J. Pharoah Doss: The congresswoman, CAIR, and the benefit of the doubt


On October 7, 2023, Hamas launched a surprise attack from Gaza on Israel. Hamas terrorists massacred 1,200 people and took 250 hostages.

A month later, Nihad Awad, the Council on America-Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) executive director and co-founder, spoke at the American Muslims for Palestine’s (AMP) annual convention. That same month, Virginia’s Attorney General announced that his office would investigate allegations that AMP may have utilized funds received to support terrorist organizations.

Awad told AMP that he was happy to witness the Palestinians breaking their shackles and freely walking into their land, a place they were previously forbidden to enter. He also stated that the people of Gaza have the right to defend themselves, but Israel, as an occupying power, does not have the right to self-defense.

CAIR was heavily criticized for Awad’s speech.

Awad issued a statement to clarify his comments. He stated that he did not condone Hamas’s strike. He merely praised “the average Palestinian who briefly walked out of Gaza and set foot on their ethnically cleansed land in a symbolic act of defiance.”

Many didn’t believe Awad because of CAIR’s history.

In 2004, when Al-Jazeera asked Awad about the US government’s designation of Hamas and Hezbollah as foreign terrorist organizations, he responded, “We do not and will not condemn any liberation movement inside Palestine or Lebanon.” He also remarked that if the United States wants CAIR to condemn liberation movements, the United States must condemn Israel.

In January 2009, Fox News reported, “The FBI is severing its once-close ties with the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group, CAIR, amid mounting evidence that it has links to a support network for Hamas. All local chapters of CAIR have been shunned in the wake of a 15-year FBI investigation that culminated with the conviction of Hamas fundraisers at a trial where CAIR itself was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator.”

CAIR denounced the FBI’s action, claiming that “the true losers under this unfortunate policy are those FBI officials who will have their access to the mainstream American Muslim community restricted.” CAIR also stated that the Bush administration targeted them in a purely political move to prevent them from defending the civil rights of American Muslims, and CAIR looked forward to better relations with the Obama administration.

CAIR requested that their name be removed from the list of unindicted co-conspirators (which included 250 others) because the evidence the government presented of CAIR’s associations with the Holy Land Foundation, the Islamic Association for Palestine, and Hamas was before the government labeled them terrorist organizations, but the judge denied their request because the government provided “ample evidence” to link CAIR with those organizations.

It is possible that CAIR has been targeted by right-wing bigots within the government and has been unjustly accused of being affiliated with terrorist organizations.  However, in 2014, CAIR did appear on the United Arab Emirates’s list of designated terrorist organizations.

For the majority of Americans, the negative press CAIR receives reads like a conspiracy theory. That always worked in CAIR’s favor until their executive director made those remarks regarding October 7 last year; now the organization has lost the benefit of the doubt.

Rayan Mauro, the investigative reporter for Capital Research Center, wrote, “CAIR will likely now be seen as too toxic for politicians, too anti-Semitic to be accepted into interfaith outreaches, too extreme for the media to treat as the authority on Muslim American issues, too indefensible for think tanks and public figures to align with, and too deceptive for virtually anyone to trust.”

Despite having given CAIR the benefit of the doubt since the Obama administration, the Biden White House removed CAIR from its list of organizations participating in its U.S. National Strategy to Prevent Antisemitism.

Fortunately for CAIR, not all politicians distanced themselves from the organization.

Summer Lee (D-PA), a progressive congresswoman whose seat is under threat from primary challenger Bhavini Patel, was slated to appear this month at CAIR’s Philadelphia chapter’s annual fundraising banquet.

Patel and other Democrats speculated that Congresswoman Lee, despite the controversy surrounding CAIR, continued to support the organization by strategically choosing to participate in the CAIR fundraiser. Patel and other Democrats chastised Congresswoman Lee for being scheduled alongside speakers who made antisemitic and inflammatory remarks about the Israel-Hamas conflict and LGBTQ+ concerns.

Congresswoman Lee canceled her presentation in Philadelphia because the backlash was damaging her reputation right before the primary election. That’s understandable; however, Congresswoman Lee pretended to be uninformed and stated that she only recently learned of the past statements made by the other scheduled speakers, which is why she chose not to attend the fundraiser.

Does that mean Congresswoman Lee and her staff were fully aware that CAIR has been under suspicion for generating funds for organizations like Hamas but chose to speak anyway, or does that mean Congresswoman Lee and her staff were uninformed and recently learned about CAIR’s alleged connection to terror organizations?

Out of the two, it’s hard to decide which is worse.



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