Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank asked that simple question last week after the normally publicity-mad Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) told him it had nothing to say about a BDS chapter's promotion of a "mapping project" condemned as antisemitic and a possible incitement to violence.
BDS is the campaign to isolate Israel through economic, academic, and social boycotts. The interactive map posted online earlier this month showed the world addresses for dozens of Jewish organizations and others who support Israel's existence.
The goal, the webpage says, is "to reveal the local entities and networks that enact devastation, so we can dismantle them. Every entity has an address, every network can be disrupted."
As antisemitic violence surges in the United States and across the world, a public call to disrupt Jewish groups and their allies understandably set off alarm bells.
Milbank called it "outright antisemitic bigotry ... and implicit invitations to violence." It is "the latest manifestation of an antisemitic canard alleging secret, hidden Jewish control of, and the buying of influence over, academia, the media, corporations, charities, law enforcement and more."
BDS representatives didn't respond to his requests for comment. CAIR told him it "is not an issue we're dealing with at this time," begging the question.
If you even casually follow CAIR, you know why not. CAIR leaders share the BDS opposition to Israel's existence, often in terms that are very consistent.
CAIR-San Francisco Executive Director Zahra Billoo didn't publish a map, but she told an American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) conference last November that Jewish organizations from the Anti-Defamation League to synagogues to campus Hillels "are your enemies" if they support Israel. "There are organizations and infrastructures out there who are working to harm you."
CAIR not only did nothing to disavow Billoo's comments, it lashed out at critics for what it called an "online smear campaign." It called the uproar the result of "false allegations of anti-Semitism in a cynical attempt to silence American Muslims who speak up for Palestinian human rights."
It shouldn't need to be said, but calling Jews enemies who are out to hurt Muslims is not speaking up for Palestinian rights. It is sowing hate.
At the same event, CAIR co-founder and Executive Director Nihad Awad called Tel Aviv "occupied," implying all of Israel is illegitimate, occupied territory. He prayed that Israel's most populous city "will be free later."
Why not condemn an antisemitic BDS map?
Could it be because of Awad and fellow CAIR co-founder Omar Ahmad's places on the Palestine Committee? That was a Muslim Brotherhood-created Hamas-support network in America which operated during the 1990s and early 2000s. Hamas rejects any peaceful settlement with Israel and vows to fight until it is destroyed.
This isn't some far-flung conspiracy theory. It is proven in internal committee records seized by the FBI and admitted into evidence in open court. See for yourself in this Palestine Committee telephone list. Ahmad is listed under a pseudonym as "Omar Yehya."
He "was a leader within the Palestine Committee," FBI Special Agent Lara Burns testified in 2008.
And CAIR is included on a 1994 Palestine Committee agenda dated weeks after CAIR's self-identified birth date.
CAIR, prosecutors wrote, was "a participant in an ongoing and ultimately unlawful conspiracy to support a designated terrorist organization, a conspiracy from which CAIR never withdrew."
Milbank wouldn't know any of these facts if he searched the Post's archives. The Post has never reported them.
Given its profile and Capitol Hill headquarters, Post readers also should be informed about some of CAIR's questionable internal issues. But the newspaper also has failed to report about the growing number of CAIR employees, past and present, who allege sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and other malfeasance within the organization.
CAIR sued one whistleblower for defamation, but abruptly moved to dismiss before discovery would begin, potentially exposing some of those complaints, along with information about its foreign funding sources.
Perhaps Milbank's column can serve as the beginning of a more clear-eyed look at CAIR within the mainstream media. It is difficult to come up with an example of another organization that continues to receive uncritical coverage despite such a deep, documented history.
In December, we listed examples of antisemitic rhetoric from CAIR officials throughout the organization's existence.
"Look at their names," Awad said during a 1998 speech at Georgetown University, insinuating that Jews in the Clinton administration were "pushing the United States to go to war on behalf of a third party."
A decade later, Awad said that U.S. policy toward Israel comes "at the expense of American interests." In 2014, as ISIS established a caliphate and Hamas terrorism instigated war in Gaza, Awad called Israel "the biggest threat to world peace and security."
Awad posted a statement from the Palestinian BDS National Committee late Wednesday afternoon. It says the BDS movement "has no connection to and does not endorse the Mapping Project in Boston, Massachusetts."
CAIR did not similarly post the statement, which does not condemn the map itself or its antisemitic nature. Instead, it continues the pattern of attacking people for noticing.
"We reject and condemn the cynical use of this project as a pretext for repressive attacks on the Palestine solidarity movement by anti-Palestinian racists and apologists for Israeli apartheid, especially AIPAC and the ADL," it said. "Their smears and intimidation are clear attempts to shut down freedom of expression, including the right to boycott, in support of the growing consensus that Israel today, like South Africa in the past, is an apartheid state."
That's strikingly similar to what CAIR said in defending Billoo. As noted above, CAIR dismissed criticism of Billoo as coming from "the Islamophobic, anti-Palestinian groups that use false allegations of anti-Semitism in a cynical attempt to silence American Muslims who speak up for Palestinian human rights."
Got that? The real haters are the people who recognize and challenge the hate.
Given this mindset, of course CAIR told Milbank that the BDS map "is not an issue we're dealing with at this time." In its view, it's a righteous move.
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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