Taxpayer-Funded Educational Group Arranging Meetings with Nation of Islam

Nation of Islam condemned by human rights groups
Louis Farrakhan

Louis Farrakhan / AP

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A taxpayer-funded educational group overseen in part by the State Department has been arranging meetings between journalists and the Nation of Islam, a radical religious group that has been condemned by human rights groups for its “deeply bigoted language” against Jews, homosexuals, and white people.

The East-West Center, a taxpayer-funded educational organization that seeks to improve relations between the United States and nations in Asia and the Pacific, has organized meetings between journalists and the Nation of Islam in past years and intends to do so again this year in Washington, D.C., according to emails sent by the group to an area think tank and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Participants in the East-West Center’s senior journalists seminar—just one of 15 journalism fellowships in which reporters from America and majority-Muslim nations spend 21 days meeting with U.S. government officials and others—are scheduled to meet with a Nation of Islam leader this month when the reporters are in D.C.

The Nation of Islam is just one of several “illustrious individuals and organizations” that reporters will associate with during the East-West Center’s seminar, according to an email sent by a representative of the group to a top official at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think-tank.

The East-West Center, which was established by Congress in 1960 and was allocated $16.7 million in funding in 2014 alone, has long worked with leading political figures, such as Secretary of State John Kerry and other world leaders.

However, its relationship with the Nation of Islam—which is run by vocal anti-Semite Louis Farrakhanis not mentioned on the group’s website.

The East-West Center’s work with the radical group first attracted scrutiny after an official reached out to AEI over email last week to arrange a meeting between its seminar participants and the think tank.

An AEI official who fielded the request expressed concern about the taxpayer-funded group’s relationship with the Nation of Islam, according to a copy of the correspondence.

“Did I read correctly that you—a government funded think tank—had your visiting journalists meet with the Nation of Islam?” the AEI official asked.

The East-West Center later confirmed this in an response, explaining that reporters who have participated in the seminar have “met with the Nation of Islam in New York City and we will meet with them again this year in Washington, D.C., for a luncheon discussion with Imam Shareef and to observe Juma’h prayer service,” according to the email.

The official went on to defend its program and tout the organization’s ability to “walk between partisan lines.”

“It is important to note that the East-West Center receives approximately 55 percent of our budget through congressional appropriations, the remaining 45+ percent is raised through competitive domestic and foreign government grants, foundation support, and individual donors,” the East-West Center official wrote. “The senior journalists seminar is an example of one of many programs that is funded through numerous sources.”

This year, eight foreign journalists and four American reporters from the Washington Times, the Economist, and other outlets will participate in the seminar, including the meeting with Shareef, East-West Center spokeswoman Karen Knudsen confirmed to the Free Beacon when approached for comment.

“The [senior journalists seminar] group is observing a similar prayer service at the Nation of Islam mosque in Washington, D.C., and has also scheduled a lunch and discussion with the mosque’s imam, retired U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant Talib Shareef, and community members about their beliefs and practices,” Knudson explained.

“In addition to his 30 years of decorated military service, Imam Shareef was selected to open the U.S. House of Representatives with prayer in 2013 and has presided over iftar observances at the White House, Pentagon, and the residence of the Israeli Ambassador to America,” she added. “He is a member of the Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington, Mayor’s Interfaith Advisory Council, and the Washington Interfaith Network.”

Asked if it was appropriate for a taxpayer-funded organization to be arranging meetings for reporters with the Nation of Islam, Knudsen maintained that the East-West Center “takes no position” on the religious group’s radical views, which includes promulgating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jewish people.

“The East-West Center takes no position on the beliefs of the Nation of Islam or any of the other groups that the journalists meet with,” Knudsen said. “The Washington mosque was chosen as an example of religious diversity and freedom in America, as one of the capital’s oldest Muslim communities and a charter member of the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington.”

“It should be noted that the group will also be having discussions and observing religious services with Christian clergy, Jewish communities, U.S. military chaplains, Buddhists, and many others,” Knudsen added.

Human rights organizations ranging from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) have long condemned the Nation of Islam and Farrakhan for promoting hatred.

“Its bizarre theology of innate black superiority over whites—a belief system vehemently and consistently rejected by mainstream Muslims—and the deeply racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-gay rhetoric of its leaders, including top minister Louis Farrakhan, have earned the NOI a prominent position in the ranks of organized hate,” the SPLC writes in its biography on the group.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, noted that Farrakhan has rejected meetings with Jewish leaders.

“Over the years, numerous rabbis and Jewish journalists and some Jewish organizations, in Chicago (his headquarters) and beyond, have tried to ‘dialogue’ with Farrakhan,” Cooper told the Free Beacon. “Such dialogues get nowhere because Farrakhan—while exploiting them for propaganda value—refuses to have an open mind on any issues. He insists he and he alone knows ‘the truth’—e.g., that Jewish merchants ‘dominated’ the slave trade, that Jewish doctors ‘invented’ the AIDS virus to target black people, that Jewish capitalists caused the hole in the ozone layer.”

“When Jews beg to differ, he attributes their disagreement to the fact that “the truth hurts” and Jews are incapable of accepting the truth,” Cooper said, describing the Nation of Islam leader as an “extreme ideologue” and a “fanatic.”

The East-West Center maintains that it is part of its congressional mandate to meet with all groups, including controversial ones.

“This [meeting with the Nation of Islam] is consistent with the East-West Center’s congressional mandate to promote better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue,” Knudsen told the Free Beacon.