President Joe Biden’s nominee for a top Small Business Administration job sits on the board of a group that lobbies in favor of the anti-Israel boycott movement and describes Israel as an "apartheid" state.
Dilawar Syed, Biden’s pick for deputy administrator of the SBA, has served on the board of the Muslim-American advocacy group Emgage Action since 2017, according to his public financial disclosure form submitted as part of his nomination process. Emgage Action is a staunch defender of the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) that seeks to hurt Israel with economic pressure.
The stance could be an obstacle for Syed ahead of his confirmation vote by the Senate Small Business Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.), one of the Democratic Party’s most vocal opponents of BDS. Emgage Action denounced Cardin's 2017 anti-BDS legislation as "unconstitutional."
Emgage Action has described the BDS movement as a "constitutionally protected nonviolent response that seeks to end the occupation" and says it "support[s] the right to boycott, divest, and sanction, as well as the Right of Return of Palestinians." The organization also describes Israel as an "apartheid" state, stating on its website that Palestinians "continue to suffer under racist, undemocratic Israeli apartheid rule that steals their land and destroys their homes to make way for illegal Jewish settlements."
Syed is CEO at the health care company Lumiata. He served on the White House Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders under President Obama and as a liaison with the SBA and the Department of Commerce, according to the White House.
Christians United for Israel Action Fund, a pro-Israel advocacy group, denounced Syed’s nomination, calling Emgage’s positions "fringe" and "contrary to President Biden’s own policies."
"Dilawar Syed is the wrong choice for Deputy Administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA). His association with Emgage Action, which lobbies against anti-BDS legislation and has taken a range of other positions that are both outside the American mainstream and contrary to President Biden’s own policies, indicates poor judgment on Syed’s part," said CUFI Action Fund chairwoman Sandra Parker.
"The SBA is vital to the health of our nation and seeking to have a misguided, fringe ideologue serve in such an important role is a bad decision."
The BDS movement has been criticized as an effort to delegitimize and isolate Israel. Some groups, such as the American Jewish Committee, have described it as anti-Semitic. Many of the BDS movement’s leaders have called for the elimination of Israel.
In 2017, Cardin introduced the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which sought to prohibit organizational boycotts of Israel and other U.S. allies. On his website, Cardin said the BDS movement was "designed to delegitimize Israel" and "circumvent direct negotiations."
Emgage Action slammed Cardin’s legislation, saying that it "failed in the 115th Congress due to its unconstitutional nature and unpopularity by both Congress and the American people." "It clearly infringed on Americans' First Amendment right to free speech; any similar legislation proceeding will continue to have the same problems," the group wrote on its website.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Emgage came to the defense of prominent BDS activist Linda Sarsour after the Biden campaign criticized her views on Israel. Sarsour has described herself as "an unapologetic pro-BDS, one-state solution supporting resistance supporter." She once publicly embraced and shared a stage with Rasmea Odeh, a Palestinian terrorist convicted of killing two Israeli students in a grocery store bombing.
Emgage defended Sarsour, saying she "has dedicated her career to fighting for justice. We are deeply concerned about the divisive statement made against Sarsour…. The Democratic Party is a big tent. We expect a speedy and genuine retraction."