(December 23, 2021 / JNS) Perhaps some people were shocked when a head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) recently embarked on an epic rant against Jews, their synagogues and their organizations. Zahra Billoo is the group’s executive director in San Francisco and a former leader of the anti-Trump “resistance” Women’s March. But when she said at a conference called by radical anti-Israel Muslim Americans for Palestine (AMP) that they should avoid traditional groups like the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Federations and Hillel, the establishment Jew reacted with anger.
As scholar Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum told JNS, it was funny that these organizations, which were dubbed “polite Zionists” by Billoo, only reacted strongly after being attacked by name, even though CAIR’s record of extremism was clear for most of the past two decades. The fact that CAIR not only did not repudiate Billoo but supported her after her speech was hard to excuse even for those most determined to view the incident as unimportant.
Although it was first established as a political front group for those seeking to raise funds for Hamas terrorists in the United States and has remained a bastion of anti-Israel hatred, CAIR has largely succeeded in persuading many Jews as well as the media and government institutions that it is a civil rights group. As long as their most vocal critics within the Jewish community were figures like Pipes or Steven Emerson’s Terrorism Investigation Project (IPT), which focused not only on its origins but also on the activities of the group and its partners like AMP, many of them in the Jewish community. the institution was not only willing to give CAIR a pass, but actively helped it to become mainstream.
But the question now that the veil has once again been pulled from their deceptive marketing by the Billoo franchise, is whether the American Jewish community and its major organizations are able to draw the right conclusions from recent events. Specifically: Will Jewish Community Relations Councils (JCRCs) and others dedicated to promoting interfaith dialogue with Muslims finally understand that, as valuable as this effort may be, it cannot be achieved by establishing partnerships with groups like CAIR?
American Jews and Muslims need to understand each other and this is facilitated by outreach and dialogue where possible. But as is often the case with efforts to find commonalities with other minorities or faith groups, those involved often see the process as more important than safeguarding the interests of the Jewish community.
This failure was the key to CAIR’s efforts to rename itself the Muslim version of ADL. Just as it has sometimes been the case with outreach to the African American community – when anti-Semitic extremists and Farrakhan supporters can sometimes present a barrier to the desire of liberal Jews to embrace them – Jewish groups have often been so eager to create events where they dialogue or break bread with extremists within the Muslim community, whatever the consequences.
CAIR took the opportunity to welcome liberals who are credulous or simply interested in improving their reputation as Jewish leaders. In this case, it has not become uncommon for JCRC organizations across the country to view CAIR chapters as legitimate partners for dialogue. Many Jewish liberals saw no problem working with CAIR on issues they agreed to – like the amnesty for illegal immigrants – or opposing efforts to enforce existing immigration laws. . In this way, CAIR’s goal of being normalized and becoming the central address for the interests of American Muslims – most of whom have little interest in extremism – was advanced.
This is why it may be a bit late for advocates of Judeo-Muslim dialogue to take the position that CAIR’s endorsement of anti-Semitism should not deter Jews from continuing to work towards this goal. In too many communities, it is simply impossible to separate CAIR from the cause of interfaith outreach involving Jews and Muslims. Having already conferred legitimacy on those involved in this group and its various allies, many Jews are too eager to treat Billoo’s comments or CAIR’s failure to condemn her as insufficient reason to rethink their choices.
Part of the problem has been the willingness of those Billoo called “polite Zionists” to treat those she called “fascists” or “Islamophobes” as an embarrassment to the Jewish community. In her speech, she divided the Jews into three groups.
On the one hand, she advocated continuing to work with “good Jews” who shared CAIR’s anti-Zionist goals, such as members of IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace, who actively sought to support the anti-Semitic BDS movement and, in the case of JVP, in fact engaged in the promotion of blood libel against the Jews. But she warned that “polite Zionists” were just as bad as those who were actively engaged in exposing their activities and positions, work that is often labeled bigotry by so-called extremism arbitrators like the Southern Poverty Law Center. left wing rather than providing the country with the information it needs to make informed decisions about CAIR treatment.
Too often, mainstream groups have acquiesced in labeling the Middle East Forum and IPT as anti-Muslim – just as Billoo does – instead of acknowledging that they did the hard work of exposing the truth about CAIR and associated groups. The fact that CAIR is publishing a story this week in an attempt to divert attention from Billoo’s ongoing anti-Semitic rhetoric – in which she claims she is the victim of a “prolonged Zionist attack” – about the IPT having paid an informant within the group to give them information on CAIR’s activities illustrates how determined they are to marginalize their most vocal critics.
Sadly, mainstream Jewish liberals have often foolishly embraced the deceptive rhetoric about Islamophobia. It’s an accusation that aims primarily to change the conversation from one conversation about hatred emanating from Islamists to one about mythical anti-Muslim backlash. It’s the same trick that anti-Semites like Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) Have used to push back against legitimate criticism of his extremism and the promotion of hatred.
Instead of stubbornly claiming that the problem can be limited to Billoo and pursuing the status quo in interfaith efforts, what the mainstream Jewish world needs to do is pause and examine its own complicity in CAIR’s ability to impose itself on American Muslims and be recognized by the media and government institutions as a respected civil rights group. Dialogue with Muslims should not be avoided, but it should be conditioned on mutual respect. This requires that Jewish groups call on CAIR and its allies and all those associated with them as members of hate groups, and not candidates for dialogue. If that’s too much to ask, then there’s no point listening to them express their outrage over what Billoo said.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS — Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.