Democratic presidential front-runner Bernie Sanders, in refusing to speak at one of the largest annual pro-Israel gatherings, claimed he's concerned about, "the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights." But last year, he happily spoke at an Islamic conference that featured a parade of anti-Semitic speakers who have denied Israel's legitimacy.
As part of an effort to reassure his anti-Israel base, Sanders announced on Sunday his intention to boycott the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference, which features a number of speakers from both parties touting the need for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.
But last August, Sanders spoke at the Islamic Society of North America's annual conference. ISNA has long generated controversy for hosting radical speakers and turning away more moderate voices.
Wajahat Ali, a Muslim journalist, lawyer, and playwright wrote in the Atlantic about how he was disinvited from ISNA after being told that the group requires Muslim speakers to share its values, specifically "[the] community's support for the Palestinian people of all faith traditions, in their struggle against occupation and dispossession." Ali was not actually a Zionist or a fan of Israeli policy, but he fell out of favor in ISNA circles because he was involved with "the Shalom Hartman Institute and its Muslim Leadership Initiative — a program that promotes engagement between American Muslims and Jewish scholars, both in Israel and in New York City, to learn how diverse Jewish communities debate and discuss Israel, Zionism, and Judaism." In other words, engaging in a dialogue with the Israeli enemy was a crime in and of itself.
So what type of speakers are accepted at ISNA?
One example is Hatem Bazian, who has been dubbed "American's most anti-Semitic professor." Bazian is a founder of the group Students for Justice in Palestine (which has been associated with a spike in anti-Semitic attacks on campus) and is now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Some background, per the Tower: "In 1999, the Detroit News reported that Bazian endorsed a passage of the Qur'an that advocated violence against Jews: 'The Day of Judgment will not happen until the trees and stones will say, "Oh Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.'" (Bazian later denied having done so.) And after 79 SJP members were arrested in 2002 for illegally occupying UC Berkeley's Wheeler building (a protest that coincided with the Holocaust Day of Remembrance), Bazian organized a counterdemonstration to protest the arrests. Playing on old anti-Semitic tropes of Jewish power and money, Bazian allegedly pointed toward donor names engraved on school buildings and said, "Take a look at the type of names on the buildings around campus — Haas, Zellerbach — and decide who controls this university."
In 2017, he was forced to apologize for retweeting a series of anti-Semitic cartoons. As described by the Jewish News of Northern California, "One cartoon shows a Jewish man raising his arms in celebration above the caption: 'I can now kill, rape, smuggle organs & steal the land of Palestinians.'" Another showed Kim Jong Un with a bunch of missiles and read, "I just converted all of North Korea to Judaism Donald Trump: Now my nukes are legal & I can annex South Korea & you need to start paying me 34 billion a year in welfare."
But if you don't want to trust news accounts, there is this video of Bazian speaking. In one presentation, he said, "Some would say that America has the best Congress that money can buy. But we also say that our Congress is an Israeli occupied territory." And in another: "There are a large number of Zionists who were engaged with Nazi Germany." During a 2004 rally, he referred to terrorist attacks in Israel and Iraq and asked, "How come we don't have an intifada in this country?"
Another ISNA speaker was Nihal Awad, one of the founders of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The New Republic recounted, "A March 1998 article in the Georgetown Voice (titled 'Muslim group sponsors controversial speaker; Jews Control U.S. Policy, Awad Says') reported that Awad called U.S. policy 'driven in part by the Jewish origin of many Clinton administration officials.'" At a 2001 rally during the second intifada, Awad said, "The Palestinians are using legitimate means of resistance. We should not be shy about it, and we should not be apologetic about it." In 1994, he declared, "I am in support of the Hamas movement." Awad never denied the statement about Hamas, only later claiming that his comment was made before Hamas turned toward suicide bombing, which he claimed to oppose. Yet Hamas's goals were no secret in 1994. The founding document of Hamas from 1988 reads, "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it."
Zahra Billoo, another speaker at ISNA, was dropped from the Women's March a few days after being appointed. Among things that she has tweeted: "If you support apartheid, racism, and Zionism by Israel, I don't think we can work on civil rights together in the US" and "If you support Israel, you are no doubt supporting baby killers." She also wrote, according to the Jewish Chronicle, "I'm more afraid of racist Zionists who support Apartheid Israel than of the mentally Ill young people the #FBI recruits to join ISIS."
Ironically, Billoo was appointed to the Women's March to replace Linda Sarsour, who herself had been removed for fueling anti-Semitism in the organization. Sarsour has claimed that Zionists cannot be feminists, attacked critics of Ilhan Omar "who masquerade as progressives but always choose their allegiance to Israel over their commitment to democracy and free speech," and claimed that Israel is based on Jewish supremacy. After having been booted from the Women's March, Sarsour has reestablished herself as a surrogate for Sanders. She was also a fellow speaker at ISNA.
It's one thing for Sanders to argue that he's willing to bring his message to all sorts of audiences — speaking to ISNA and then delivering his pro-Palestinian message to AIPAC. Alternatively, it would have been consistent for him to avoid both conferences. But it's telling that Sanders finds mainstream pro-Israel speakers so far beyond the pale, yet he was perfectly fine accepting the bigotry of radical speakers at ISNA. The choice of virtue-signaling says a lot about the coalition that he would bring with him to the White House.