Zead Ramadan, board president of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), is eyeing a bigger platform from which to promote his Islamist agenda: a seat on the New York City Council. If he prevails, the city that endured 9/11 will count among its lawmakers a senior official in an organization linked to the financing of terrorists and intent on frustrating law enforcement efforts to foil the next jihad plot.
A Democrat and member of Community Board 12, one of 59 local representative bodies serving neighborhoods across New York, Ramadan has formally announced his candidacy to succeed the term-limited Robert Jackson in northern Manhattan's District 7. He has gotten off to a quick start in fundraising and an even quicker start in playing the victim card, no doubt hoping to preempt criticism of his association with CAIR. "Ready 2 get attacked 4 my faith but I am not first or last," Ramadan tweeted on January 13.
The opening salvo was a January 2 article by Azi Paybarah, published at CapitalNewYork.com. Relaying Ramadan's description of himself as a "lightning rod," the piece explains that he "has been a frequent target of local anti-Muslim commentators, and several times during the interview Ramadan predicted opponents of CAIR would turn their attention to his campaign," because "CAIR has been a frequent target of Republicans and conservatives, who accuse it of being tolerant of terrorism, or worse." Paybarah's follow-up report states that "CAIR, a civil-rights group, says it exists in part as an antidote to radicalism, and condemns terrorism and religious violence." A more thorough journalist would have mentioned that "CAIR conspired with other affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood to support terrorists," in the words of federal prosecutors; that CAIR was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), whose leaders were convicted of funneling money to Hamas; that a federal judge, citing "ample evidence" of CAIR's ties to HLF and Hamas, upheld the designation; and that the FBI ended outreach activities with CAIR as a result. Of course, these inconvenient facts might have ruined the witch-hunt narrative.
Paybarah emphasizes the Arab-Israeli conflict and the "politics in staunchly pro-Israel New York," assuring readers that Ramadan "said he wanted to avoid using his Council campaign to refocus the dialogue in New York on Middle East foreign affairs" and would not prioritize such issues if elected. "I can't affect the Middle East problem," Ramadan told him. "I'm not condemning anything, OK? You want me to condemn one side or the other in a one thousand, two thousand-year dispute, what are you, insane?"
This is not the only time that Ramadan has passed on an opportunity to denounce Hamas. "Sir, do you consider Hamas a terrorist organization?" asked an Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) reporter at a press conference in 2011. After trying to change the subject to anti-jihad activist Pamela Geller, Ramadan offered nothing but bromides: "Islam, myself, and I think all people of conscience are opposed to all terrorism in all of its forms against all the people of the world. Anyone who is innocent that is killed, it's not the way of the Islamic people or people of conscience or people who stand for liberty and justice. Thank you very much." His evasiveness is consistent with CAIR's long history of refusing to censure Hamas by name. Further illuminating his sympathies, an IPT article reveals that "Ramadan contributed $1,000 to Viva Palestina, an organization led by noted anti-Semite George Galloway, that supports Hamas financially and politically, in 2010."
Though reticent to rebuke Hamas, Ramadan has no shortage of harsh words about life in the U.S. and sometimes disseminates them on Iranian-controlled Press TV, just as other CAIR figures have done. Ramadan employed the following hyperbolic analogy to peddle the Muslims-under-assault meme on the channel last year: "In Nazi Germany, they targeted the minority, the Jewish minority, and unfortunately it went from only philosophy to rhetoric to action. And that's not where we want to go in America. I don't think we'll ever get there, but I don't think we should allow the road to continue to be built towards that direction, because the comments that are being made against Muslims are very eerily echoing the comments that were made against Jews by Nazis." During an earlier Press TV appearance, he painted Congressman Peter King's hearings on Muslim radicalization as "an attempt to demonize the Islamic faith" and downplayed the danger of Islamic terrorism, suggesting that Jews are as great a terrorist threat as Muslims. He sparred with King on NBC in 2010, likening resistance to the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero to the internment of the Japanese, segregation, and slavery.
