Who’s Really Driving “Grassroots” Anti-Israel Activism in America?

Congressional testimony ties anti-Israel groups in America to Islamist terrorism and racism

Max Samarov
May 10, 2016 · 7 min read

By Max Samarov and Philippe Assouline

“Israelis have to be bombed… it is wrong to maintain the State of Israel. It is an illegitimate creation”Taher Herzallah, American Muslims for Palestine National Campus Coordinator

On April 19th Jonathan Schanzer, a former US Treasury Department official, testified in Congress regarding the activities of the anti-Israel boycott movement (BDS) in the United States. In his remarks, he revealed shocking details about how a number of former leaders of organizations with close ties to terrorism, “have pivoted to leadership positions within the American BDS campaign.” In particular, he established clear links between the terrorist organization Hamas and leaders of American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) — a politico-religious lobby group which boasts of being “the driving force behind activism for Palestine” in the US. But Schanzer’s testimony revealed only the tip of the iceberg. At the core of this story is not only the shadowy network of religious supremacists behind AMP, but a manipulative campaign to incite hatred among the future leaders of American society.

One of the most prominent faces of BDS in America is Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — a self-titled “grassroots, human rights organization” with branches at dozens of US campuses. But while it claims to be “resisting racism,” SJP’s 2014 national conference featured a keynote speaker infamous for defending public calls to “shoot the Jew!” This discrepancy between SJP’s stated principles and its conduct is no exception: funded and closely guided by AMP and other political interest groups, SJP systematically exploits the language of social justice to promote a bigoted agenda.

In private SJP denies Israel’s right to exist, while in public they claim to support justice and peace.

SJP’s ties to AMP run deep, and SJP itself has admitted that, “NGO employees are in powerful positions,” within their movement. AMP chairman and Berkeley professor Hatem Bazian co-founded SJP in 2000 and is credited with “help[ing] to construct [the] successful narrative SJP has produced over the years” (in fact, AMP supplies the infamous “wall” that SJP displays on campuses). AMP organized the first SJP national conference in 2010, and has funded the group’s national conferences ever since. AMP’s own conferences include a “Campus Track” with sessions on “How To Start an SJP”.

AMP, in turn, has disturbingly close ties not only with Hamas but also with its parent organization — the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is a religious supremacist movement which believes that Islam must “impose its law on all nations.” The Brotherhood openly promotes homophobia and female genital mutilation, and vigorously fought efforts to bring Sudan’s dictator to justice for genocide against Africans in Darfur. AMP emerged in 2005 as a successor to the Islamic Association for Palestine (“IAP”), which was, according to memos uncovered by the FBI, founded by the Brotherhood “to serve the cause of Palestine on the political and media fronts” in the US. That is, the IAP was established by the Brotherhood — a foreign religious supremacist group — to spread propaganda. The IAP officially advocated for replacing Israel with an Islamist theocracy, and its former leaders now oversee AMP’s finances.

Muslim Brotherhood officials have appeared at AMP’s national conferences almost every year, in the same place where AMP holds SJP training sessions. A prominent speaker at AMP’s 2012 conference was Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Brotherhood leader and 9/11 conspiracy theorist who denies the Darfur Genocide. In 2014, AMP entered into a formal coalition with the Muslim American Society (“MAS”) and the Islamic Circle of North America (“ICNA”). MAS was founded as the official Brotherhood representative in America, and ICNA’s 2010 “Member’s Hand Book” advocates for Islamist theocracy while promoting a racist book which accuses Jews of “money worship.” AMP ran SJP organizing sessions at a joint conference of these two organizations in 2010, but these were hidden on the official program.

While it directs and sponsors SJP’s “human rights activism,” AMP’s own leaders promote violence, homophobia, and racism. In 2004, while Palestinian terrorist groups were waging a massive suicide bombing campaign, AMP Chairman and SJP co-founder Hatem Bazian called for a similar “intifada” in America. In 2017, Bazian was exposed for repeatedly spreading anti-Semitic imagery and rhetoric on social media. Osama Abu Irshaid, AMP’s National Coordinator/National Policy Director, has publicly supported Hezbollah, praised Hamas, and admonished President Obama for bringing “Muslim homosexuals” to the White House. Mr. Irshaid spoke at SJP’s 2014 conference about the “importance” of racist groups like Hamas to Palestinian civil society.

