Emgage has been dropped from the US Council of Muslim Organizations after it refused requests to end relationships with pro-Israel and anti-Muslim groups.
This comes a month after The Electronic Intifada’s exposé of Emgage’s ties to Israel lobby groups set off a heated debate among Muslim American activists and led to mounting calls for organizations to cut ties with Emgage – which aims to position itself as “the main civic organization for Muslim American communities.”
On Thursday, the US Council of Muslim Organizations announced that it had spent a month “working to investigate these concerns, address them with our friends at Emgage and develop a positive way forward.”
“Despite strong efforts by everyone involved and some progress, we were not able to reach agreement,” the council added. “As a result, Emgage is no longer a member of USCMO.”
The council, which brings together more than 30 organizations, affirmed that its members “must fully maintain the Muslim community’s united support for causes of justice here and abroad, including the cause of Palestinian freedom.”
It added that it is “unacceptable for a Muslim organization to collaborate with organizations that harm the Muslim community, or for the leaders of a Muslim organization to collaborate with organizations that harm the Muslim community.”
“We applaud USCMO for dropping Emgage from its body of council members,” the Drop Emgage campaign said on Friday.
“This critical step sends a message that Muslim American communities are unified in rejecting organizations that partner and collaborate with anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim Zionist organizations.”
Drop Emgage’s open letter calling on community organizations to end ties with Emgage has been signed by more than 200 Palestinian and Muslim activists and leaders over the past month.
And in Mondoweiss on Friday, Hatem Fariz, a Muslim community leader in Florida, writes that for years he and his peers witnessed “unprincipled behavior” by Emgage in its efforts to gain political influence.
According to Fariz, Emgage’s tactics only ended up making it “an extremely toxic organization that no one on the ground wanted to work with.”
Fariz lauds USCMO’s severing of ties with Emgage and urges “all remaining organizations and individuals interested in fighting Islamophobia and standing in solidarity with Palestinian rights to do the same.”
Ties to Israel lobby
In September, The Electronic Intifada published an exposé of the close ties between Emgage leaders and staff and several major Israel lobby groups, including AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee.
These groups are at the forefront of the Israel lobby’s efforts to shut down the Palestine solidarity movement by supporting legislation against the BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – campaign, and smearing activists as anti-Semites.
Emgage board members and personnel have also participated in the Muslim Leadership Initiative – faithwashing junkets to Israel operated by the Shalom Hartman Institute, an organization with close ties to the Israeli military.
MLI is financed by the Russell Berrie Foundation, one of the biggest funders of Islamophobes in the United States, including notorious anti-Muslim agitators Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson.
Last week, The Electronic Intifada reported on how Emgage is endorsing and raising money for numerous congressional candidates with hardline pro-Israel and anti-BDS positions.
The revelations have severely dented Emgage’s reputation in the run up to the US elections.
The group had scored several coups: Its longtime board member and former Pentagon official Farooq Mitha was appointed in March as Joe Biden’s “Muslim engagement” adviser, and the Democratic nominee addressed Emgage in July.
That put it in a prime position to advise or suggest personnel for a potential Biden administration. The group’s CEO Wa’el Alzayat, for instance, is a former State Department official.
Emgage’s exclusion by mainstream American Muslim organizations will make it much harder for the group to present itself as a significant and influential player in the community.
Effort at spin
The USCMO statement is vague about whether Emgage was expelled or resigned.
According to Raja Abdulhaq, executive director of USCMO member the Islamic Leadership Council of New York, Emgage tried to resign in order to preempt what had become an inevitable expulsion.
“During a USCMO board meeting this week, Emgage once again refused our longstanding request that the organization and its leadership publicly pledge to no longer partner with anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian groups, specifically including the ADL and the AJC,” Abdulhaq wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday.
According to Abdulhaq, the board then asked Emgage representatives to leave the meeting to allow deliberations on Emgage’s expulsion.
“While the board was deliberating and voting, Emgage’s director emailed an abrupt and misleading resignation letter, presumably in an attempt to preempt the board’s decision, which was to terminate Emgage’s membership,” Abdulhaq added.
Chaudry also tried to spin Emgage’s departure by claiming that “One of the reasons Emgage withdrew was because USCMO demanded that Emgage withdraw their support of an Ahmedi Muslim candidate.”
Abdulhaq rejected Chaudry’s effort to muddy the waters and deflect the discussion from Emgage’s well-established ties to pro-Israel groups.
“The email that was sent from Emgage to USCMO had an indirect legal threat which Rabia Chaudry is using now to twist the issue from dropping Zionist and Islamophobic organizations to that of Takfir,” Abdulhaq wrote.
Takfir is the controversial practice of one Muslim declaring that another person is not a proper Muslim.
The email from Emgage CEO Alzayat claims that USCMO “made demands that agreement on a potential unity statement be contingent on” Emgage’s political action committee “rescinding its endorsement of one of our candidates.”
Alzayat did not identify the candidate, say why the demand was supposedly made, or make any of the accusations leveled by Chaudry.
Chaudry and other pro-Israel advocates have also taken their defense of Emgage – and smears against those seeking to hold it accountable – to Twitter:
Choosing to stand with Zionists
The bottom line for Abdulhaq is that “even if Emgage resigned first – which is not accurate – that shows that Emgage is choosing its relationships with Zionists, Islamophobes and Hindutva extremists over its own community.”
This view is echoed by the Drop Emgage campaign which said that Emgage “chose to keep their partnerships with anti-Palestinian Zionist groups over their membership in USCMO.”
Drop Emgage added that it “remains concerned that other organizations are maintaining their alliance with Emgage and have yet to disavow Emgage’s deep ties to anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian Zionist groups.”
It named in particular MPower Change, the advocacy group led by Linda Sarsour, a prominent Palestinian American activist in the Democratic Party.
MPower Change and other Muslim groups including CAIR and MPAC partner with Emgage through its “Million Muslim Votes” campaign.
Sarsour also praised Emgage’s work when she addressed the virtual gala held by Emgage Michigan last month.
Sarsour did not respond to The Electronic Intifada’s inquiries at that time. A further request for comment has been sent.