Ramadan has toed the CAIR party line on the New York Police Department's surveillance program to identify potentially violent radicals, calling it "f—ked up" for "basically equating Muslim with terrorism, which is outrageous." He previously chided the department for its use of The Third Jihad, a documentary that exposes Islamism in America and is narrated by reformist Muslim Zuhdi Jasser. According to a 2011 CAIR news release, "Ramadan compared The Third Jihad to past propaganda such as the Nazi-era film Triumph of the Will or Birth of a Nation, which vilified African-Americans." As CAIR was protesting Jasser's appointment to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom last spring, Ramadan penned a Facebook post smearing him as an "extremist" and asking, "Are David Duke and Pamela Geller on this panel too?"
Ramadan and CAIR-NY also participate in the Islamist pushback against vital FBI sting operations to nab budding terrorists. The aforementioned press conference at which Ramadan ducked the Hamas query was arranged by the Committee to Stop FBI Repression. Additionally, CAIR-NY co-hosted an event with the author of The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism at Columbia Law School on January 31. Attorney General Eric Holder criticized such rhetoric before a Muslim audience in 2010: "Those who characterize the FBI's activities in this case as 'entrapment' simply do not have their facts straight — or do not have a full understanding of the law."
Finally, Ramadan has overseen one of CAIR's more radical branches. A CAIR-NY Facebook entry from February 2012 "urges everyone to come out and support Dr. Aafia Siddiqui by attending her appeal for an unjust 86 yr jail sentence"; Siddiqui, a suspected al-Qaeda facilitator, was found guilty of trying to murder U.S. personnel in Afghanistan. Ramadan's CAIR-NY colleague Cyrus McGoldrick infamously tweeted pro-Hamas messages, advocated the destruction of anti-jihad ads, and promised that "we'll blast" police informants, whom he branded as "snitches"; he recently left the group, perhaps due to bad publicity. Furthermore, CAIR-NY board member Lamis Deek has warned Muslims of an "NYPD-CIA-Israeli alliance" out to get them and, upon the election of Islamist Mohamed Morsi as president of Egypt, praised the supposed liberation from America's "proxy-imperialist (colonialist) wrath."
Notable on its own, Ramadan's campaign also highlights the trend of American Muslims with Islamist track records seeking elected office. For instance, Esam Omeish, a former president of the Muslim American Society (MAS), described by federal prosecutors as "the overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in America," pursued a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates four years ago, but he finished third in the Democratic primary. Minnesota's Keith Ellison has been more successful. A Democratic congressman since 2007, he regularly collaborates with CAIR and similar groups; saw parallels between 9/11 and Hitler's Reichstag fire; savaged Jasser on Capitol Hill in 2009, effectively calling him an Uncle Tom who "give[s] people license for bigotry"; and enjoyed a pilgrimage to Mecca funded by MAS. Despite this, Ellison defeated his challenger by nearly 50 points in 2012.
Though Islamists who enter the halls of power through the back door have drawn most of the headlines of late — particularly the many unelected Muslims with alarming histories currently populating the Obama administration — one must not forget to keep an eye on the front door as well. Will Zead Ramadan be the next to walk in, securing a New York City Council seat that would provide a vehicle for shaping key issues, from police counterterrorism programs to religious accommodations in public institutions, and bestow unearned legitimacy on CAIR itself?
The decision will rest with the voters of District 7. They deserve to be given the facts about Ramadan and CAIR — to offset the steady diet of puff pieces and sob stories — before making it.
David J. Rusin is a research fellow at Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.
Update from February 1, 2013: Middle East Forum president Daniel Pipes had an amusing encounter with Zead Ramadan in 2011, when both were invited to participate in a panel discussion on Abu Dhabi Television. "Ah, the devil himself," Ramadan remarked after spotting Pipes in the studio. More details, including the whoppers that Ramadan told during the program, are documented here.