Presently, AMP supports SJP “through funding and helping organize” (sic) SJP events. AMP also trains students and directly lobbies student governments to divest from Israel via its paid campus coordinator Taher Herzallah, who has said that “Israelis have to be bombed”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, SJP and AMP both routinely exploit liberal language to push an illiberal agenda. AMP invokes “American values” in press releases while at the same time hosting Mads Gilbert, who defended Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks, as a keynote speaker. Despite its embrace of sexists and homophobes, AMP had no qualms sponsoring an SJP event at UCLA titled “Feminism and Queer Activism for Justice in Palestine.” SJP claims to support nonviolence, but invited Islamic Jihad spokesperson Khader Adnan — previously caught on film inciting suicide bombings — to address its 2012 national conference. While SJP tries to co-opt Armenian student groups, its sponsor AMP recently signed a statement denying the Armenian Genocide. On the one hand, SJP devotes much of its activism to generating “solidarity” with black Americans. On the other hand it ignores reports that Hamas profits from the human trafficking of black people in the Sinai Desert. Far from condemning Hamas, numerous SJP leaders have publicly supported the racist terrorist group.

“We are victorious you son of a Jew… We are all Hamas” — SJP National Steering Committee member Ahmad Aburas

By all indications, AMP speaks for a small minority of Muslim Americans. A Gallup study showed that AMP’s closest allies — the Muslim American Society and the Islamic Circle of North America — represent no more than two percent of the American Muslim community. And yet, through SJP, the AMP is trying to monopolize student activism regarding the Middle East. Instead of facing righteous indignation over their connections to genocide denial, homophobia, sexism, racism, and terrorism, AMP and SJP have freely peddled their toxic agenda under the guise of social justice. They have been allowed to sow destructive divisions between Muslim and Jewish students, and helped trigger what the New York Times described as a, “surge of hostile sentiment directed against Jews at many campuses”.

There is now Congressional testimony proving that extremist political interests are pulling the strings of “grassroots” student activism against Israel. Will those who oppose racism on campus and elsewhere now take a stand against them?

UPDATE: AMP’s 2016 national conference featured a new set of racists and religious supremacists as speakers:

  • Dr. Raed Fathi, a professor who has said that Israel’s Druze minority are, “heretics who must be boycotted and combated,” openly supported the notion that Muslims should conquer Rome (a threat frequently made by ISIS), and called on Muslims to not lie, cheat, or act dishonestly because that is what Jews and Christians do.
  • Walid Sharabi, a former Egyptian judge and enthusiastic supporter of Hamas.
  • Khadija Benguenna, an Al-Jazeera Arabic anchor who posted a video on social media of a Palestinian stabbing an Israeli, with the caption “bless you, my hero.”
  • Miko Peled, a prominent anti-Israel activist who recently posted a series of anti-Semitic statements on social media. Other anti-Israel groups cancelled his lectures in response, but AMP did not.

UPDATE #2: On July 21st, 2017, an imam at a mosque in Davis, California delivered a sermon, in which he said, “liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews… annihilate them down to the very last one.” While numerous Muslim institutions condemned this and another similarly offensive sermon, AMP staffer Taher Herzallah said, “The truth should always be spoken no matter what… The imams didn’t make any mistake”. He also accused Jews of being “abrasive” for daring to stand up for themselves and their community in the face of violent racism.

Max Samarov is the Director of Research & Campus Strategy at StandWithUs. His research focuses on Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the discourse about these issues on North American campuses.

Philippe Assouline is a lawyer and writer completing a PhD in political psychology and international relations at UCLA. He researches the effect of political communication and propaganda on longstanding conflicts.

Special thanks to Hussein Aboubakr for his help translating Arabic sources.

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