Legitimizing antisemitism: the strategy, the envoy and CAIR

By David Patterson

On May 25, 2023, the Biden White House issued its “National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism.” That same day the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued a press release extolling the administration for including CAIR among the organizations to be consulted in the fight against antisemitism.

CAIR was founded in June 1994 by Nihad Awad, Ibrahim Hooper and others. As former Salafist Umar Lee has said, “Nihad Awad and his fellow travelers, they’re vehement antisemites and violent in their language,” adding that the “language promoted by Awad and others at CAIR incites and justifies violence against Israeli civilians.”

In 2008, Ghassan Elashi, cofounder of the Texas chapter of CAIR, was sentenced to federal prison for funneling money from his Holy Land Foundation to Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), CAIR has “frequently partnered with vehemently anti-Zionist and anti-Israel groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and American Muslims for Palestine, many of whose members employ extreme rhetoric and questionable tactics to demonize Zionism and Zionists and disrupt pro-Israel activity.”

On March 3, 2023, Dexter Van Zile of Focus on Western Islamism pointed out that “Nihad Awad recently lionized Yusef al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who notoriously declared that Hitler was an instrument of divine punishment against the Jews and that, hopefully, the next round of punishment against the Jews will be conducted by Muslims. This didn’t stop Awad from praising the antisemitic imam as the ‘most influential contemporary Muslim scholar.’”

In their press release CAIR asserts that the White House’s document makes it clear “that these national strategies should not be used to either infringe upon the constitutional guarantees of free speech or to conflate bigotry with human rights activism, including advocacy for Palestinian freedom,” as well as the “right to engage in BDS [the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement].” Government officials in numerous countries, as well as agencies such as the ADL and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, have deemed BDS antisemitic. The White House’s strategy tacitly endorses CAIR’s antisemitic agenda and the BDS movement.

One can see why the inclusion of CAIR in Biden’s national strategy might be viewed as problematic. Nevertheless, on June 11, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Deborah Lipstadt, United States special envoy for monitoring and combating antisemitism, defended the inclusion of CAIR among the allies to whom the White House will turn in its effort to combat antisemitism. Lipstadt noted that organizations such as CAIR will be asked, “Do you acknowledge that you might have, or might not have, engaged in statements or declarations that were easily and rightfully considered to be antisemitic?” Does anyone imagine that a contrite Awad might admit, “Well, yes, Dr. Lipstadt, we might have issued some statements that could be construed as antisemitic”?

CAIR also applauds the Biden administration’s rejection of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism, so that, in the name of free speech, they can continue to promote Israel’s destruction as an “apartheid, colonialist” enterprise guilty of crimes against humanity. The CAIR press release falsely notes that the IHRA definition conflates “criticism of the Israeli government with antisemitism, limiting free speech on Palestinian human rights,” when, in fact, the IHRA definition specifically states that criticism of Israeli government policy is not antisemitic.

Since its publication in 2005, at least 50 countries have adopted or endorsed the IHRA definition; in 2017, the European parliament called for its member states to adopt it. In addition, many universities, as well as many Jewish organizations, have officially adopted it. Inasmuch as Biden’s strategy muddies the waters by mixing in the Nexus definition, it rejects these precedents in favor of legitimizing the antisemitic demonization of Jews and the Jewish state on the part of CAIR and their allies. And CAIR’s leaders know it. Still, Lipstadt insisted that IHRA is the only definition endorsed by this administration. If that is the case, then why doesn’t the National Strategy document say so?

The axiom that underlies antisemitism is not that all Jews are evil but that all evil is Jewish. It turns out, however, that all evil stems from antisemitism — which means that antisemitism is not just one form of racism among others. Rather, all forms of racism are rooted in antisemitism. This is what the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism seeks to address. This is what CAIR refuses to address. And Professor Lipstadt should call them out for it.

David Patterson is a senior research fellow with the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy and the Hillel A. Feinberg Distinguished Chair in Holocaust Studies at The University of Texas at Dallas.

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