When Representatives Lee Zeldin (R-NY) and Scott Perry (R-PA) wrote to the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (PCHR) in September to discuss a horrifying instance of anti-Semitism, they did so with good reason. Some months earlier, in May, local and national media reported that the Philadelphia branch of the Muslim American Society (MAS) had hosted an event at its Al-Hidaya mosque in North Philadelphia, at which young children from an MAS-run school sang and read poetry about the killing of Jews.
Broadcast on MAS's Facebook page, the "Ummah Day" event at the MAS mosque showed children narrating: "We will chop off their heads, and we will liberate the sorrowful and exalted Al-Aqsa Mosque. We will lead the army of Allah fulfilling His promise, and we will subject them to eternal torture."
The subsequent public uproar over this unfettered hatred led the PCHR to investigate. Understandably, legislators wanted to know what the Commission had found. The PCHR has now responded, however, with some alarmingly pathetic conclusions.
While the PCHR acknowledged that reports of the anti-Semitic event were "indeed accurate," its reply to Zeldin and Perry unquestioningly parrots MAS's own defense of the event, in which MAS diminishes its own role in the scandal and downplays the virulence of the anti-Semitic recitations.
PCHR officials write, for example, that they "learned from MAS National that the Leaders Academy, the organization that taught the class and created the video at the Masjid [mosque], was not affiliated with MAS Philadelphia."
As the Investigative Project on Terrorism has pointed out, however, corporation records for the Leaders Academy and MAS-Philadelphia reveal that not only is the school's actual name "MAS Leaders Academy," but the two organizations have shared officers, an accountant and even a mailing address.
MAS Philadelphia and the MAS Leaders Academy have now also released a joint statement, in which they admit a "grave" but "unintended mistake," repeatedly note unrelated examples of anti-Muslim bigotry elsewhere in the world, and offer their own account of how shocked they were that footage of children at an MAS school singing about the killing of Jews at an MAS mosque could have been broadcast on an MAS Facebook page.
Still insisting on no connection to each other, the joint statement claims that "our aides," some of whom "know Arabic," simply did not "give a close ear to the song's lyrics." The children, the text adds, "did not understand this song as their command of Arabic is not advanced..."
To all but the most trusting of critics, this is rather puzzling. If the children did not understand the Arabic, and no one involved who spoke Arabic heard the melodious call for genocide, then who taught the children the song?
The PCHR also approvingly notes that officials of MAS and its Leaders Academy have been working with the "leadership of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Philadelphia)," from which the MAS staff have received "anti-bias workshops on Judaism and anti-Semitism for its entire staff."
As much as one can rely on a "workshop" to solve the thorny issue of calls for mass-murder, CAIR-Philadelphia is nonetheless a rather unsuitable choice for anti-racism training.
In March, CAIR-Philadelphia announced that its banquet would feature keynote speaker Hassan Shibly, who serves as director CAIR-Florida and is one of the CAIR's most extreme officials. In 2014, Shibly tweeted: "God as my wittiness [sic], Israel & it's [sic] supporters are enemies of God and humanity! How many more children must Israel kill 4 U 2 C?#Gaza."
Other speakers hosted by CAIR-Philadelphia included Afaf Nasher, a CAIR-New York official, who in 2017 declined to condemn violently-themed anti-Semitic chanting at an event hosted by CAIR's partners.
In 2007, federal prosecutors named CAIR's national headquarters as an "unindicted co-conspirator" in a terrorism financing trial of an American Islamist charity that was moving money to Hamas, the genocidally anti-Semitic terrorist organization. The Anti-Defamation League has accused CAIR branches of spreading anti-Semitic material.
If MAS was truly committed to ensuring its own officials do not ever again teach children to sing about killing Jews, then turning for advice to a terror-connected extremist organization was not the best choice.
Although both PCHR and MAS Philadelphia trumpeted MAS's work with CAIR, curiously, neither mentioned well-publicized efforts by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) to educate Philadelphia MAS activists on the dangers of anti-Semitism – surely a better training partner for the truly repentant anti-Semite.
MAS's silence on AJC's offer may be the product of internal Islamist politics. American Muslims for Palestine – a regular partner of MAS – has issued condemnations of Muslim participation in AJC initiatives.
The most important point about MAS, however, is not its deceitful responses, but that across America, MAS officials and branches have a long history of engaging in vile anti-Semitism and other bigotries. As federal prosecutors have pointed out, MAS was founded in 1993 as the "overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in America." Speakers at MAS conferences glorify jihad and praise the "mujahideen" in Palestine.
The anti-Semitism in Philadelphia was not some unforeseeable one-off mistake; for once, MAS simply got caught.
Despite this array of hate, the Middle East Forum has discovered that since 2009, the federal government has handed over $148,000 of taxpayers' money to MAS branches around the country.
It seems clear that Americans cannot rely on Philadelphia's local government institutions to address calls in its city for the murder of Jews. Now it falls to Representatives Zeldin and Perry to make sure this extremism is not swept under the rug.
Sam Westrop is director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.