Author Topic: Pro-Israeli groups’ “vilification” campaign against U.S. Muslims  (Read 56 times)

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By Karima Saifullah

American Muslims and Islamic organizations in the United States have long been the target of harassment and vilification from right-wing pro-Israeli groups, according to a recent article on the New York Times.

Quoting U.S. government officials, the newspaper said such groups use “guilt by association” to spread suspicion about Islam and Muslims in an attempt to keep Muslims out of mainstream American discourse.

One Muslim group in particular, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), is facing a ruthless campaign by right-wing pro-Israeli groups.

Founded in 1994, CAIR has attracted widespread attention for working aggressively for Muslims’ civil rights and calling for interfaith dialogue. But last December, Senator Barbara Boxer’s office rescinded a “Certification of Appreciation” she was planning to award to Basim Elkarra, executive director of CAIR’s Sacramento Valley, after she was called a "Senator for Terror" on right-wing websites.

Among those who called on Boxer to take back the award was Joe Kaufman, a self-described activist who has promoted the Israeli terrorist organizations Kach and Kahane Chai and hailed the Kahane movement and its founder Meir Kahane on the forum of the radical Jewish Defense League (JDL), which was convicted of plotting to bomb the King Fahd Mosque in Southern California.

Boxer’s decision to rescind the award mobilized the interfaith and civil rights community, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the California Council of Churches, who expressed strong support for CAIR and Muslims by urging the senator to reverse her decision.

"They (CAIR) have been a leading organization that has advocated for civil rights and civil liberties in the face of fear and intolerance, in the face of religious and ethnic profiling," Maya Harris, the executive director of the ACLU of Northern California, told the Times.

Dismissing widespread claims by pro-Israeli groups, government officials in Washington, D.C. asserted that “they were not aware of any criminal investigation of the group," and that the standards being used to link CAIR to terrorism were McCarthy-style tactics – in other words, guilt by association.
"There is probably suspicion about CAIR, but when you ask people for hard facts, you get blank stares,” according to Michael Rolince, who was in charge of counterterrorism in the FBI’s Washington Field Office from 2002 to 2005.

For its part, CAIR, which has 32 chapters throughout the U.S. and Canada, says a group of Islamophobes are involved in inciting hate towards Muslims in a bid to marginalize the American Muslim voice.

"There is a well-coordinated attempt by extremist pro-Israel circles to silence American Muslims on issues ranging from Islam, to foreign policy, to civil rights and national security," said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR’s southern California office. "If standing up for truth and justice makes CAIR controversial, then by all means, we are proud and honored to be controversial. In their day, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela were deemed controversial, too."

CAIR’s enemies allege that it is linked to terrorist groups. However, the group has never been the subject of any terrorism investigation or charges. Moreover, CAIR strongly condemns the targeting of civilians on all sides and has launched several campaigns to denounce and combat terrorism and all forms of extremism, including the "Not in the Name of Islam" petition, which obtained nearly 700,000 signatories.

One Federal official told The Times that some pro-Israeli lobbyists have created what he called a "cottage industry" of attacking CAIR and anyone dealing with it.

Apparently, these attacks were triggered by CAIR's firm positions against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Last summer, the group called on the U.S. to stop arms shipment to Israel during its deadly offensive in Lebanon, in which more than 2,000 Lebanese, mostly civilians, died. In August, it sponsored a panel discussion highlighting how the power of the pro-Israel lobby harms the U.S. and negatively affects its Middle East policy. 

"Traditionally within the government there is only one point of view that is acceptable, which is the pro-Israel line," said Nihad Awad, a founder of CAIR and its executive director. "Another enlightened perspective on the conflict is not there, and it causes some discomfort."

Extremist elements of the pro-Israel lobby have also been behind the promotion and marketing of the anti-Islamic documentary, ”Obsession”, according to an investigation carried out by the Inter Press Service news agency. The movie, which seeks to sow fear and hate of Muslims, ran on CNN and Fox News, which aired it seven times in November last year. Both networks praised the film, with CNN's right-wing pundit Glen Beck calling it "one of the most important films of our time", and Sean Hannity of FOX News describing it as "shocking beyond belief".

The documentary has sparked debate on U.S. university campuses, where Muslim students opposed its screening. According to the New York Times, a Middle East discussion group that planned to screen the film found out that the distributors of "Obsession" require the audience to register with, the Web site of Hasbara Fellowships, a pro-Israeli group which aims to train students "to be effective pro-Israel activists on their campuses."

Such unjustified attacks against Muslims prompted clergy in Southern California to send the following letter to the Times: "As Christian leaders, we oppose attacks against the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The capitulation of members of Congress to a campaign to discredit Islamic organizations places Muslims in the U.S. in danger of character assassination and false charges…

“We are profoundly disturbed by the long-term damage now being done to CAIR’s reputation, to interfaith relations, to freedom of religion, and to American principles of justice, when no evidence exists that CAIR endorses terrorism or supports terrorist groups. In retrospect, we will see the same fear-mongering that led to McCarthyism and the illegal incarceration of Japanese Americans in WWII..."

While right-wing groups driven by foreign agendas attempt to marginalize American Muslim organizations, government and law enforcement officials are increasingly reaching out to the Muslim community and recognizing their contributions to society as a whole.

CAIR is "an important bridge for the FBI into the Muslim, Arab-American community,” J. Stephen Tidwell, the director of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, said at CAIR Southern California chapter’s fundraising banquet last November.

Arab and Muslim Americans make many contributions to U.S. society, from medicine to education to law, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff said last week at an informal dinner held in Detroit.

“Many people in the media and in the public do not recognize that Arab and Muslim American communities are so integral to our country,” he added.

"One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. "Which road do I take?" she asked. "Where do you want to go?" was his response. "I don't know," Alice answered. "Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter."

- Lewis Carroll