membership had plummeted at the time, the Washington Times reported, making the foreign funding even more significant to the organization's survival.
Since then, the UAE has labeled CAIR a terrorist group.
But it is unclear whether it still receives money from Emirati sources. Donor identities were redacted from publicly released tax returns and, since 2018, are no longer required.
In 2009, CAIR reportedly sought money from Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to underwrite a program distributing 1 million Qurans in the United States.
CAIR briefly lost its tax exempt status after failing to file tax returns for three straight years. In a 2011 packet seeking to have its tax exempt status restored, CAIR reported that, "the Government of Qatar has contributed $405,000 over the five year period."
"Qatar is Hamas' most important financial backer and foreign ally," Deutsche Welle reported last year. "Qatari Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani was the first state leader to visit the Hamas government in 2012. So far, the emirate has transferred €1.5 billion ($1.8 billion) to Hamas."
When CAIR was created, it was included among an internal list of U.S.-based organizations operating under the umbrella of the "Palestine Committee." Additional internal records obtained by the FBI show that the Muslim Brotherhood established the Palestine Committee "to make the Palestinian cause victorious and to support it with what it needs of media, money, men, and all of that."
The same document praised Hamas, "which was bred in the bosom of the mother movement, 'The Muslim Brotherhood,' – restored hope and life to the Muslim nation and the notion that the flare of jihad has not died out and that the banner of Islamic Jihad is still raised."
Awad recently issued a vehement denial that CAIR was connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. "if we were a Brotherhood institution, we would proudly announce that," he wrote in an Arabic post. "But that's a pride we don't claim."
But the internal Palestine Committee records undermine Awad's denial. In addition to placing CAIR within the Palestine Committee's umbrella, Awad appears on a telephone list of committee members, along with his co-founder at CAIR, Omar Ahmad. A third CAIR figure, former national board member Nabil Sadoun, also is on the committee telephone list.
These documents, and others, were among the reasons the FBI cut off non-investigative contact with CAIR back in 2008. "[U]nless we can resolve whether there continues to be a connection between CAIR or its executives and HAMAS," an FBI official wrote, "the FBI does not view CAIR as an appropriate liaison partner."
There are a lot of questions about CAIR's funding and internal workings. By dropping its lawsuit against a former employee, it may have been trying to keep those answers a secret.
Copyright © 2022. Investigative Project on Terrorism. All rights reserved.