Farooq Mitha, a longtime leader in the Israel-lobby linked Muslim group Emgage, has been given a job in the Pentagon by the Biden administration.
It can be seen as a reward for an organization that has faithfully supported the Democratic Party and its hawkish foreign policies while posing as a champion of Muslims and even of Palestinians.
And as Emgage apparently cements its relationship with the new administration, it has quietly backed off a statement of support for BDS, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights.
Meanwhile, Emgage has embraced a hawkish campaign against China, endorsing accusations of genocide perpetrated against Uyghur Muslims that stem from discredited research by an extreme Christian Zionist who yearns to see a Jewish temple built where Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock now stand.
His job will be to help ensure that small businesses – including women-owned and minority-owned firms – are among the suppliers of weapons and other materiel that the US uses to impose its will and wage war on countries around the world.
Mitha held a more junior position in the same office during the Obama administration.
Ties to Israel lobby
Last September, The Electronic Intifada revealed the extensive ties between Emgage leaders and Israel lobby organizations – especially the Muslim Leadership Initiative, a group that brings emerging US Muslim “leaders” on propaganda junkets to Israel.
It also emerged that through its political action committee, Emgage was endorsing and raising money for pro-Israel candidates in last November’s US elections.
These exposés set off a firestorm around Emgage, prompting many grassroots activists to speak out.
Mitha was a co-founder and longtime board member of Emgage, though he asserted that he “stepped away from Emgage formally” when he took his job with the Biden campaign.
The revolving door nature of Mitha’s appointment underscores that an organization like Emgage can hardly act as a source of pressure and accountability on the same powers from which its leaders seek patronage and jobs.
There is at least one other person with ties to Emgage who has landed a position with the Biden administration.
In early March, the White House appointed Dilawar Syed as deputy administrator at the Small Business Administration.
Like Mitha, Syed served in the Obama administration – on a White House advisory commission.
Following The Electronic Intifada’s initial reporting in September, another in-depth investigation by Middle East Eye revealed the widespread community distrust that had been bubbling towards Emgage as it elbowed its way into the limelight.
According to Middle East Eye, Emgage’s “rise to national prominence” was “not the story of a group that advocates for the Muslim community, but rather one that is meant to muzzle it.”
All this led to calls by activists for Muslim and Arab American community organizations to end cooperation with Emgage, and on Biden to fire Mitha.
Amid outrage over Emgage’s coziness with Israel lobby groups, the US Council of Muslim Organizations cut its ties with Emgage in October.
At the same time the group focused all its efforts on sheepdogging Muslim Americans into voting for Joe Biden.
As part of its effort to counter the revelations, Emgage’s political action committee Emgage Action scrambled to update its website to emphasize support for Palestinian rights.
It even asserted that it supports BDS – though that proved to be short lived.
Emgage posted a handful of documents outlining its positions on Palestine.
These included a paper opposing Israeli plans to annex occupied West Bank land.
In the event that Israel were to “continue down this path,” Emgage called on Congress to take up legislation “that conditions the $3.8 billion in US military funding” sent to Israel annually.
Emgage also defended itself with a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page knocking down a series of strawman statements, such as “Emgage is affiliated with the Muslim Leadership Initiative (MLI).”
However, neither The Electronic Intifada nor Middle East Eye alleged that there was any formal tie between Emgage and MLI.
Rather, The Electronic Intifada accurately reported – and Emgage acknowledges – that senior Emgage leaders had traveled to Israel on MLI junkets.
The FAQ asserts that Emgage “has always supported the human rights and freedom of Palestinian peoples,” including the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Emgage also declared its opposition to specific Trump administration policies, including the “heartless decision” to eliminate US funding for UNRWA, the UN agency that provides health and education to Palestinian refugees.
The group also decried Trump’s “decision to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem and to recognize Israeli annexation of [the] occupied Syrian Golan Heights.”
No demands on Biden
So how well has Emgage held to these positions since Biden, the candidate it endorsed, won the presidency?
On the day the new administration took office, Emgage CEO Wa’el Alzayat penned an article laying out four things President Biden could do in his first 200 days “that will make a real difference in the Middle East.”
One of his suggestions is that Biden restore $200 million in “stabilization” funds for Syria cut by Trump that appeared destined for training local armed militias.
