US Muslim groups face pressure over ties to Israel-friendly Emgage

Woman gestures and speaks to camera

Democratic Party activist Linda Sarsour urges Muslim Americans to vote for Joe Biden, during Emgage Michigan’s virtual gala on 20 September. (via YouTube)

Muslim American and Palestinian rights groups are under growing pressure to cut ties with Emgage, the US Muslim organization whose leaders maintain cozy ties with Israel lobby groups.

On Tuesday, American Muslims for Palestine broke its official silence on the matter, saying that it was “aware of and is addressing the grave allegations” about Emgage.

This comes two weeks after The Electronic Intifada’s exposé of Emgage leaders’ connections with anti-Palestine organizations.

“AMP takes a simple, strong, and principled position prohibiting covert and overt alliances and normalization with Islamophobic or Zionist organizations and elements, as well as any hateful individuals and groups,” American Muslims for Palestine said.

All members of the US Council of Muslim Organizations “adhere to these principles and this was made patently clear to Emgage when it sought membership in the USCMO,” AMP added.

Both Emgage and American Muslims for Palestine are members of the US Council of Muslim Organizations.

AMP said it would wait until an “official report” by USCMO about Emgage, but that in the meantime it would “continue to impose a prohibition on a collaborative relationship with Emgage.”

It is unclear when this report will be issued.

As The Electronic Intifada has reported, Emgage leaders have collaborated closely with Israel lobby groups that are waging 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.

Emgage board members and personnel have participated in the Muslim Leadership Initiative – junkets to Israel operated 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.

Emgage has endorsed Joe Biden and its longtime board member and former Pentagon official Farooq Mitha serves as the Democratic nominee’s “Muslim engagement” adviser.

Not fast or far enough

Raja Abdulhaq, executive director of Majlis Ash-Shura: Islamic Leadership Council of New York, welcomed AMP’s statement as “a powerful and principled position” and urged “other national Muslim organizations to follow.”

But for many, American Muslims for Palestine and other USCMO members have not moved fast or far enough.

On Sunday, Hatem Bazian, American Muslims for Palestine’s board chair, published a note on Facebook reacting to the Emgage controversy.

Bazian said he had been involved in discussions with Emgage leaders and was unsatisfied with their responses thus far.

Bazian has been a leading voice warning about the dangers of faithwashing projects like the Muslim Leadership Initiative that co-opt US Muslim activists into pro-Israel propaganda.

But now Bazian is urging that the “best approach” is to postpone further discussions about Emgage until after the November election.

This drew a sharp response from commenter Laila al-Arian, who called it “stunning” that asking Muslim American groups to dissociate from Israel lobby organizations “is seen as such a tall order.”

Al-Arian added that it is “clearly a strategic blunder to wait until after the elections to hold Emgage accountable and have them disassociate from Islamophobic and anti-Palestinian groups.”

“Critical step”

The Drop Emgage campaign is also pushing for stronger action.

On Wednesday, the campaign said American Muslims for Palestine had taken a “critical step towards dropping Emgage USA entirely.”

Drop Emgage called AMP’s move “a step in the right direction.”

More than 200 Palestinian and Muslim activists have signed Drop Emgage’s open letter demanding that Emgage sever all ties with Israel lobby group and respect the Palestinian BDS call.

Drop Emgage is now urging the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim American Society and others to “immediately suspend all collaboration” until Emgage meets demands to “end its normalization activities with Zionist groups.”

CAIR is among several Muslim American groups taking part in Emgage’s voter mobilization drive.

In August, CAIR redacted criticisms of Emgage’s ties to Zionist groups made by Palestinian scholar Sami al-Arian from a video of an online seminar.

A request for comment was acknowledged by CAIR, but no response has been received.

“Give me Joe Biden”

Another group partnering with Emgage is MPower Change, led by Linda Sarsour, a high-profile Palestinian American activist in the Democratic Party.

Sarsour participated in a virtual gala hosted by Emgage’s Michigan chapter last Sunday.

“I came here to support the leadership of Nada al-Hanooti and her work as the Emgage executive director of the Michigan chapter,” Sarsour began – offering praise while deftly avoiding a full-throated endorsement of Emgage as a whole.

