Dexter Van Zile, managing editor of the Middle East Forum's Focus on Western Islamism (FWI), spoke to a December 18 Middle East Forum Webinar (video) about the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a U.S. Islamist organization. The following summarizes his comments:
Nihad Awad, national executive director of CAIR, declared in a speech at a conference that he was "happy" Gazan Palestinian Arab civilians invaded Israel with Hamas during the October 7 massacre of Israelis. His comments were roundly condemned as antisemitic by President Biden's White House spokesman, who confirmed CAIR's removal from the administration's campaign against antisemitism.
Although Awad complained that his comments were taken "out of context," CAIR has been engaged in hostile remarks about Israel and Jews since its founding in 1994. Contrary to the progressives in the Democratic party, campus activists, and other leftists who support the Hamas terror group, President Biden is of the generation with the "historical memory" of World War II. He responded with a "visceral objection" to Hamas's October 7 pogrom, given the parallel between the atrocities committed during the attack and the worst acts perpetrated by the Nazis against Jews.
Mainstream America is strongly supportive of Israel, but Western Europe, with its greater number of Muslim migrants from countries where Jew-hatred and misogyny is widespread, is more susceptible to the influence of Islamist organizations and its threat to women and Jews. In the U.S., however, the pro-Hamas demonstrations "provide cover" for CAIR. It promotes itself as a "civil rights organization" opposed to antisemitism, despite its actions and pronouncements to the contrary. It has gained influence by presenting itself as the gatekeeper organization advocating for American Muslims, aided in that role by a lack of scrutiny from mainstream media.
The danger from CAIR and other Islamist organizations that purport to protect Muslim rights in the U.S. is that the poison of antisemitism they inject into U.S. society promotes hostility against Jews and Israel. Although Awad's rhetoric finds a willing audience among "the young and the woke" who are indoctrinated with anti-Israel ideology, Biden's condemnation provides an opening to "marginalize" CAIR.
Antisemitism is not only a moral and ethical threat to society, but also a "strategic threat" to the U.S. because the "Islamist hostility towards Jews in a civil society has knock-on effects." By fomenting distrust, it degrades social cohesion in society as a whole, thereby affecting every American. Biden's condemnation of CAIR invites opponents of Islamist organizations like CAIR to "draw a cordon sanitaire" to marginalize these organizations. Fostering conflict between ethnic groups by Islamist organizations, and particularly their hatred of American Jews, should be declared "intolerable."
CAIR's feet need to be held to the fire over their campaign of Jew-hatred, which makes them "outliers" worthy of disdain in a civil society. The organization should be singled out for its history of Jew-hatred and double-speak apologetics. This can be achieved by exposing its hypocrisy as a self-proclaimed human rights organization. If CAIR is unable to abide by civilized standards, it should be exiled. Setting healthy boundaries will promote a trickle-down effect into the body politic and inoculate society against toxic Islamist activities.
Similarly, recent congressional hearings of Ivy League presidents exposed the moral rot on U.S. campuses as each administrator equivocated with ambiguous statements instead of condemning campus demonstrations calling for the genocide of Jews and elimination of Israel. They, too, need to understand that if they remain silent in the face of behavior to "keep Jews out of the public square," they will be marginalized as outliers.
Furthermore, the acceptance by many of America's top universities of billions of dollars in foreign money from countries like Qatar that fund radicalization on campuses has had a net negative impact on these institutions. Documenting and exposing foreign money's malign influence on American institutions requires legislation to counter powerful lobbying groups that block transparency. MEF has extensively documented charitable federal funding of Islamist organizations in the U.S., but there remains a greater need to expose the institutions that are not reporting monies received from overseas.
Another way to marginalize CAIR is for Congress to hold it accountable for spreading antisemitism and violating its 503c status. If CAIR and other Islamist organizations in the U.S. are not challenged, America risks the nightmare Europe is experiencing from societal division and clashing values that are resulting in internecine hostility.
Alternative Muslim organizations such as Muslims Against Antisemitism (MAAS) promote Muslim interests without disparaging Jews. Zuhdi Jasser's organization, the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AFID), counters Islamism and empowers Muslims to be advocates of American values of universal human rights, liberty, and freedom. Ultimately, it comes down to the average American Muslim and their choices. Will the community and the imams continue to choose Islamist organizations, or will they eschew CAIR and the like? "They're the ones that essentially are the gatekeepers right now, and we need to see that change."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.