California imam Ahmed Billoo recently called for the mass extermination of Jews. Apparently impatient at the border-security protocols at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, he posted a prayer to Twitter with the hashtag "Zionists": "Oh God, reduce their numbers, exterminate them, and don't leave a single one alive."
Ahmed Billoo's sister is Zahra Billoo, director of the San Francisco branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). She is also an important figure in the Women's March movement, and has appeared alongside her brother at Women's March events. Billoo's own colleagues at CAIR "liked" Ahmed's post. When asked, CAIR and Zahra Billoo herself refused to comment on Ahmed Billoo's genocidal call.
Publicly, Zahra Billoo prides herself on her commitment to progressive causes. When explaining her involvement in the Women's March, she said that "what we need right now is to send a clear message" "that we will work together across communities to defend and protect each other."
Despite these warm words, she was curiously unwilling to offer any criticism when it came to her brother advocating mass-murder. On the contrary, Zahra Billoo made a heartfelt post to her brother on Facebook a mere few hours after he prayed for the extermination of Jews, apparently in relation to another public stand he had taken: "My brother makes me proud often, but there's a special kind of appreciation I have when he does this - puts his privilege to good use, asserting his rights, speaking out against border harassment, and thereby making it at least somewhat easier for those who are afraid or unable."
While Zahra Billoo's refusal to repudiate her brother's endorsement of violence may appear to contradict her own camera-friendly activism, her silence is less surprising when you examine Billoo's own social media history.
Billoo regularly expresses support of the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas, at times justifying Hamas's attacks against Israeli civilians. In one tweet, she writes: "Blaming Hamas for firing rockets at (Apartheid) Israel is like blaming a woman for punching her rapist."
Over the past few years, Billoo has also consistently supported Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) official Sami Al Arian, describing him as an "incredible and law abiding Muslim leader." (PIJ was designated a terrorist organization by the State Department in 1997.) In 2006, Al Arian pleaded guilty to conspiring "to make or receive contributions of funds, goods or services to or for the benefit of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a Specially Designated Terrorist." Al Arian was later deported to Turkey. In 2018, in a speech at a conference sponsored by Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs, Al Arian said that "the United States, which gives Israel so much confidence, is our enemy." Billoo twice confided that she draws inspiration from Al Arian and quoted him on several occasions.
In 2018, Billoo stated that "The Israeli Defense Forces, or the IDF, are no better than ISIS. They are both genocidal terrorist organizations." Billoo's antisemitic obsession with Israel is pervasive enough that the interfaith organization PACT briefly rescinded an award to Billoo last year.
While Billoo indulges her true opinions on social media, she also works to present a very different picture of herself to the public. After the massacre of Jews at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, Billoo signed "An Open Letter to America About Anti-Semitism." In the conclusion, the letter refers to the dangers of "white nationalist anti-Semitic hate." But Billoo's own hatred, while not inspired by white nationalist hatred, is not any less dangerous.
What is truly surprising is not that Zahra Billoo stayed silent as her brother called for the massacre of Jews, nor even that she subsequently claimed to be "proud of him," but rather that she is still regarded by some as a leading progressivist figure. Zahra Billoo's actual views have been in plain view for many years on social media and the subject of media reports many times. Yet, Billoo continues to be praised for her activism and was even once honored for "actually [speaking] out against antisemitism."
Islamists such as Billoo enjoy protection from criticism using the thinnest of veils. Their duplicity is clear and without doubt. These self-proclaimed Islamic leaders must be judged on all their words and actions, and not merely on the progressive personas they project.
Martha Lee is a research fellow of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum