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New York State Attorney General Letitia James. Photo: Reuters/Lucas Jackson.
JNS.org – What do you call it when government authorities side with antisemitic bigots and label those trying to monitor such extremists as bigots, and warn them that if they continue their work, they’ll be subjected to legal action? That’s the sort of thing you might expect in an authoritarian nation where Jews are subjected to informal or official discrimination, and where democratic values are either under attack or already extinguished.
Yet that is exactly what happened in New York this past week when that state’s Attorney General Letitia James issued a “cease and desist notification” to the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT). The letter addressed to the IPT’s Steven Emerson warned it not to “spy on Muslim houses of worship, Muslim advocacy groups and prominent Muslim leaders.” Such activity, she said, “could violate the New York Civil Rights Law, and other state and federal laws.”
The letter referenced reports about IPT’s efforts to “infiltrate” Muslim groups, which she characterized as “a concerted effort to hamper Muslims in the exercise of their civil rights, including the right to worship, to peacefully assemble and organize politically, to petition the government and to vote.” Such efforts were, she asserted, in violation of the “New York Civil Rights Law,” which “prohibits discrimination or harassment against an individual exercising their civil rights on the basis of creed,” as well as “intimidating an individual on the basis of their religion or religious practice.”
But the tipoff that not all is as it seems comes from the mention in her letter that one object of IPT’s “spying” was the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). CAIR raised a ruckus last December when it found out that one of the officials in its Ohio branch had been passing information to IPT.
Despite all the huffing and puffing from CAIR about calling down the wrath of the law on IPT, it’s clear that was a bluff, and you don’t have to be a legal expert to know why. If CAIR were to sue IPT, the Muslim group would be subjected to the same sort of scrutiny it has been seeking to avoid. Given its history and the nature of its activities, that’s something that CAIR cannot afford to do.
Although it poses as a civil-rights group and pretends to be a victim of harassment, the truth is just the opposite. CAIR was founded as a front group for violent extremists and has, despite its sometimes successful public-relations efforts, continued to be a haven for antisemites and radical hatemongers. By contrast, the Investigative Project on Terrorism has a long record of exposing extremists. Its job is to ferret out the truth behind the lies put about by those organizations that purport to represent the interests of American Muslims, but which are instead led by a radical minority dedicated to pursuing an extreme agenda in which terrorists are excused and Jews are targeted for hate.
CAIR was founded in the 1990s by the Holy Land Foundation, a group whose mission was to raise funds for Hamas terrorists in the United States. While their illegal fundraising operation was eventually shut down by the US Department of the Treasury, the political front group it set up to represent its interests lived on. Rebranding itself as a Muslim version of the Anti-Defamation League, CAIR has insinuated itself into the civil-rights community and achieved a faux respectability in many places. In recent years, it has sought to gain ground by depicting itself as fighting against “Islamophobia,” a term that it interprets as referring to anyone who dares to scrutinize or criticize groups that engage in antisemitism, spread hatred for Israel, and rationalize terrorism.
It has received a vital assist in that bogus effort from the growing popularity of intersectional ideology and critical race theory. These toxic ideas brand both the State of Israel and Jews as having “white privilege,” and therefore can be categorized as oppressors while all Muslims are considered victims. In this way, a permission slip is granted to antisemitism and opposition to Jew-hatred is labeled is falsely labeled as hate.
However, CAIR has never strayed far from its ideological roots. It seeks to promote the antisemitic BDS movement that targets both Israel and its Jewish supporters for illegal discriminatory commercial boycotts. It claims that they are merely criticizing Israel when their actual goal is the destruction of the one Jewish state on the planet. It was no coincidence that the terrorist who took hostages at a Texas synagogue earlier this year was apparently inspired by a CAIR campaign to gain the release of a convicted Islamist terrorist imprisoned nearby.
This was made even more obvious recently when one of the group’s leading officials, Zahra Billoo, delivered an epic hate-filled rant against Jews, synagogues and Jewish organizations at an event held by American Muslims for Palestine, another radical group allied to CAIR. Had she been an outlier, the group, which sometimes seeks to depict itself as opposed to antisemitism while supporting antisemitic causes, would have condemned her remarks. It didn’t, and even many liberal Jews who had been duped into thinking of CAIR as an ally had to realize that they had been tricked.
Still, CAIR has continued with its campaign to discredit those who seek to tell the truth about it, sometimes with the aid of other similarly discredited leftist organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center. It recently sought to stigmatize groups dedicated to telling the truth about radical Islamists, and that support Israel and monitor media bias, as well as the foundations that help fund such efforts.
Their preferred tactic was a familiar one: label the anti-hate groups as haters. With this gaslighting, they have sought to turn essential organizations such as CAMERA, the Middle East Forum, MEMRI, the Clarion Project, and IPT into pariahs. That has been a dismal failure. But aided by political allies on the left-wing of the Democratic Party who support intersectional lies about Israel and Jews, its shameless efforts to change the conversation from one about their own hate to a fake narrative about Islamophobia continues.
That makes James’ decision to back CAIR particularly troubling. James gained notoriety last year because of her successful takedown of disgraced New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo over his record of sexual harassment. Though her ambitions to succeed him have been thwarted, she continues to harbor ambitions of higher office. In deep-blue New York, that means kowtowing to her party’s leftist base and embracing CAIR’s smearing of IPT.
This is an ominous sign of the impact of intersectional ideology on the Democratic Party. IPT has sought to convince whistleblowers inside radical groups like CAIR to expose their activities. Far from being a violation of anyone’s civil rights—let alone an attempt to stop anyone from public advocacy or voting—it is a necessary effort to uncover the truth about Islamists.
James and others on the left who buy into CAIR’s lies are not protecting religious liberty. They are providing legal cover for antisemites who hide behind the lie that anyone who speaks out against their activities is discriminating against Muslims. Unfortunately, too many in the Jewish community and elsewhere are so cowed by CAIR’s Islamophobia narrative that they think speaking out against them or in favor of those who monitor them, like IPT, will also make them subject to accusations of racism and bigotry.
People of goodwill, Jewish and non-Jewish, need to repudiate CAIR’s big lie and stand with groups like IPT against James’ false accusations and outrageous threats. If they don’t, they need to understand that CAIR and its allies won’t be content with intimidating IPT. Its goal is to silence all pro-Israel groups and to mainstream its noxious brand of antisemitism. When governments side with antisemitic bigots and seek to shut down those who monitor them, no one who is prepared to tell the truth about hatred towards the Jewish people will be safe.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.
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