Alzayat’s only reference to Palestine, however, is a call on Biden to restore UNRWA funding – a totally uncontroversial step that the Biden campaign had already pledged to take on the basis that doing so would “benefit Israel.”Alzayat did not call on Biden to reverse the Trump administration’s moves on Jerusalem or the Golan Heights, nor did he urge the new administration to end its hostility to the nonviolent BDS movement.
The Emgage CEO did not urge that any conditions be placed on US aid to Israel, even as Israel approved big settlement expansions just before Biden took office.
Emgage has not demanded that the Biden administration lift Trump’s outrageous sanctions against the International Criminal Court and give full American backing to the tribunal’s investigation of war crimes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Aside from Alzayat’s call for the restoration of UNRWA funding, since the November election Emgage has put out a handful of tweets offering rhetorical support to Palestinians, but making no demands of Biden.
None of Emgage’s official statements since the election have focused on US policy towards Palestine.
This is all in keeping with Emgage’s long-standing practice of echoing US national security-state priorities rather than challenging them.
Backing off BDS
Emgage has however criticized New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang’s smears that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic.
But the organization has said nothing about similar attacks from senior Biden administration officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury secretary Janet Yellen and US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
Yellen’s attack on the boycott movement was particularly noteworthy as it came with her pledge to use her vast powers as head of the US Treasury to “oppose BDS activities directed at Israel.”
Indeed, Emgage has not only failed to challenge the Biden administration’s hostility to BDS, but has quietly backed off from its own claim of support for the nonviolent movement.
Back in September, amid the uproar following The Electronic Intifada’s reporting, Emgage published a statement asserting, “we support the BDS movement.”
At the time, this writer observed that “this appears to be the first time Emgage has said it supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”
Yet it did not last.
The statement was quietly changed to read: “We support the right to boycott, divest and sanction.”
Supporting the right to engage in BDS campaigns – as an exercise in constitutionally protected free speech – is laudable, but hardly shows courage and is not the same as actually calling for a boycott of Israel.
China genocide claims
Emgage’s refusal to support a boycott of Israel contrasts with its advocacy in support of a boycott of goods manufactured in China over allegations they are made with the forced labor of Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang province.The day before leaving office, Trump administration Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a determination that China is committing genocide against the Uyghur population.
Emgage immediately endorsed Pompeo’s move, though admonished that “this genocide designation is long overdue.”
These are the gravest possible accusations that demand close scrutiny and compelling evidence.
State Department lawyers reportedly doubted that there was evidence of genocide, but still assert that there are widespread abuses in Xinjiang. It is unclear, however, what sources they are relying on.
The Biden administration is reviewing its predecessor’s genocide designation after acknowledging that “all of the procedures were not followed.”
In the meantime, however, Biden’s officials continue to use the term.
Christian Zionist source
Many well-meaning people have supported the well-publicized campaigns around the Uyghurs, without realizing that the allegations of genocide, forced labor and mass internment are rooted in dubious claims, falsehoods and outright speculation stemming almost entirely from a single source: Adrian Zenz, a far-right anti-Semitic German Christian Zionist affiliated with the US government-founded Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and the neoconservative Jamestown Foundation.
Pompeo’s 19 January statement emotively invoking “the horrors of Nazi concentration camps” did not cite any sources for its claim of an ongoing genocide against Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
But just months before making the accusation, Pompeo credited Adrian Zenz personally for “shocking revelations” of “forced sterilization, forced abortion and coercive family planning against Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.”
Yet as journalists Max Blumenthal and Gareth Porter of The Grayzone recently demonstrated, Zenz’s research is rife with “flagrant data abuse and outright falsehoods.”
Indeed, as the Jamestown Foundation proudly boasts, Zenz’s assertions have been the basis for media reports around the world.
Emgage CEO Wa’el Alzayat has also embraced the widely cited “one million” figure:Yet as Blumenthal and journalist Ajit Singh demonstrated in 2019, the claim of a million or more detained people is based on two “highly dubious ‘studies.’”
One, by the US-government funded Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, concluded that millions of people had been detained in Xinjiang by extrapolating from interviews with a mere eight individuals.
Similarly, “Zenz arrived at his estimate [of] ‘over one million’ in a dubious manner,” Blumenthal and Singh note.
In his 2018 paper making the allegation, Zenz extrapolates the “one million” number by making inferences and assumptions from a single unverifiable source.
According to Zenz, a table allegedly showing numbers of detainees in various sub-districts of Xinjiang was “reportedly leaked from a reliable source” to a “Uyghur exile media organization based in Istanbul.”