But Sarsour did not address any of the controversy surrounding Emgage’s connections to anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic groups, focusing instead on urging Muslim Americans to vote for Biden no matter what misgivings they may have.

“Give me Joe Biden. Joe Biden is a neoliberal, he is a conservative Democrat, and yes he does not align with us on many issues,” Sarsour said.

In return for electing Biden, Sarsour promised to “stay on these streets and fight harder than I ever have, even harder than I fought under the Trump administration.”

Sarsour offered a version of the perennial election-time pitch: Vote for the Democrats now because this is the most important election in our lifetimes. We’ll hold Obama’s/Clinton’s/Biden’s feet to the fire later.

But according to Black Agenda Report’s Margaret Kimberley, “ ‘We will hold their feet to the fire,’ is one of the saddest or perhaps funniest of all quadrennial proclamations.”

“Anyone who actually votes for a Democrat yet ends up pushing back against them is in a very distinct minority,” Kimberley adds. “Most Americans have been so bullied by the system that their political activity is already limited to voting.”

“Liberation can’t come from electoral politics,” Kimberley writes. “The mass movement comes first and electoral successes may follow.”

One conclusion is that if voting gives people any leverage at all, it is by demanding concessions from politicians before the votes are cast, not after.

Another, as the Emgage debacle shows, is that trying to build a mass movement around Muslim American identity cannot succeed if it fails to adopt and abide by clear principles on the question of Palestine.

Sarsour and MPower Change have not responded to requests for comment.

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Who does it serve to split Palestinian solidarity? Who does it serve to stop voter mobilization drives in Detroit? To be left-dogmatic at this moment, to impose a purity test on the effort to bring out the Muslim vote, is a gift to Trump and Netanyahu.

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Groups that have close relations with AIPAC, the ADL and AJC are not part of “Palestine solidarity.” The question should be directed at them, not at those who hold them accountable.

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With all due respect to your scholarship and unquestionable devotion to the freedom of Palestine, I vigorously disagree with your assessment. I believe we are in a United Front Against Fascism. I am in solidarity with liberals who do not have the courage to hold police accountable for the murder of young Black men. I have criticized them. I continue to criticize them. I will not stop criticizing them, but right now, for the next 40 days, they are my comrades in struggle against the racist policies of Trump. We must all join in that struggle. There are only two sides. You are on one side or the other. To sit on the sidelines and throw stones at people on our side who are fighting fascism is to support fascism.

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A United Front Against Fascism needs to be against fascism -- not uniting to get people to support the fascist threat. Capitalism is the root of fascism. Biden is a supporter and shill for the U.S. capitalist system. And he is such a sycophant towardz the ruling class that he can't even mount a decent platform that might fool some people who want freedom and justice. Read history. Read "Fascism and Big Business" by Daniel Guerin.

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Wikipedia: "Fascism is a form of far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition and strong regimentation of society and of the economy which came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe.
What is opposite of fascism?"
"Opposite of an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization. democracy. anti-fascism. liberalism."
I confess I disagree with Noam Chomsky, who said he wouldn't dignify Trump by calling him a fascist. Fascism implies an understanding of an ideology. Trump doesn't (in Chomsky's opinion) have the intelligence to have an ideology. He's just a tin-pot dictator.
I think fascism means an authoritarian, anti-woman and racist belief system that is aligned with the more powerful elements of the bourgeois class. The more liberal, less powerful and more intelligent members of the bourgeois class who hope for upward mobility recognize that fascism rigidly codifies their relationship to the means of production and stops their upward mobility. Classic bourgeois liberalism supports the free exchange of goods and ideas. Bernie believes he can work with Biden. I'm with Bernie.

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Emgage is a great example of U.S. Democratic Party politics. Emgage candidates run in the name of the group, Muslims, that they are conspiring against with an alliance to pro-Israel groups and the Democratic Party. Thank you EI for this article.

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It is evident that Linda Sarsour has been co opted-as an AMP member, and a Justice Democrat, I am extremely disappointed. It's OK that she is fine with Biden-I held my nose and voted for him myself but, but if he wins, true Progressives will be on the hypocritical Democratic Party Wall-Streeters from Nov. 4 on.

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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.