Why We Stand By Zahra Billoo and Every Muslim Smeared for Supporting Palestinian Human Rights

By the Council on American-Islamic Relations

In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful. All praise and thanks belong to God, the Lord of the Worlds. May peace and blessings be upon Prophet Muhammad and all of God’s prophets, from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Moses to Jesus.

As the largest Muslim civil rights organization in America, CAIR greatly values collaboration with our friends, neighbors and partners in other faith communities, including the Jewish-American community.

Jews and Muslims face many common threats in our nation, including a rise in hate crimes caused by the spread of far-right extremism. Inspired by our Islamic values, we have consistently, vocally and firmly stood up against the scourge of anti-Semitism at the local and national level, and we will continue to do so, God willing.

At the same time, we must also firmly stand up against the Islamophobic, anti-Palestinian groups that use false allegations of anti-Semitism in a cynical attempt to silence American Muslims who speak up for Palestinian human rights. These false allegations happen far too often, and the most recent attacks on CAIR-San Francisco Bay Area Executive Director Zahra Billoo are yet another example of this.

As a widely respected civil rights activist, Zahra leads one of our largest offices in the country and has spent years building principled ties with Jewish partners who are working to counter all forms of bigotry, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. We are so grateful for the courage she demonstrates in her civil rights work.

During a speech delivered at a conference in Chicago last month, Zahra spoke of the clear connections between Islamophobic hate groups and anti-Palestinian activism. She further criticized the Israeli government’s human rights abuses against the Palestinian people. She also encouraged American Muslims to avoid collaborating with any organizations that support the political ideology that the Israeli apartheid government uses to justify dispossessing, occupying, and killing Palestinians.

In the wake of her speech, anti-Muslim websites misquoted Zahra’s remarks and falsely claimed that she had discouraged Muslims from working with Jewish groups at-large. For example, a Breitbart headline claimed, “CAIR Official Declares U.S. Jewish Groups, Synagogues ‘Enemies.’”

This is a blatant lie. In fact, Zahra praised the many Jewish activists and groups that support human rights for all people, including Palestinians, and specifically encouraged Muslims to engage in interfaith collaboration with Jewish organizations such as IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace.

Furthermore, criticizing Zionism — which many Jewish scholars, activists and groups have done since the movement arose in the 19th century — is not anti-Semitic. The religion of Judaism is not the same thing as the political ideology of Zionism, as Jewish leaders have repeatedly noted.

That’s why we strongly condemn this online smear campaign against our sister and colleague, Zahra Billoo. We particularly condemn the hateful remarks made by Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who claims to be an ally in the fight against Islamophobia while regularly weaponizing Islamophobia against American Muslims.

Comparing a female Muslim civil rights leader to a white supremacist is a disgusting yet unsurprising new low for the ADL, which has a long history of singling out and smearing Muslim leaders who support Palestinian human rights.

The ADL has also supported unconstitutional laws punishing political boycotts of Israel, criticized an ice cream company for ending product sales in only the occupied West Bank, remained on the board of a coalition that includes a bigot who used the phrase “filthy Arab,” and even spied on Black activists opposed to South African apartheid, all for the sake of defending the Israeli apartheid government’s human rights abuses.

Just a few years ago, Mr. Greenblatt happily joined bigots like Benjamin Netanyahu, John Hagee and Robert Jeffress at a ceremony celebrating President Trump’s illegal opening of a U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem and called for defeating “Islamism.”

Smearing a civil rights activist as a bigot after taking a selfie at an event with real bigots is utter hypocrisy. And making false allegations of anti-Semitism also undermines the fight against this dangerous form of bigotry. The ADL’s pattern of abominable behavior, which runs counter to any reasonable expectation of a self-styled civil rights organization, is one of the reasons why CAIR proudly stands with the interfaith #DroptheADL coalition.

We will also continue to proudly stand by Zahra and all American Muslim leaders who face smears and threats because they dare to express an opinion about Palestinian human rights. We will not be silenced or swayed. God willing.