Drop Israel-friendly Emgage, say Palestinian, Muslim activists

Smiling man

Activists are calling on Joe Biden to fire Farooq Mitha as the Democratic nominee’s Muslim outreach adviser. (via Twitter)

Palestinian and Muslim activists in the United States are calling on community organizations and leaders to drop affiliations with the Muslim American group Emgage.

They are also calling on Joe Biden to fire Farooq Mitha, the Emgage board member hired by the Democratic presidential nominee as his Muslim outreach adviser.

“Leaders at Emgage have repeatedly disregarded the legitimate interests of Muslim communities in the United States to the detriment of the constituencies they claim to represent,” the activists say in an open letter published on Friday.

They add that Mitha, a former Pentagon official, “simply does not represent the views or will of our communities.”

The dozens of initial signers include Palestinian American activists, faith leaders and eight delegates to the 2016 and 2020 Democratic National Conventions, among other grassroots activists.

This follows an exposé published by The Electronic Intifada this week documenting how leaders of Emgage maintain close ties with Israel lobby groups.

Junkets to Israel

At least four Emgage board and staff have traveled to Israel and the occupied West Bank with the Muslim Leadership Initiative.

MLI is a project of the Shalom Hartman Institute, an Israeli organization that works closely with the Israeli army.

It is financed by the Russell Berrie Foundation, which is one of the biggest funders of Islamophobes in the United States, including notorious anti-Muslim agitators Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes and Steve Emerson.

Emgage leaders have also collaborated with Israel lobby groups that have waged a relentless campaign against Palestine solidarity activism, especially the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

These groups include AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee.

The open letter also reflects widespread concern that Emgage is more of a vehicle for personal advancement, than an organization committed to the principled pursuit of policies that help Muslim communities.

It refers to an incident this summer when the Biden campaign smeared Palestinian American campaigner Linda Sarsour and the BDS movement as anti-Semitic.

According to the letter, Farooq Mitha and Emgage co-chair Khurrum Wahid “sought to obtain concessions in the form of more appointments in the Biden campaign and/or transition team in lieu of a public apology.”

“Such an apology was the specific demand of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim American leaders and activists,” the letter adds.

Inadequate response

Emgage responded to The Electronic Intifada’s article on Wednesday.

But its response did not deny or contradict the facts we reported. The statement did affirm Emgage’s support for BDS and Palestinian rights more generally.

But for many, that did not go far enough.

Emgage claimed that since 2018 it has adopted a policy barring its members from taking part in the Muslim Leadership Initiative, even in a personal capacity.

Yet in 2019, the letter notes, Emgage CEO and former State Department official Wa’el Alzayat “partnered with the Shalom Hartman Institute and the ADL to launch yet another faithwashing initiative.”

Faithwashing describes efforts to falsely portray Israel’s occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians as a religious dispute. It also describes projects that use “interfaith” dialogue as a cover for normalization of ties with Israel, or which aim to co-opt faith leaders and silence their criticisms of Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.

“Despite a recent statement by Emgage expressing support for BDS and the Palestinian right of return, we have witnessed no accountability or apology from the organization for the above-cited litany of harmful actions,” the activists say.

“We have seen neither a pledge from Emgage to formally end its normalization activities nor a statement denouncing Zionism as a racist ideology.”

That echoes a call from Sami al-Arian, a well-known scholar and Palestinian rights activist, who in August publicly criticized Emgage for its willingness to “dance with Zionists.”

On Thursday, al-Arian told The Electronic Intifada that a statement supporting Palestinian rights is “meaningless” without an apology and a pledge by Emgage to refrain from working with Israel lobby groups.