A virulently antisemitic terror-tied group has managed to convince media and politicians that it has been magically transformed into a respectable legitimate "civil rights group." Created in 1994 by Islamists supportive of Hamas, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has for 29 years systematically engaged in promoting and disseminating vile antisemitic attacks on Jews.
Take, for example, CAIR Michigan Executive Director Dawud Walid, who has invoked religion to attack Jews specifically.
"Who are those who incurred the wrath of Allah? They are the Jews, they are the Jews," he said in a 2012 sermon. He also blamed "pro-Israeli occupation organizations and activists" for "Islamophobia, and anti-Muslim bigotry," which he said was "one of the greatest social ills facing American today."
Seven years later, Walid gave another sermon in which he pointed to the Quran to explain why Jews did not merit Allah's mercy. It was "because they saw the injustice, they saw the anti-social behavior, they saw the lewdness, and they just were complacent," Walid said. "They were cool with it. They didn't speak out against it. They allowed it to become part of the status quo."
But not all CAIR officials are as explicit as Walid. In May 2023, CAIR published praise for the Biden administration's "U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism" because it would not "support efforts to silence free speech such as the right to engage in BDS, and does not declare that criticism of or opposition to the Israeli occupation is inherently anti-Semitic."
As the Investigative Project on Terrorism's new book, CAIR's Antisemitism Unmasked, meticulously documents, it is through an obsessive, venomous focus on Israel that CAIR has sustained its lengthy record of antisemitic rhetoric.
At an August 2021 protest against President Biden's White House meeting with then-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, CAIR founder and executive director Nihad Awad called the elected president of a U.S. ally "the leader of the Israeli Taliban," and claimed the meeting sends "a message to the world that Israel is an exception, Israel can abuse human rights because it has an agency on Capitol Hill that pours money in the pockets of candidates and congresspeople."
Last month, CAIR New York leader Afaf Nasher condemned the City University of New York (CUNY) "for joining dishonest, cowardly, and dangerous attacks" on student leader Fatima Mohammed. In her May 12 law school commencement address, Mohammed had claimed that "Israel continues to indiscriminately rain bullets and bombs on worshipers, murdering the old, the young, attacking even funerals and graveyards... our silence is no longer acceptable."
CAIR officials continue to push the narrative American Jews are to blame for policies they don't like. Jews are accused of dual loyalty, and of coercing America into policies that are bad for the country. Obviously in CAIR's view, support for Israel cannot be good policy. It is only the product of serving someone else's agenda, of making American interests subordinate to Israel's.
During the May 2021 Gaza war, CAIR's National Strategic Communications Director Ahmed Rehab, who also heads CAIR's Chicago office, excoriated U.S. politicians' support for Israel, and accused them of being influenced by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In response to a May 12 tweet in which former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said, "Arizona stands with Israel," Rehab wrote: "Governor Doug Ducey stands with powerful AIPAC lobbyists in fear of losing reelection financing."
Separately, Rehab wrote: "But of course, it is all about the Benjamins. And the Jacksons and the Hamiltons. It usually is with all US lobby-centric politics. If the naked truth offends you, I'm happy to chip in for your therapy." Rehab's post invokes Congresswoman Ilhan Omar's earlier antisemitic tropes about Jewish control of American policy that were strongly defended by CAIR.
During a 1998 speech at Georgetown University, Awad insinuated Jews controlled the Clinton administration's foreign policy: "Who is opposing the latest agreement with Iraq? Look at their names. Look at their ethnic, their ethnic or religious or racial background. You will see that these are the same groups that belong to the same interest groups in the administration."
A decade later, Awad said 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."
In November 2021, Awad made it clear that he does not believe Israel has the right to exist. The comments, made at a weekend conference organized by the rabidly anti-Israel group American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), described Israel's most populous city, Tel Aviv, as "occupied" and Awad prayed "it will be free later."
Denying Jews the right to self-determination, which Awad did, meets the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)'s working definition of antisemitism accepted by the U.S. State Department in 2016.
At the same conference, CAIR's San Francisco chapter leader Zahra Billoo called on American Muslims to reject overtures from "polite Zionists," even on issues on which they might work together, and warned that any groups supporting Zionism "are not your friends."
"We need to pay attention to the Anti-Defamation League," she said. "We need to pay attention to the Jewish Federation ... the Zionist synagogues ... Hillel chapters on our campuses."
After Billoo's remarks drew strong condemnation, CAIR rushed to her defense, painting her as a victim of an "online smear campaign." The Islamist organization once again dismissed the criticism as "false allegations of anti-Semitism in a cynical attempt to silence American Muslims who speak up for Palestinian human rights."
During the 2014 Gaza war, Billoo compared Israel to Nazi Germany when she wrote: "Israel 'defending' itself from Palestinians is analogous to Nazi Germany defending itself from Jewish uprising."
"Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis" also is among the "contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life," detailed in the IHRA definition. But CAIR leaders do it repeatedly.
CAIR Los Angeles Executive Director Hussam Ayloush used the term "zionazis" to describe Israeli Jews. In email correspondence, he states: "Indeed, the zionazis are a bunch of nice people; just like their nazi brethren! It is just that the world keeps making up lies about them! It is so unfair." In 2013, he wrote: "...Modern states operate on basis of laws. Racist states (such as old S. Africa, Nazi Germany, Israel) operate on basis of race."
Rallies co-sponsored by CAIR have repeatedly called for a Palestinian state "from the river to the sea." The slogan, a staple of anti-Israel events, envisions a new Palestinian state bordered by the Jordan River to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea to the west, swallowing up all of Israel.
Legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies are important expressions of free speech, as the IHRA definition explicitly declares. But "from the river to the sea" is not a criticism of Israeli policy; it is a call to eliminate an existing state. This interpretation is reaffirmed by the U.S. State Department's definition on antisemitism established in 2010.
CAIR officials also routinely vilify "Zionism." "Zionism is a racist, supremacist ideology," Ayloush wrote in a May 2022 tweet.
During a 2019 AMP convention, Awad cast Zionism as inherently hateful. "For me, at CAIR, as the executive director of CAIR, the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, we deal with racism, Islamophobia and Zionism on [a] daily basis," Awad said.
CAIR's works to pass off its hateful antisemitism as mere criticism of Israel, purportedly not directed at Jews. The consistent evidence of CAIR officials' long-standing hatreds, detailed in CAIR's Antisemitism Unmasked, proves otherwise.
Steven Emerson is executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism.