When Deb Feinen, Mayor of Champaign, Illinois, suddenly and unexpectedly decided to replace one of the members of her city's Human Relations Commission, she cited the importance of "diversity" as the reason. Out went Kenton Elmore, an unquestionably white Commission member; and in came Ahmed Taha, an Egyptian immigrant and a prominent figure in the city's Muslim community.
Elmore appeared to have been a popular member of the Human Relations Commission, and his abrupt removal left other members of the Commission a little unsettled. But the mayor said she felt the city was "underrepresenting the Muslim-American community."
At a cursory glance, the decision to appoint Ahmed Taha made sense. Champaign has a significant Muslim community, and Ahmed Taha is a significant figure in that community. But just a slightly closer look would have found that he is significant for one thing more than anything else: his hatred of Jews.
Taha's anti-Semitism is no secret, and has been written about before – mostly because of his involvement with two prominent Islamist organizations – the Muslim American Society, for which he runs the Champaign branch; and the Islamic Circle of North America, which is a proxy for Jamaat-e-Islami, a violent South Asian extremist movement.
In 2013, Taha republished a photo on his Facebook page, ostensibly of a brutally killed Egyptian teenage boy, which was accompanied by the text: "O Muslim, O servant of God. There is a Jew behind me, come kill him."
In March 2014, Taha shared a conspiracy theory by a far-Right website claiming that the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, was secretly Jewish. "Is that true?" Taha asked, "If yes, this is a castastroph [sic]." In October that year, he then posted a video supposedly exposing Joe Biden as a "Zionist" and revealing the "Rothschild Zionism Secret Regime in America."
Tellingly, Taha only deleted the Facebook posts we mentioned, and none of the extremist posts we didn't. Today, his Facebook account remains replete with support for Egypt's leading theocratic movement, al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen; along with various other hateful, mad conspiracy theories, mostly written in Arabic, about Jewish control of the current Egyptian government, or how President Sisi comes from a family of Jews and CIA members.
Given that the role of the Human Relations Commission is to promote "equal rights and opportunities" and to serve as a "hearing board for complaints of violation of [the city's Human Rights] ordinance," few can doubt that appointing a man infamous for his hatred of one of the city's minority is a thoroughly injudicious choice.
Did the city know about Taha's hatred of Jews? And now that they know, will they do anything? We asked the Human Relations Commission if they were aware of Taha's extremism, and whether they now still believe he is a suitable member for the body? We were only told the Commission has "no comment." We also left a message for the Mayor's office, but have not yet heard back.
However, the city council is not alone in its elevation of Ahmed Taha. A number of pieces published in the media have praised Taha as a moderate. Illinois' News Gazette ran a puff piece on Taha on July 16, discussing his recent appointment. Taha is quoted, incongruously pledging "to stand for justice, support social justice causes and investigate against every kind of discrimination."
The journalist, Adalberto Toledo, notes Taha's involvement with the Muslim American Society (MAS), although neatly leaves out widespread accusations by politicians and law enforcement about the organization's links to the designated terrorist group Hamas, and its own designation as a terrorist organization by the United Arab Emirates in 2014. Readers may remember that MAS made national news in May 2019, after its Philadelphia branch hosted an event at which children sang about their violent hatred of Jews: "we will chop off their heads" and "we will subject them to eternal torture."
Convinced that a respected local newspaper would undoubtedly want to investigate a decision to appoint a hateful anti-Jewish activist to a Commission tasked with fighting discrimination and hatred, the Middle East Forum contacted Toledo, the journalist, and sent him evidence of Taha's extremism. Astonishingly, Toledo refused to investigate, claiming the Middle East Forum was "racist," and that he imagined we were conspiring to "besmirch a man's name with false accusations."
America was once famous for local journalists dogged pursuing the truth. Now it seems there are too many examples of local journalists doggedly avoiding it. At the very least, Toledo decided on a political agenda over a factual one. Some might conclude, though, that Toledo must have a degree of tolerance for Taha's hateful rhetoric; why else, truly, would he refuse to investigate, even if he objects to the politics of the messenger?
It is also difficult to believe that no one in the Mayor's office, the Human Relations Commission or at the News Gazette thought to carry out a quick Google search of a man appointed to a public role – tasked with the well-being of Champaign's residents.
There are thousands of Muslims in Champaign who would undoubtedly make excellent members of the city's Human Relations Commission. Very few have published calls for the killing of Jews. And yet the city and its puff-piece writers managed to find and promote the one resident who did.
Sam Westrop is director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.