Zenz does not cite the exile media organization itself, but a second-hand report in Newsweek Japan.
Zenz acknowledges that “the accuracy of this estimate is of course predicated upon the supposed validity of the stated sources” – something he does not and cannot vouch for.
Indeed, Zenz admits that “while there is no certainty, it is reasonable to speculate that the total number of detainees might range anywhere between several hundred thousand and just over one million.”
For some reason, these glaring caveats – and his resort to speculation – are seldom if ever mentioned in the countless media reports relying on Zenz’s “research.”
Waiting for the Antichrist
While many outlets have taken Zenz’s claims at face value, few have informed their audiences that he is a far-right, anti-Semitic Christian Zionist who appears to be on a mission to convert members of religious minorities in China.
Zenz, a born-again Christian, told The Wall Street Journal in 2019 that – as the newspaper put it – “he has an affinity for China’s minority groups because they seem more open spiritually.”
“I feel very clearly led by God to do this.” Zenz said. “With Xinjiang, things really changed. It became like a mission, or a ministry.”
Zenz’s “research,” The Wall Street Journal reported, was done from his house in a suburb of the German city of Stuttgart.
In 2012, Zenz co-authored a book – Worthy to Escape: Why All Believers Will Not Be Raptured Before the Tribulation – setting out his fundamentalist beliefs and predicting the imminent rise of an Antichrist who will rule the world, to be followed by the return of Jesus Christ.
According to Zenz, his end-times prophecy “requires that the Jews gain control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is currently the site of the al-Aqsa mosque and the Muslim Dome of the Rock shrine, and construct a third temple.”
Zenz writes that “the Antichrist will establish a treacherous peace covenant with Israel.”
He adds that “part of Israel’s peace treaty brokered by the Antichrist will include a deal that enables it to establish this end-times temple, perhaps right next to the Muslim sites.”
These are alarming statements, and Zenz’s effort to soften them is a transparent ruse.
“God’s fiery furnace”
This puts Zenz in the company of Israeli Jewish extremists and their supporters in the Israeli government who are already making plans for the destruction of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem and their replacement with a Jewish temple.
Yet like other Christian Zionists, Zenz’s eagerness to see Israel take over Muslim holy sites has nothing to do with a love for Jewish people.
Rather, he warns that “God’s refining process will wipe out all unbelieving Jews who refuse to come to Christ and leave only born-again Israelites to enter the millennial reign of Christ.”
Jews who do not accept Jesus will apparently remain in what Zenz earlier refers to as “God’s fiery furnace.”
While Zenz’s book does not reveal his vision for Muslims, it is a safe bet that he does not think they have any better chance of reaching heaven than Jews, unless they too embrace Christianity as he defines it.
Zenz’s book is a cauldron of bizarre end-times fantasy and far-right views. He asserts that any belief system other than his apocalyptic version of Christianity – including any acceptance of homosexuality and the promotion of gender equality – is “ultimately inspired by Satan.”
He rails against “hate-crime and anti-discrimination laws” on the basis that they are tools for the “suppression of biblical Christianity.”
Zenz did not respond to a request for comment.
Zenz’s pseudo-scholarship repackaged
Earlier this month, the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, a Washington think tank, published what is being promoted as a “landmark new report” concluding that China is committing genocide against Uyghurs.While its publishers claim the report is the work of “independent” experts, it has a familiar ring: One of those “experts” is Zenz, on whose “research” the report largely rests.
He is cited in the footnotes dozens of times. Many other third party articles cited in the report also link right back to Zenz’s work.
Far from being academically credible, Newlines is a hawkish neoconservative think tank packed with regime-change advocates and Israel lobbyists including Elizabeth Tsurkov – a veteran of Israel’s devastating 2006 war on Lebanon – and longtime anti-Palestinian activist Michael Weiss.
As Ajit Singh notes at The Grayzone, Newlines is operated out of Fairfax University of America – a “visa mill” for international students that was nearly forced to close by Virginia state regulators in 2019 due to its abysmal standards.
The “expert” signatories on the report include longtime anti-China ideologues, former US government officials, regime-change lobbyists and supporters of US military interventionism.
“Rather than conducting a thorough and comprehensive review of ‘the available evidence,’” – as the authors claim, Singh observes that “the report restricted its survey to a narrow range of deeply flawed pseudo-scholarship along with reports by US government-backed lobbying fronts for the exiled Uyghur separatist movement.”
