The Manhattan District Attorney's Office is one of the most powerful legal institutions in America, vested with the jurisdiction and authority to prosecute corporate elites, Hollywood moguls, mafia dons and even a U.S. president. Yet one of the most important, heavily financed races in 2021 could result in the election of an Islamist lawyer with a history of consorting with extremists and anti-Semites.
Prior to running for office, Palestinian American attorney Tahanie Aboushi worked behind-the-scenes in pursuit of an anti-Israel agenda. "We're not activists that need to be in the limelight," Aboushi told The New York Times of her family, whose members have fundraised on behalf of Islamist politicians and collaborated with an organization committed to the destruction of Israel.
"We do what we need to get done, and we do it well," she boasted.
Indeed, the would-be DA's quiet accomplishments include working for a charity that accepted thousands in donations from a group known for supporting violent Marxist-Islamist revolutionaries. As a volunteer, Aboushi lends her time to a nonprofit that serves as the American wing of a violent South Asian Islamist movement, and she is intimately familiar with some of New York's most prominent anti-Jewish activists.
Despite these troubling connections, the Staten Islander enjoys a fighting chance in November's DA race. In February, the incumbent district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., announced that he will not seek re-election for a fourth term. By that time, Aboushi had raised nearly $800,000 in campaign contributions, with only 10 percent of these funds coming from Manhattan residents—far less than any of the seven high-profile candidates running against her.
The race's eventual victor stands to assume a position with vast power and great responsibility. From taking down Italian mob bosses to prosecuting international drug cartels, the New York County District Attorney regularly prosecutes some of the most prolific criminal cases in the country. Manhattan's next DA will also inherit the task of investigating the Trump Organization after a February Supreme Court ruling ordering the former president to hand over eight years of tax returns and other financial records.
Of course, with such awesome power comes potential for abuse. In 2018, the FBI initiated an investigation into the Manhattan District Attorney's Office over allegations that its prosecutors dropped cases targeting wealthy defendants who donated to Vance's campaign coffers. Lawyers representing disgraced Hollywood producer and convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein donated $34,000 to Vance's re-election bid after he declined to prosecute their client in 2015 for sexual assault.
With an Islamist candidate on the ballot, Manhattan's corruptible DA's office could eventually be used to further an extremist agenda.
Aboushi is running on a progressive platform committed to decriminalizing "crimes of poverty, mental illness, sex work and substance use." To this end, she is perhaps inspired by her father, who was incarcerated for more than a decade following his arrest on charges of "conspiracy to commit robbery, conspiracy to possess stolen property, theft from interstate shipment and transportation of a stolen vehicle."
Aboushi partners with two of her nine siblings in a Manhattan law firm specializing in civil rights. Her sister Diane played an "instrumental role" in electing Keith Ellison to Congress, operating "behind-the-scenes" to raise money for his campaign. Ellison, who now serves as Minnesota's attorney general, is known to sympathize with the Nation of Islam and its rabidly anti-Semitic leader, Louis Farrakhan.
Her brother, Los Angeles Chargers offensive lineman Oday Aboushi, has been featured as a guest speaker at events sponsored by prominent Islamist groups. This includes a conference convened by the radical El Bireh Palestine Society, whose Facebook page was reportedly replete with images of Hitler and memorials for deceased Palestinian terrorist leaders. Aboushi referred to the conference as "a classy hangout in a Marriott," and the family called Oday's speaking role "a great opportunity."
According to The New York Times, she also works for the Palestine Children's Relief Fund (PCRF), a charity accused of being "a front for Islamic Jihad," a U.S.-designated terrorist entity. Furthermore, PCRF has proudly listed several "assisting organizations" that have been shuttered by U.S. authorities for providing material support to terrorists.
In 2013, Aboushi gave a legal presentation at the Islamic Circle of North America's (ICNA) annual convention. Additionally, the Democratic candidate took part in a food drive organized by ICNA, whose members she referred to as "friends."
While Aboushi's gesture may appear charitable, the Islamist organization she endorsed has roots in genocide. According to its own publication, ICNA is an offshoot of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI). India and Bangladesh have banned JeI's various branches for operating death squads and massacring thousands during the latter country's 1971 War for Independence.
In addition to consorting with South Asian extremists, Aboushi surrounds herself with notorious anti-Semites. On Jan. 16, 2020, the DA candidate unashamedly retweeted an endorsement from community activist Debbie Almontaser, which reads: "#Tahanie4DA."
Almontaser was forced to resign from her role as a school principal after wearing a shirt captioned, "Intifada NYC." While intifada literally means uprising, the scope of the term's usage is effectively limited to two campaigns of sustained Palestinian violence, largely characterized by suicide attacks against Israeli civilians.
Aboushi has also embraced Linda Sarsour, a Brooklyn, N.Y., activist who stepped down from the board of the National Women's March amid allegations of anti-Semitism. She referred to Sarsour as a "fearless sister" and thanked her for "giving us a seat at the table." While Sarsour served as executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, her organization enjoyed pro bono legal representation from Aboushi's law firm.
In addition to Sarsour, Aboushi recently received fundraising assistance from Palestinian-American activist Suhaib Al-Hanooti, who comes from a family known for supporting foreign Islamist interests. His father Muthanna was convicted of violating U.S. sanctions against Iraq when he accepted rights to 2 million barrels of Iraqi oil in exchange for services rendered to Saddam Hussein's government. Suhaib's late grandfather Mohammad was a well-known Muslim Brotherhood leader in the United States; a 2001 FBI memo accused him of raising more than $6 million for Hamas.
In 2013, Suhaib worked to drum up sympathy for a pair of Michigan-based Muslim Americans languishing in Egyptian prison for alleged acts of violence on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood. One of these prisoners, Salah Soltan, was known for his crude anti-Semitism, calling Jews "the enemies of God" and the "cursed ones" in a June 2013 sermon.
If elected, Aboushi's own anti-Semitic ties could bear serious consequences to her constituents—an estimated 20.5 percent of whom are Jewish and continue to suffer amid New York City's rising surge in anti-Semitism. Anti-Jewish hate crimes plateaued in 2019 in the United States, with the most incidents recorded in the last 40 years. Nearly one-third of these crimes occurred in New York and New Jersey, centered around Aboushi's district.
More recently, Jews have faced attacks from anti-Israel mobs during New York rallies that were staged in response to tensions in Gaza. Would Aboushi's decriminalization project apply to the perpetrators of these crimes?
Besides the U.S. attorney general, Manhattan's DA, along with the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, is perhaps the most powerful prosecutor in the nation, vested with immense authority to investigate some of the city's most prominent and wealthy powerbrokers. However, the office is also one of the judiciary's most partisan, and it remains to be seen how an Islamist attorney so deeply entrenched in the anti-Israel activism would wield such authority.
Jordan Cope is a writer for Islamism in Politics, a project of the Middle East Forum.