On September 1, Hudson Institute's Director for South and Central Asia, Ambassador Husain Haqqani, hosted "A Conversation with Assistant Special Envoy Ellie Cohanim on Combating Anti-Semitism." During this discussion, Cohanim brought up Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) and the recent scandal in Britain involving antisemitic and pro-terror statements made by the charity's board members. Cohanim expressed her horror at the extremism of Islamic Relief officials and described the affair as "an interesting case study."
This appears to be the first time a Trump administration official has criticized Islamic Relief, and it is a welcome change from the otherwise utilized policy (of both the previous and current administration) to fund Islamic Relief and embrace their officials.
In August, IRW's entire board at its headquarters in the United Kingdom stepped down after The Times revealed the charity had replaced former director Heshmat Khalifat, who had resigned after he was caught referring to Jews as the "grandchildren of monkeys and pigs," with an equally virulent antisemite and supporter of the designated terrorist group Hamas.
The Middle East Forum has been warning about Islamic Relief for years. In 2018, we published a detailed report documenting the charity's extremism and terror connections.
Cohanim claimed that over the last ten years, IRW has received "almost one billion euros in donations from the United Nations and governments throughout Europe." She added that it is "incumbent upon European governments" to ensure that the funds they distribute are spent responsibly.
The United States should also conduct such checks on its own spending. Islamic Relief is not exclusively a European problem. Last October, the extremist charity received $356,000 from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). In fact, over $2 million of American taxpayers' money has been handed to the radical charitable franchise over the last five years.
With the exception of the welcome statement by Mrs. Cohanim, the U.S. trails behind other countries slowly taking up to the danger posed by Islamic Relief. The United Arab Emirates designated its headquarters as a terrorist organization; the Bangladeshi government banned it from working directly with Rohingya refugees over reported fears about radicalization; Germany's Federal Court of Auditors opened an investigation into Islamic Relief Germany's use of taxpayer funds; a Swedish government report named it as a front for the Muslim Brotherhood; and the Tunisian government is reported to have investigated allegations that Islamic Relief was funding jihadists on the Libyan border. Most recently, Swedish parliament member Lars Adaktusson called for IRW's European funding to be suspended until the charity is investigated for its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
In spite of these mounting international concerns, the American branch of Islamic Relief is listed as a partner by both the Department of Agriculture and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Indeed, Islamic Relief USA is IRW's most profitable branch, contributing 16.5% of IRW total income in 2018. Just a few months ago, FEMA published a video on YouTube showcasing Islamic Relief's work.
Islamic Relief USA's officials are no less antisemitic than their European counterparts. Former Chairman and current board member Khaled Lamada has shared conspiracy theory videos claiming that Egypt's President Sisi is secretly Jewish and opposes the Muslim Brotherhood on the order of the Jews. Senior Islamic Relief official Yousef Abdallah once shared a "beautiful story" involving "martyrs" who provide guns to "kill more than 20 jews" and "fire rockets at Tel Aviv." In other posts, he refers to Jews as "stinking" and accuses them of having set the wall outside Al Aqsa on fire. In May, Islamic Relief USA organized an online event with a prominent extremist preacher, Omar Abdelkafi, who has repeatedly prayed for Jews to be killed.
As IRW is rightly subjected to increasing suspicion in Europe because of its extremist ties and antisemitism, it is crucial that media and politicians in the United States pay the same sort of attention to this radical charity's U.S. branch.