It amounts to nothing more than an attempt to repackage and rebrand Zenz’s discredited work with a veneer of academic authority.
Muslim cover for US policy
In short, Emgage’s approach to Palestine has been to say the bare minimum necessary to stave off criticism while vigorously promoting US government geostrategic interests and policies elsewhere – even if it means jumping on the bandwagon of the Christian Zionist Zenz and his neoconservative, warmongering backers.
There’s a benefit to this approach: It’s a great way for Emgage to appear to be defending Muslims without having to challenge – and indeed while courting – US power and government patronage.
To be sure, Emgage is not the only Muslim American organization to embrace the Trump administration’s genocide designation.
And though she has not used the term genocide, Linda Sarsour, Democratic Party activist and director of the group MPower Change, has written about “Uyghur Muslims in China’s concentration camps” – an indication of how mainstream the campaign largely driven by Zenz’s claims has become among US Muslim activists.
Such Muslim endorsements provide a multicultural assist to the US government’s aggressive and confrontational approach to China – which apparently remains unchanged despite the transition from Trump to Biden.
Journalist Dan Cohen recently produced this video that provides an overview of how Zenz’s dubious claims have taken on the tenor of unquestioned truth, while Zenz and his extremist and anti-Semitic views have escaped scrutiny:
Supporting regime change
Emgage has barely mentioned Palestine since the election, let alone pressed Biden to change his hardline pro-Israel policies.
But its CEO Wa’el Alzayat did find time to congratulate Representative Tom Malinowski on his election as vice chair of the House foreign affairs committee.Malinowski is among the pro-Israel candidates Emgage’s political action committee endorsed and funded – despite the New Jersey congressman’s opposition to BDS and support for the Trump administration’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.
The soft spot that Emgage and Alzayat have for Malinowski is likely a result of his advocacy for US regime change efforts in the Middle East.
Prior to his election to Congress in 2018, Malinowski served as an assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration.
From that position, he aligned with the notoriously hawkish late Arizona Republican Senator John McCain to push hard for even greater US involvement in the Syria war.
As a lawmaker, Malinowski has introduced legislation that aims to prevent the president of the United States from withdrawing troops from Syria.
Malinowski and Alzayat likely became well acquainted when they both worked in the Obama administration. Alzayat was a senior adviser to Samantha Power, President Barack Obama’s ambassador to the UN who championed disastrous US interventions.
These included Obama’s regime-change war in Libya and his decision to send a billion dollars worth of weapons to rebel groups in Syria – much of which reportedly ended up in the hands of al-Qaida-linked militants and even ISIS. (Israel was also directly arming and funding rebel groups in Syria at the time.)
While Emgage can endorse any politician it pleases, it is impossible to square the circle of backing pro-Israel figures like Malinowski with any meaningful support for Palestinian rights.
Malinowski is scheduled to speak at Emgage’s gala next month.
Another high-profile speaker will be Nury Turkel, chair of the Uyghur Human Rights Project.
Turkel, who is now also a member of the US government’s Commission on International Religious Freedom, was recently hosted by the American Jewish Committee, one of the most influential Israel lobby groups in the US.
“By choosing the path of engagement, we guarantee that American Muslim voices are included in the process and are active players in the decisions that govern our lives,” Emgage CEO Alzayat asserted in an article in The Arab American News weeks before the November election.
“Vote for Biden-Harris – or help Trump stay in power,” he admonished.
Now that the election is over, we can see that whatever Emgage’s priorities may be, countering the Biden administration’s anti-Palestinian policies is not among them.
An early public critic of Emgage was Nadia B. Ahmad, a lawyer and Democratic Party activist in Florida.
Before The Electronic Intifada’s exposé of Emgage, she charged that Farooq Mitha’s role in the Biden campaign was about anything other than promoting the voices of Muslim communities.
Mitha’s job would be to “keep us in check. Keep us in line. Keep us from doing anything,” Ahmad said.
She slammed the activities of Emgage’s leaders as “another male power grab for a punkah walla position in a Biden administration” – using a British colonial-era term for an Indian servant.
It looks like Ahmad was right. Mitha got his punkah walla position while Emgage carries on with its usual business of not representing those whose rights and interests it claims to champion. Instead it provides Muslim cover for the American empire.
Wa’el Alzayat did not respond to a request for comment.
Ali Abunimah is executive director of The Electronic Intifada.