Emgage has “no courage” on Palestine, says ex-employee

Emgage, the Muslim American group whose close ties to the Israel lobby were exposed earlier this month by The Electronic Intifada, must be hoping that Palestinian American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib can help restore its battered reputation.

It needs all the help it can get: On Friday, a former senior Emgage employee painted a damning picture of the organization, calling its get-out-the-vote-efforts for the fast-approaching American election a sham, and slamming its lack of courage on Palestine.

Last Monday, Emgage posted this video on Twitter of Tlaib thanking the group for its “critically important civic engagement work” in her Detroit, Michigan, district and “across the country.”

It is unclear whether the video was filmed before or after The Electronic Intifada published its 9 September exposé on Emgage.

But Tlaib and Palestinian American activist Linda Sarsour are among several individuals being advertised as speakers at Emgage’s Michigan “virtual gala” this Sunday.

Tlaib, who was endorsed by Emgage’s political action committee, handily won her primary in August – all but assuring her return to Congress after November’s general election.

A request for comment has been sent to Tlaib’s office.

But if posting the video was intended by Emgage to stem community outrage over how it is undermining the Palestinian struggle for justice, it has not succeeded.

A growing number of activists definitely do not share Tlaib’s rosy assessment of the group.

Emgage’s earliest attempt to tamp down concerns came in a statement published the same day as The Electronic Intifada’s exposé.

That statement – which did not deny or contradict the facts reported by The Electronic Intifada – failed to convince dozens of Palestinian and Muslim community activists.

They signed an open letter last Friday calling on community organizations and leaders to drop affiliations with Emgage.

They also urged Joe Biden to fire Farooq Mitha, the Emgage board member appointed as the Democratic presidential nominee’s “Muslim engagement adviser.”

In the last week, the number of signatories has reached more than 150, including a dozen delegates to the Democratic National Committee.

“No courage” on Palestine

Now comes a damning insider’s portrait of Emgage written by Olivia Cantu – one of the signers of the open letter.

Cantu says she worked at the group for the last four years, starting out as “doe-eyed volunteer” and rising to become its Florida director of operations.

She says she was recently “fired from Emgage for speaking out.”

Some of the concerns she details in her article for Mondoweiss include how “Emgage has failed to effectively mobilize Muslim voters, because it lacks legitimacy in the Muslim community.”

She says the organization “misrepresents its power through sham data” and “cannot deliver on its promises to the Democratic Party” – the boldest being that it will mobilize a million Muslim voters for November’s election.

“I have firsthand knowledge of all its inner workings, its lack of finances, its lack of development, its lack of diversity and its patriarchal system that views women as secretaries, but most of all its extreme inefficiency,” Cantu writes.

When it comes to foreign policy, Cantu says that Emgage’s position on Uyghur and Rohingya Muslims is “pretty much the same even as Trump’s stance.”

“There was no courage in tackling major issues, like Palestine, Kashmir, drones and Zionist normalization.”

“If Emgage did not exist, the only people who would be harmed are the careerists who would lose out on administration jobs and access to power,” Cantu witheringly observes.

“Pathetic” statement

There have also been discussions among leaders of the US Council of Muslim Organizations, of which Emgage is a member.

The Electronic Intifada understands that members of the umbrella body have been putting pressure on Emgage to deal transparently and forthrightly with recent revelations.

But its response, in the form of a new statement from Emgage board co-chair Khurrum Wahid, fell far short of expectations.

Published Wednesday, the statement attempts to shore up Emgage’s pro-Palestinian bona fides.

Wahid addresses the criticism generated by his participation and that of other Emgage personnel in the Muslim Leadership Initiative – junkets to Israel organized by the Shalom Hartman Institute, an organization which has close ties to the Israeli military and shares a major funder with some of the most Islamophobic organizations in the United States.

“On behalf of those who participated in this trip, I would like to apologize for the pain that this has caused, it was a wrong decision,” Wahid says.

But Wahid does not address how senior Emgage leaders continue to collaborate with Israel lobby groups including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee.

Instead he mischaracterizes earlier reporting by claiming that Emgage was accused of having “programming with ADL and AJC.”

“Emgage has no such programming,” Wahid asserts.

The Electronic Intifada did not however report that Emgage has joint programs with either of these groups.

Rather, we reported accurately that senior Emgage leaders including Wahid and CEO Wa’el Alzayat are involved in faithwashing initiatives with these organizations.

Faithwashing is a propaganda strategy that aims to falsely portray the situation caused by Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestine as a religious dispute.

It also employs Muslim-Jewish “interfaith dialogue” as a cover for normalization with Israel and a way to co-opt and silence criticism of Israel’s crimes from Muslim activists and leaders.

Wahid does “recognize that we, as an organization, have not done enough to make our positions on Palestine as clear and prominent as we have with other areas of international and domestic policy.”

“To that end, Emgage is committed to improving our engagement with the Palestinian American community,” Wahid pledges.

But Wahid’s statement is “disappointing to say the least,” according to Raja Abdulhaq, a founder of the Palestinian news website Quds News Network and the executive director of Majlis Ash-Shura: Islamic Leadership Council of New York.

“The statement failed to address most of the issues that were reported by Ali Abunimah, instead, they only half-apologized for participating in MLI trips,” Abdulhaq wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday.

Palestinian scholar and activist Sami al-Arian had a similarly dim assessment, calling Wahid’s response a “pathetic statement.”

“The Emgage board chairman uses straw man arguments,” al-Arian told The Electronic Intifada. “He states accusations that were never made so that he could deny them and knock them down.”

Wahid “thinks he could fool people by calling for the ‘liberation of the Palestinian people’ not the ‘liberation of Palestine,’” al-Arian added.

Regarding Emgage leaders’ ongoing ties to Zionist organizations, al-Arian said, “These accusations were never addressed, nor denied nor apologized for, nor dissociated from,” and no one has “announced resignations from their positions.”

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Cut 'em some slack.
It is a long, protracted struggle. It is fought on many fronts. What may seem like faith-washing to some "advanced" elements might seem like cultural sensitivity to others. There are many struggles. They are supporting Tlaib. They are doing campaign work. That is the necessary task in front of us. They are comrades in the struggle against Trump's fascism and Zionism. Michigan is a very important state. Trump carried it in 2016. We need turnout in Detroit to match inflamed racism in the North. Please support Emgage and Tlaib in their work. and stop sniping

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"If Emgage did not exist..." Yes, that's always the case: create a bureaucracy and it takes over. The unions are hobbled by this. They have huge bureaucracies. Appointees earn fat salaries. The members find themselves with less power than a handful of careerists, some of whom have never been workplace unionists. The answer is to prevent bureaucracies from emerging through federalism. Keep local organisations autonomous and federate them into a national structure without a national bureaucracy. Keep power at the grassroots. In bureaucracies it always passes up to a few at the top. Bureaucracy is inherently reactionary as is careerism. Radicalism must keep both in check.

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Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.