A response has been published in the name of Emgage to my 9 September article about the Muslim American organization’s extensive ties to the Israel lobby, including the fact that top leaders of the group have traveled on Muslim Leadership Initiative junkets to Israel.
MLI is a project of the Shalom Hartman Institute, an Israeli organization with close ties to Israel’s military and funded by Islamophobes.
Still, as the statement has circulated widely, it is worth responding to the points it makes.
I wrote to Emgage’s CEO Wa’el Alzayat and its board members Farooq Mitha and AJ Durrani prior to publishing my original article.
I also spoke briefly with Mitha, who asked me to follow up by email. Mitha did not respond to my email and the others did not respond at all by my deadline.
The response in the name of Emgage released after my article was published contains several misleading statements as well as claims that cannot be verified.
Before addressing those, it is important to emphasize that Emgage does not contradict or deny any of the factual reporting in my article, though it accuses me of “several misrepresentations of Emgage’s domestic and foreign policy stances.”
My uncontradicted reporting includes the names of Emgage leaders who traveled on MLI junkets and the extensive relationships between various Emgage leaders and Israel lobby groups including AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.
Muslim Leadership Initiative
With respect to MLI, the organization says that “Emgage has never had an official relationship with the Muslim Leadership Initiative.” It also claims to have “adopted a policy in 2018 that prohibits members of Emgage from participating in the program, even in their personal capacity.” It does not provide a link to any previous public statement of that policy.
Board leadership conflict of interest with Biden campaign
Emgage claims that Farooq Mitha, “a former board member for Emgage, is currently on leave from his Board responsibilities as he works as Senior Advisor to Vice President Joe Biden.”
It provides no date for when Mitha supposedly stepped down. As noted in my original article, Mitha was listed as a board member as recently as 30 August.
(Emgage removed its board page from its website on or soon after 30 August, an action it has not explained).Mitha, moreover, was appointed by the Biden campaign in early March.
Yet on 25 April, Emgage filed an official report with the State of Florida listing Farooq Mitha as one of its directors. The official address of the organization remained the Florida motel owned by the Mitha family.
If Mitha has indeed stepped down, Emgage ought to be able to say clearly when that happened. It also ought to provide a complete and accurate list of its board members.
Support for Palestine activism and freedom
Emgage now says “we oppose the continued occupation of Palestinian lands and Israeli settlement activities that displace them from their homes and heritage. We support the BDS movement, as well as the Right of Return of Palestinians – or providing those displaced and their descendants with fair compensation, should they accept it.”
This appears to be the first time Emgage has said it supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. Yet it maintains an ambiguous position.
A May 2019 statement Emgage linked in its response shows that it has previously opposed legislation targeting BDS activism on free speech grounds.
Supporting the “right to BDS” is laudable, but it falls short of actually supporting BDS.
Elsewhere in its response, Emgage asserts, “We support the constitutional protected right of Americans to boycott any country, including Israel.” It does not say clearly that it supports and urges people to support the Palestinian-led campaign to boycott Israel.It is moreover doubtful that the Democratic nominee’s campaign would have declared in July that “Joe Biden is proud to stand with Emgage” and that Biden would have spoken at Emgage’s online summit that month if the organization had been on the record clearly supporting BDS.
It is especially unlikely given that in August the Biden campaign smeared prominent Democratic Party activist Linda Sarsour because of BDS.
“Joe Biden has been a strong supporter of Israel and a vehement opponent of anti-Semitism his entire life, and he obviously condemns her [Sarsour’s] views and opposes BDS, as does the Democratic platform,” the campaign said.
Recent changes to website
Emgage recently altered its website to add references to Palestine.
The only mentions of “Palestinian” relate to the ethnic identity of individuals.
Like many advocacy groups, Emgage has a subsidiary called a political action committee that endorses candidates or lobbies related to specific legislation.
Emgage’s political action committee is Emgage Action.
The website of Emgage Action does now mention Palestine among its “issues.” But this appears to be brand new.
As of 6 September, the cached page on the Bing search engine, shows that Palestine was not mentioned.
The Internet Archive confirms that as of its most recent copy of that page, on 6 August, there was no mention of Palestine.
Emgage Action does now link to five documents relating to its positions on Palestinian rights, including a February 2018 letter from CEO Wa’el Alzayat supporting legislation that would ban the Israeli military from using US aid to detain and abuse Palestinian children.
The metadata for two of the documents shows that they were uploaded on 9 September. The remaining three have dates stripped out of the metadata.
Yet in none of these items does Emgage criticize the anti-Palestinian stances of the Biden campaign that its political action committee is urging people to support.
Covering up criticism
Last month, scholar Sami al-Arian expressed his outrage that the video of a webinar hosted by CAIR Florida in which he expressed strong criticism of Emgage had been heavily edited.
CAIR Florida is a chapter of the national Muslim American organization the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Some 48 minutes of the almost two-hour video were removed, according to al-Arian.
“Much of the content removed includes comments that were critical of segments of the Muslim American leadership and institutions and their failure to meet the challenges facing this community,” al-Arian wrote in a 22 August Facebook post.
Al-Arian says that the video was edited “presumably due to heavy pressure and bullying applied on CAIR Florida and CAIR National from an organization with Zionist connections, and ironically, those actions further underscore the points made in the original video.”
Al-Arian also posted the full, unedited video.
In it he points to Emgage’s “checkered history” that includes the MLI junkets to Israel and a willingness to “dance with Zionists.”
“We need to speak out about this and not allow those people who have an agenda that aligns with Zionist imperatives in America, and make them spokespersons for us,” al-Arian adds.
“We are not going to be empowered simply by kissing the hands or the behinds of the people in power.”
After reading Emgage’s response to my article, al-Arian is not much more impressed.
“We have not seen from Emgage any acknowledgement of any wrongdoing or apology for being part of Zionist organizations or associations by Emgage leadership,” al-Arian told The Electronic Intifada on Thursday.
“A statement on supporting Palestinian rights is meaningless without owning up to their dangerous associations.”
Al-Arian said that Emgage needs to “acknowledge the wrongdoing” of associating with the American Jewish Committee, the ADL and other pro-Israel groups, and its leaders need to resign from Israel lobby-backed faithwashing initiatives.
He urged Emgage to apologize and “denounce Zionism as a racist ideology and Israel as a colonialist-settler state.”
Emgage should also “Pledge not to ever work with any Zionist organization,” al-Arian added.
Only if the group meets those conditions “could one accept their turn around,” he said.
Anything short of that is “meaningless and self-serving.”